Chapter 1: Time for an Existential Crisis
It's 2019, and I can't believe how things have turned out. It's pretty different from the future we imagined in that dream sequence of ours, four and a half years ago. If you had told me that I would end up wishing that Sue Sylvester had become Jeb Bush's vice president... I don't know what I would have said. I probably would have just laughed.
My dad lost his re-election bid in 2016. Blaine was working on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaign at the time, and he heard rumors about targeted purges of Ohio voters. Maybe that explained it. Of course, nothing could stop my dad - he tried running for the 2020 presidential nomination, but he dropped out after having less name recognition than John Hickenlooper. Now Dad is running for the legislature, in hopes of being able to fix Ohio's gerrymandered districts once the 2020 census is finished. But he's being smeared for his support for gay rights, especially by Twitter accounts with numbers in their handles and almost no followers. I love him for trying, but I worry every day about the toll that it's taking on his health.
And our friends are struggling, too. Santana and Britt got detained trying to return from an island vacation and ran off to somewhere in the South Pacific, last I heard. Britt is probably trying to recruit penguins for a climate revolt or something. Sam is apparently wearing body armor to school; there have been so many shootings that the school board requires it now. Artie can't find a distributor for his film. Rachel has been blacklisted after telling Ronan Farrow about her experiences with one of her directors. And she was never even mentioned by name in his book. And none of us know what happened with Mercedes - all I know is that she got a lawyer, and then she stopped talking to any of us. Blaine thinks she may have signed some kind of non-disclosure agreement.
California's on fire. So is Australia. And Ohio... decided to prop up the coal industry. And that's not all. Kids are being kept in cages. The president's BFF is a Russian autocrat, and his second best friend is either the North Korean dictator or a Saudi prince who orders the dismemberment of journalists. Our best hope is that he gets impeached - but that would leave us with the vice president, who thinks it's possible to beat the gay out of kids. And don't get me started about the judges that have been confirmed.
Once upon a time, it felt like we could change the world with our songs.
It doesn't feel like that anymore.
"Kurt," Blaine called. "Kurt! Stop doing a voice-over and get changed. We're going to be late for work."
The Spotlight Diner wasn't very busy. It rarely was, these days. So there were only three people waiting tables - Kurt, Blaine, and a woman named Chanel who was in grad school somewhere, Columbia or NYU maybe? Kurt hadn't worked many shifts with her, but Blaine said she had to get a job because some professor wouldn't let her work as a TA anymore. She wouldn't sleep with her advisor, or something like that. There had been a lot of those stories over the years. The people who told them didn't stay in New York for very long.
Kurt was about halfway through his shift when the strangely dressed women came in. Ok. So at a theatre hangout, strange dress was the norm. But the women looked like they meant to be stylish... but for 1983. Seriously. Shoulder pads and everything.
They sat at one of Kurt's tables. Kurt glanced at Blaine, who was deep in conversation with Chanel, and went to greet them.
The dark-haired woman was already looking at a menu. "I'm starving," she said. "I'm so glad we found a diner that was open and serves breakfast all night. I'd like some sticky buns. Please."
The blonde laughed at her. "I'm going to need a little more time," she said. "Could you get Zari her buns? And I'll take some coffee while I read the menu a little more carefully."
"Sticky buns and coffee," Kurt repeated. He looked at the dark-haired woman. Zari. "Would you like some coffee? Or anything else? Water? Mimosa?"
"Water would be fine, thanks," Zari replied.
Kurt nodded and went to the kitchen to deliver the order. When he came out, Chanel was pointing at a grey-bearded man dressed in tweed. He was at one of Chanel's tables, but Blaine went to take his order. That wasn't unusual - they traded tables for all sorts of reasons. Kurt picked up the coffee and water and returned to his customers.
"Water for... Zari, right? And coffee for you." He set the cups on the table.
"Sara," the blonde said. "I'm Sara."
"There's cream, sugar, raw sugar... we've got sugar substitutes, too, if you want them," Kurt offered.
Sara picked up the packet of Sugar in the Raw, then frowned at the menu. "Avocado toast," she mused. She looked up at Kurt and tilted her head. "Kurt," she read from his name tag. "This is going to sound weird, but... what year is it?"
Kurt blinked. "What... year?"
"Like I said. Weird question, I know." She looked innocent.
Zari snorted. "Sure. Just come out and ask."
"It's 2019," Kurt said.
Zari shook her head. "I knew something was wrong with Gideon."
Kurt frowned at them. "Look. The customer is always right, and all, but..." He glanced at their teased hair. "I take it that you aren't actually performing in an 80s throwback show."
Sara leaned towards him. "You look like a good guy, Kurt. So let me tell you a secret." She glanced around. "We're time travelers. And we've lost our friends, and our ship is having trouble."
Kurt raised his eyebrows. "Time travelers."
Zari nodded solemnly.
Kurt tried to think of something else to say. But before he could respond, he heard Blaine's voice through the mic.
"I've been asked to sing something cute and flirty," Blaine said. "So I'd like to ask my favorite singing partner - and really, the only person I've wanted to flirt with for nearly five years - to join me. Kurt?"
Sara raised her eyebrows at Kurt. "I believe you are being paged."
"Excuse me," Kurt said. He headed for the stage and gave Blaine a surprised look. After all, they were trained actors. They both knew that, while on stage, nothing counted as cheating.
Blaine glanced at Chanel and nodded. Ok, then. Something was going on. Kurt figured he could just go with it, and ask Blaine about it later.
So they sang, in what Rachel would have described as typical Klaine form. A little dancing. Suggestive looks. Kurt leaning back to put his head on Blaine's shoulder. A long look at the end, not a kiss, but a promise of one... later. The usual.
Kurt smiled and bowed, and then went back to check on his customers.
"You two are cute," Sara said. "Is that your boyfriend?"
"Husband," Kurt replied, with a waggle of his ring finger.
Sara and Zari shared a look. "So gay marriage is legal in this timeline," Zari said. "That's something, at least."
Kurt narrowed his eyes at them. This timeline, huh.
But then he heard Blaine's voice, raised, at another table. "You asked for flirty," Blaine was saying. "I only flirt with people who are willing. Chanel wasn't."
The grey-haired tweedy man sneered at him. "Be a man."
In retrospect, Kurt probably shouldn't have taken the bait. But he was just so sick of all of it. He walked up to Blaine, grabbed him, and kissed him. "Blaine is a man," Kurt said, and tilted his head in a challenge.
"Millennials," the tweedy guy grumbled. "Ruining everything. Romance. Marriage. Home-buying. Toast." He picked up a menu and shook it at them. "Who puts avocados on toast??"
Kurt rolled his eyes. "Ok, boomer."
The man threw down his menu and stormed out.
Blaine grimaced after him. "He didn't pay," he said.
Kurt looked at the plate in Blaine's hand. "He didn't eat, either. Someone in the kitchen will take it."
"I know," Blaine said. "But our manager said..." He looked behind Kurt. "Uh oh."
Kurt turned around and looked into the manager's angry face.
"That's it," the manager said. "This was your last chance. Out. Both of you." He waved them towards the back. "Get out of those uniforms. You're fired."
Kurt and Blaine walked down the street in silence. They both knew what it meant, losing their jobs. Rent was high. And Kurt's second job didn't pay much - didn't pay anything, half the time. AOC at least made a point of paying Blaine (and all her other staffers) decently, but one income wasn't enough. Loans - to NYADA, to NYU - they were still a lot of money. Neither Kurt nor Blaine could afford to be unemployed.
"You were still hot," Blaine offered.
"Hot doesn't pay the rent," Kurt sighed. "Not in Brooklyn."
"Then go somewhere else." The blonde woman from the diner was standing under a streetlight on the corner.
"We left without paying, too." The dark-haired woman stepped out from behind the blonde, and stuffed the last bit of sticky bun into her mouth.
Kurt shook his head at them. "You have any better ideas for two aspiring performers?" he asked. "Because we're fresh out of ideas."
"Do you have a place to talk?" the blonde asked. "I've got a suggestion. But it's not something to discuss on the street."
Next thing they knew, the women were sitting in Kurt's and Blaine's apartment. Blaine dug through the refrigerator and found makings for a stir-fry. Kurt poured some wine - he still wasn't a fan of it, but Blaine would want some, and the blonde woman looked interested - and sat on the couch.
"So," Kurt said. "Your idea."
Blaine brought some bowls over. "Want some chopsticks?" he asked.
"I'll take some," the blonde - Sara - said. "But Zari would probably rather have a fork."
The dark-haired woman - Zari - thought for a moment, then nodded slowly. "Yes. I think a fork would be better."
Blaine went back to the kitchen and came back with chopsticks for Kurt and Sara, and a fork for Zari.
"So...?" Kurt prodded.
"It seems like things kind of suck for the two of you," Sara said.
Kurt and Blaine started to protest, but she waved them off.
"Not personally. You're an adorable couple. But you lost your jobs. And paying the rent is hard." She put a bite of stir-fry into her mouth and chewed, watching them.
"And there's the political situation," Zari added.
"I mean, yes, the president sucks," Kurt said. "Obviously."
"But we're going to take everything back next year," Blaine promised. "All we need is one more election."
"And that will fix the courts, of course." Sara looked from one to the other. "You. Blaine. You've got another job?"
"I'm local staff for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez," Blaine said. He always sat a little bit straighter when he said that. "She's going to change the world."
Zari rolled her eyes.
"I'm sure you believe that," Sara said. "But Zari's from the future."
Zari didn't meet their eyes.
"Wait. What?" Blaine shook his head. "Did you say she's from the future?"
"We're time travelers," Sara said.
Blaine gave Kurt a look that said who brought the crazy people home this time, huh.
Kurt eyed them skeptically. "You said that. Before I went to sing with Blaine."
"Zari was born about ten years ago," Sara said.
Blaine squinted at her. "You look older than ten," he said.
"She's in her thirties," Sara continued. "l met her in 2042."
"So what's 2042 like, if you're from the future?" Blaine challenged her.
Zari looked away. "Sara..." she hesitated.
"We aren't sure," Sara said. "Because we've been trying to fix the future. To make it better."
Kurt watched them. "We're listening," he said. "Skeptically. Because this? Is insane. You know that. Right?"
"How exactly are you trying to fix the future?" Blaine asked. "Sorry, Kurt. I had to ask. You know how many different theories of time travel are out there."
"Blaine is into sci-fi," Kurt explained. "He reads Dr. Who fan fiction."
"I read a lot of fan fiction," Blaine sulked. "Not just Dr. Who."
Kurt folded Blaine's hand into his. "I know that. But your last cosplay was as the Tardis."
"It was a cute cosplay." Blaine sounded defensive.
"It was," Kurt assured him. "But that's not the point."
"No," Blaine said. "You're right. It's not."
"May I continue?" Sara asked. "Or do you need to have some make-up sex first?"
Kurt and Blaine shook their heads. "No," Blaine said. "Sorry. Go on."
"We try to fix the future by changing the past," Sara said. "Or fixing the past of the future."
Kurt shook his head. "I'm sorry. What?"
"The past of the future is today," Blaine mused. "You're trying to change what's going on now."
Sara and Zari nodded.
"You said something about 'this timeline'," Kurt remembered. "You've seen others?"
"Many others," Sara confirmed. "This one isn't great. But we've seen worse."
"Well, that's hopeful," Kurt said. "I guess."
Sara glanced at Zari.
Zari shrugged. "This one still looks like..." She glanced at the walls. "There isn't pervasive surveillance now, is there?"
Blaine shook his head. "We don't have Alexa."
Sara nodded. "I'm guessing that's some kind of AI or something. Right?"
She looked at Zari. Zari just shrugged again.
"Ok. So I'm assuming it's safe to talk here, then," Sara said. "It looks to us like the world is creeping into fascism."
"The first place we went, before your diner, was showing Fox News," Zari said.
"We're fighting back," Blaine insisted.
"I can tell," Sara said. "That's why we waited for you."
"We need help," Zari added.
"When we got here... we didn't even know what year it was," Sara said.
"So... you thought that Fox News existed during the Reagan administration?" Kurt narrowed his eyes at her.
"We honestly had no idea," Sara said. "Like I said. We keep going to the past to try to change the future. And the future... well, it never changes in the way that we expect."
"What exactly were you trying to do in... when did you think you were?" Kurt asked.
"Sometime in the 80s," Sara said. "We were trying to get one of the new Supreme Court justices arrested for rape. Back when he was in high school."
Kurt and Blaine shared a look.
"If you're thinking of the person that we are..." Blaine started.
"He's still on the court," Kurt finished.
"So if you have a time machine, how did you end up in the wrong year?" Blaine asked. "Is your time machine broken?"
"She's really more of a time ship," Sara equivocated.
"She's got a mind of her own," Zari explained. "She doesn't always do what we ask."
"You don't always get what you want," Sara said.
"But if you try sometime..." Blaine sang.
Kurt grinned at him and came in, harmonizing, on the next line. "You get what you need!"
Zari blinked at them. "Do you sing everything?"
Kurt shrugged. "Pretty much."
"Sometimes we dance, too," Blaine added.
Sara looked at them. "Do you have any interest in traveling through time?" she asked. "Making the world a better place?"
"Maybe making the world a better place," Zari corrected.
"TRYING to make the world a better place." Sara glared at her.
Zari just nodded.
"We don't charge rent," Sara said.
Blaine looked thoughtful. "Are there pianos in the past? Or the future?"
"We could probably find you a piano," Sara said. "If the ship agrees."
"We'll let you think about this," Sara said.
"We should get the ship, anyway," Zari added. "It's hard to find a place to park a time ship in New York City."
Blaine frowned. "Where...?"
"The East River," Sara said.
"The ship is invisible," Zari explained.
Sure it is, Kurt thought. But he didn't say anything until they had left the apartment and he had shut the door behind them, bolted it, and leaned back against it.
"So?" Blaine asked. "What do you think?"
"A time ship?" Kurt said. "Is that even a thing?"
Blaine shrugged. "I guess we'll see."
Kurt sighed. "They seemed nice enough at first. But how do we know that they aren't going to, I don't know, beat us up, throw us in the East River, and move into our apartment?"
"What if it's real, though?" Blaine asked. "Let's be honest here. Things were already bad, even before we got fired. Impeachment isn't going anywhere after the House. And what if we lose the election? What if we win, and they don't accept it?" He held out his left hand and waved his ring at Kurt. "What if they try to take this away?"
"You were the one who was going to change the world," Kurt pointed out. "What happened to that?"
Blaine lifted his eyebrows in a wry smile. "I guess I like the idea of a time machine," he said. "Going back to the past, fixing things before they get this bad..." Blaine looked at Kurt. "Seriously. What do you think?"
"Assuming they really are time travelers," Kurt started, "which is a totally insane premise, if you ask me. But if they are..." He looked away and shook his head. "I've always believed that we need to deal with the world as it is. Even when the world is totally shitty, even when nothing is fair, when we're being beaten up or fired, even when people die..." He took a breath. "We can fight like hell to change it. But there isn't any other option. No escape. No heaven or hell, no magic, no superpowers that can we can fall back on. Just us, with all our flaws and imperfections. Us, and courage. And love."
Blaine gazed at him and nodded. "You had me at love," he said. "But... what if there were another option? Another option that's real, I mean."
Kurt rolled his eyes. "You've been reading too much fan fiction. Or playing Dungeons and Dragons with the other campaign staffers."
"I know that's not your thing," Blaine said. "But..."
"You want to do it," Kurt finished.
"But not without you," Blaine insisted. "Not if you aren't comfortable with it."
"Let's do the dishes," Kurt said. "And see whether our new friends come back."
Kurt and Blaine were curled up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and an old movie when they heard the pounding on the window.
"The ship's on your roof," Zari announced from the fire escape. "We shouldn't leave it there for long."
Maybe it was the use of the fire escape that convinced Kurt, but in a few moments, he and Blaine had their jackets and scarves and were climbing up the outside of the building behind Zari.
The ship was huge, and absurd-looking, and metal, and real, and sitting on top of the building. Sara stood inside the hatch and waved them in.
"Don't worry. We'll make it invisible again in a moment." She led the way into the ship. "Make yourselves at home."
Right. Sure. At home. Kurt stared at the metal passageways, the doors that opened with a slight whoosh, the steel table of a hospital-like room.
"Whoah." Blaine, on the other hand, looked eager, peeking into every room, then grabbing Kurt by the hand and dragging him to see something... everything.
Kurt stopped to look at a metal closet. "This isn't for torture, is it."
"Not at all, Mr. Hummel," said a disembodied female voice.
Blaine looked around. "Hello?"
"That's just Gideon," Zari said. "You'll get used to her."
"Nice to meet you... Gideon," Blaine said.
"It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Mr. Anderson. I hope you both find this comfortable," Gideon replied.
"That depends on what happens in this closet," Kurt commented.
"Let me show you." A metal door whooshed closed, and then open. Inside was a 19th century smoking jacket. On a mannequin. Not on a hanger, wooden or wire. "Try it on," Gideon said.
Kurt pulled it out. It fit perfectly.
"So this is some kind of a... replicator?" Blaine asked.
"This is the wardrobe," Gideon said. "I can produce clothing that is appropriate for any historical period and any gender identity." She sounded proud of herself.
The jacket was surprisingly comfortable. Kurt decided to keep wearing it for the moment.
"And in the next room, you'll find the library," Gideon continued. "Please, take a look."
Blaine walked through the door.
Kurt hung back with Zari. "Stay with us, please," he said. "I'm not ready to be left alone with a disembodied voice. Even if she knows my style."
But they were interrupted by the sound of a piano. "Kurt," Blaine called. "You've got to see this."
There, in the middle of the weird, futuristic ship-thing, was a wood-paneled room, with overstuffed chairs and carefully polished tables and books on shelves. And a piano. A baby grand piano. Blaine was sitting at it, testing its sound.
"It's in tune," Kurt said. Surprised.
"The next room has a large screen television," Gideon said. "And every movie that Judy Garland ever made."
Blaine looked at Kurt. His face said please can I keep this, like a space ship or time ship or whatever was actually a puppy that needed to be adopted.
Kurt couldn't resist that face. "Fine," he said. "But we just need to..."
There was a rumble in the floor.
"Gideon," Zari said. "What are you doing?"
"You should get strapped in," Gideon replied.
Zari herded them out of the library. "This is the hard part about living on a time ship."
"Wait," Kurt said.
"Hurry!" Zari replied.
They had just gotten strapped into some futuristic space-chairs when the ship shuddered and, with a whoosh, jumped.
"You can't do this to us," Kurt insisted. Blaine was busy barfing, which was totally not ok, and had Kurt even more upset than the unexpected take-off. "We have jobs. We have an apartment. And we didn't say you could kidnap us."
"I didn't do it," Sara responded as she unbuckled herself and got out of her chair. "Gideon. What the hell was that about?"
"There was activity near the apartment, Captain Lance," Gideon replied.
"So you decided to take your own evasive action." Sara rolled her eyes. "I told you. Just become invisible. Don't just leave unless I tell you to." She looked at Kurt and Blaine. "Look. I'm really sorry about that. We didn't mean to kidnap you."
Blaine wiped his face. "I wanted to say yes," he told Kurt. "This place is amazing."
"But... what about your work for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?" Kurt asked him.
"There are thousands of millennials dying to work for her," Blaine reminded him. "And before you bring up your work, you know that Elliott's music store is totally going out of business. He hasn't paid you in two months."
"It still isn't ok to walk out on a friend," Kurt fumed.
"Would you like me to connect to the cellular telephone network, Mr. Hummel?" Gideon asked. "You can call your friends from the ship."
Blaine gave Kurt a hopeful look.
"Ok," Kurt said. "Fine."
So Kurt called Elliott and asked for some unpaid vacation time. And Blaine called AOC's office and resigned. And then they looked at each other, and then at Sara and Zari.
"What now?" Kurt asked.
"When would you like to go?" Gideon replied.
Chapter 2: Troubled Times
Mixed point-of-view. Blaine first, then Sara, then Blaine again. Two asterisks (**) mark a change in POV. (I originally wrote a voiceover for the beginning, but I decided that it was redundant, plus it would have locked me into a single POV per chapter. So I ditched it. Still figuring out what works with this mix of characters right now.)
(I don't have a beta. Haven't had one for the vast majority of my writing, except for a couple LJ stories back in the day. I think betas are valuable, but I would need to know someone fairly well and make sure that we shared a sense of the characters, and an enjoyment of the way word choice and story structure and characterization work together.)
Blaine finished putting the gel in his hair and turned around to find Kurt already dressed. The clothes were new: a pair of tight turquoise pants, a maroon shirt with a subtle yet funky pattern, a neckerchief that tied the colors together, and the grey smoking jacket. Blaine raised his eyebrows appreciatively.
Kurt looked grim. "Everything is in the room," he said. "Everything. Clothes that fit. Skin care products." He looked at Blaine's head. "Hair gel."
"I hope everything is suitable, Mr. Hummel," said Gideon, from some invisible speaker.
Kurt blinked. Someone who didn't know him might have missed it, but to Blaine, it was as if Kurt had jumped out of his shoes.
"Have you seen Sara and Zari this morning?" Kurt asked Blaine.
"Captain Lance and Ms. Tomaz are completing their original mission in the 1980s," Gideon interjected. "They want you to make yourselves at home while they are gone. Would you like to explore the ship?"
"Come on," Blaine said. "Let's see what this place is like."
Kurt looked at the walls. "Fine," he said. "This is as good a time as any."
Each door opened at their touch. One room was obviously occupied - Blaine recognized the shirt that Zari had been wearing the night before on the back of a chair. In another, there was a huge bed that looked half-slept in. Not as if the occupant had been half-asleep - like a person had slept on half of the bed and spread her things across half of the room. But the other half of the bed was carefully made, and that side of the room was neat. Neat as if carefully preserved, not neat as if the owner was a neat freak. Kurt and Blaine shared a look, but didn't say anything.
"This is Captain Lance's room," Gideon said, as if that were an explanation.
Kurt frowned at the wall that seemed to be the source of the voice, and Blaine decided not to ask questions.
There were other bedrooms, too. They didn't look like anyone had slept in them recently, but each one had some hint of a previous occupant in it. One room had a typewriter with crumpled sheets of paper surrounding it. Another had a set of Lego astronauts fighting a dinosaur. And then there were photos - like of family members, or something.
Blaine looked at Kurt. Kurt looked at the walls and shook his head slightly, but Blaine decided to ask, anyway. "Gideon," Blaine said. "Are there other people living on this ship?"
"The only current occupants are Captain Lance and Ms. Tomaz," Gideon replied. "And, of course, you and Mr. Hummel."
Kurt looked at Blaine again, warning him to shut up. So Blaine followed Kurt down the hall into the other rooms.
They had seen the infirmary before. And the library, of course. There was also a kitchen, and a room with a TV, and what looked like some kind of science lab. And way down the hall, storage rooms. Tools, some familiar from Kurt's father's shop, but some bizarre and futuristic. Various jackets and things that looked like space suits. Old costumes.
"I prefer to keep things once I have fabricated them," Gideon explained.
Blaine nodded and kept exploring.
The last room - way in the back - was full of weapons.
Knives. Guns. Ancient Greek spears. A bo staff. Samurai swords.
"This looks like the props room at NYADA," Kurt commented drily. "Except real."
Blaine picked up a sword and touched its blade, then winced. "They're sharp."
Kurt nodded. "They've been cleaned recently, too." He tilted his head towards a trash can full of rags.
Rags that were stained brown. Like... "Is that... blood?" Blaine asked.
Kurt looked grim and picked up one of the knives. He spun it experimentally, then tucked it into the sleeve of the smoking jacket. "We may have discovered why the ship is so empty," he said.
"And we're next," Blaine concluded. "We should get out of here."
A shadow appeared in the doorway. Small. Compact. With a halo of blonde hair, teased, 80s style.
"And where do you think you're going to go?" Sara just looked at them.
Blaine grabbed the nearest weapon - a pair of nunchucks, which was unfortunate, because he had no idea how to use them.
Sara shook her head at him, then knocked them out of his hands. Kurt pulled the knife from his sleeve and lunged at her. She stepped to the side, grabbed Kurt's wrist, and flipped him to the floor.
"These are real," she said, touching the tip of the knife to Kurt's throat. "Not props. Leave them alone until you learn something other than stage-fighting." She flipped the knife, slipped it into a hidden sheath, stood up, and brushed off her hands.
Blaine looked at her, wide-eyed. "Are you going to kill us? Like you killed all the others?"
Sara shook her head, turned, and walked out the door. "Let's talk somewhere more comfortable," she said, and led the way back to the library.
"First things first," Sara said. "We're not planning to kill either one of you." She stood in the middle of the room, with Zari sitting on the arm of one of the overstuffed chairs near her side. Kurt leaned back against the piano, arms crossed. Blaine sat on the piano bench and watched.
"Well, that's something." The snarky edge to Kurt's voice was a warning. Blaine hoped that Sara recognized it.
"But if you play with those weapons, you're likely to hurt yourselves. So leave that room alone." Sara looked from Kurt to Blaine and back.
"I don't mess with them," Zari added. "Sara's the one with training."
"And what kind of training is that?" Kurt asked. Well, not really 'asked.' It was more of a challenge than a question. "Some kind of special forces?"
Sara raised her eyebrows in response. "League of Assassins."
Kurt shook his head as if to clear it. "League of what?"
"League of Assassins," Blaine explained. Well, repeated. It felt like an explanation. "You know, from the Batman comic books?" It was quite possible that Kurt hadn't been listening to the plot when Blaine read him those Batman fics. After all, they had gotten quite distracted halfway through the story, when they decided to experiment with the positions that were described.
Kurt wasn't distracted this time. "Comic books," he said flatly. "So Batman is real."
Zari wiggled her hand: maybe, maybe not.
"Not in this universe," Sara equivocated.
"So now you're from another universe. As well as traveling through time." Kurt narrowed his eyes skeptically.
That wasn't Blaine's first reaction. "The multiverse is real." Wow. Blaine couldn't think of anything else to say.
"The multiverse was real," Sara said. "It isn't any more. At least, as far as we know."
"Ok," Kurt said. "I think you need to tell the whole story."
"It's long," Zari warned.
"I'll summarize," Sara promised. "There used to be a multiverse. With superheroes and everything. But some supervillains took it over and tried to destroy everything, and we - me, Zari, and our friends - tried to help stop them."
"Tried?" Kurt prodded.
"Tried," Sara nodded.
"It got really bad," Zari said. "Lots of people died."
"In the end, some of us - people without superpowers - went back in time to stop everything before it started," Sara explained. "And now we're here."
"Wait," Blaine said. "You left out the whole climax. Did it work?"
Sara gave a bleak shrug. "I have no idea."
"It is highly probable that it succeeded." Gideon's disembodied voice sounded like it was trying to be comforting.
"But you don't know," Sara said. "None of us know."
"There aren't supervillains here, at least," Zari pointed out.
"But the normal villains are bad enough," Sara sighed. "We left a world of superheroes and villains, and landed in a world that's well on its way to fascism."
Blaine nodded. "We've got Nazis, but we don't have Captain America." He blinked. "Wait. That's Marvel."
"We have the movies available for streaming," Gideon said helpfully.
"So you used to be time-traveling superheroes," Blaine started.
"Not technically heroes, but yeah," Sara said.
"So... and I'm sorry if this sounds rude..." Blaine looked at Kurt, who rolled his eyes. "Ok, Kurt thinks I should just be rude, because you did kidnap us. But..." He looked from Sara to Zari and back. "If you're used to working with superheroes, what did you want with us?"
Sara shrugged. "We were feeling stuck."
"And lonely," Zari added.
"And lonely. And you two are awfully cute together." Sara started to leave, then turned back. "And I like to dance."
Sara organized the weapons room before doing anything else. Because who knew what the boys had done to her weapons. And, fine, because she wanted a little time to clear her head.
But there wasn't much of a mess, especially compared to what had happened every time that Rory (or, god forbid, Nate) had gotten into the room.
Which meant that Zari was still in the kitchen when Sara got there.
Zari folded her arms, raised her eyebrows, and looked at Sara. She didn't say a word. She didn't need to.
"Fine," Sara said. "I overreacted. And we agreed that we would let them explore the ship without us. And maybe they weren't ready to hear about Assassins and the multiverse."
"You were frustrated that your mission did not affect the timeline like you hoped it would." Gideon was attempting to be comforting. She had to do that a lot. It was starting to get on Sara's nerves.
"The police in the 1980s didn't even care about the rape charges," Sara fumed. "No more than the Senate did in 2018, after those women came forward. It's like when we made sure the Access Hollywood tapes were found, all over again." She sighed. "Nothing we do can change this timeline. No matter how outrageous."
"Unlike in our old universe," Zari said grimly.
Sara glanced at the walls, but Gideon didn't say anything. Good. Gideon was learning that there were some things that Sara was not interested in hearing.
"So," Sara sighed. "What now?"
"We find another time when we can shift history," Zari said. "We keep trying."
"Perhaps you should get a suggestion from Mr. Hummel or Mr. Anderson," Gideon offered. "This is their universe, after all."
"They don't trust us," Sara pointed out. "Or at least, Kurt doesn't. And I have no idea what to do about it."
"Mr. Hummel is currently in the television room, watching the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born," Gideon said. "There is fresh popcorn and hot chocolate in the replicator. You could deliver them to him."
Zari opened the replicator and grabbed a handful of popcorn. "Not bad," she said. "Needs more salt."
"A peace offering?" Sara asked Gideon. "Fine."
Sara paused at the door. Kurt was sitting on the couch, wrapped in an afghan that Sara had never seen before, watching a movie that, as far as she knew, hadn't been loaded into the Waverider's database before they picked up Kurt and Blaine. Gideon was full of surprises.
It took Kurt a moment to realize that Sara was there. He glanced up, blinked, and paused the movie.
"You don't need to get up," Sara said.
But it was too late. Kurt had already untangled himself from the afghan and was on his feet.
"I brought popcorn," Sara said. "And hot chocolate."
Kurt hesitated for a moment. Sara tossed one piece into her mouth, then held out the bowl.
"Not poisoned," Sara said. "I promise."
Kurt took the bowl. "You don't have to taste the hot chocolate," he said. "I'm not that paranoid."
Sara looked at the couch. "May I sit down?" she asked.
Kurt eyed her for a moment, then nodded and sat beside her.
"I know you don't like me," Sara started.
"It's not that," Kurt interrupted. "It's nothing personal."
"Not even after I disarmed you?" Sara looked sideways at him.
"I came at you with a knife," Kurt shrugged. His ears were slightly red. Embarrassed? Angry? Just pale enough to turn red the slightest emotion? Sara wasn't quite sure.
"Then what is it?" Sara asked. "Because I can tell that you aren't comfortable with this."
Kurt moved the mug from one hand to the other, then looked at her. "Blaine is a romantic. And an optimist." Kurt pressed his lips together. "He wants the world to be better. And when it isn't - like recently - he needs to imagine hope. So he's been immersing himself in stories. Movies. Comics. TV shows. Fan fiction." He turned the mug around. "And now a fantasy has shown up and swept him away. And he thinks he's become a companion for a new Dr. Who or something."
"And you're worried about being left behind?" Sara asked.
"I'm worried that he'll get hurt," Kurt said. "That this will turn out to be some kind of... creepy dystopian nightmare, or something. Or at least that time travel won't be any more effective than running social media for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez."
It was Sara's turn to shrug. "Fair enough," she said. "But I promise - we won't hurt Blaine. Or you." Not if we can help it, she added in her head.
Blaine was in the library, sitting at the piano. Sara could hear him playing, even before Gideon told her where to find him. She stood at the doorway and listened. The piano, like the afghan and the movies in the other room, was a new addition since the boys had joined them. A welcome one, she thought as she stood at the door, listening to Blaine play.
He didn't look at the door until he finished, and Sara clapped. He looked up in surprise. "Sorry. I didn't see you there."
"That's all right," Sara replied. "I enjoyed listening."
"It's nice to have a piano," Blaine said. "It's been hard to find a place to practice since I graduated from college. The diner never closed, so its piano was just for performing." He grimaced. "That's why I made so many mistakes."
"It's nice to have music." Sara paused, then changed the subject. "I just talked to Kurt."
"He's worried, isn't he." Blaine didn't sound like he was asking a question. "He thinks I've jumped into some kind of escapist fantasy."
Sara shrugged. "That's pretty much what he said. He's worried that you'll be disappointed." She tilted her head and pursed her lips. "Just remember... we're not heroes. We're not very good at fixing things. Usually we screw things up. If we're lucky, we screw them up for the better." She turned to go, then paused at the door. "He's watching movies in the other room. There's popcorn."
"Popcorn?" Blaine got up from the piano bench. "I hope there's some left."
Blaine woke up and didn't know where he was for a moment. Well, he knew that he had fallen asleep with his head on Kurt's lap. It was just that he didn't know the couch, or the afghan, or the TV. But he knew the movie.
Judy Garland was tapping her heels together. There's no place like home...
"Hello, sleepyhead," Kurt smiled down at him. "You missed most of the Technicolor part."
"I didn't mean to," Blaine confessed. "I meant to sing along with you."
"Next time we plan a singalong, I won't give you a head massage," Kurt said lightly.
Blaine started to sit up, ready to kiss.
But Kurt moved to the side and helped him get into sitting position, instead. Blaine was disappointed, but Kurt threaded his fingers through Blaine's and rested his head on Blaine's shoulder. It's not about you, the gesture said. Blaine rubbed his thumb over the back of Kurt's hand in response.
On the screen, the house spun backwards and landed, and Judy Garland woke up.
"I know it's supposed to be a happy ending, waking up and seeing all of her friends and family," Blaine commented. "But I think it's sad when it goes back to black and white."
"Yes, but the world with all the colors also had scary flying monkeys," Kurt pointed out. "And an apple tree that attacks people. And the fabulous shoes were kind of a curse. You slept through those parts."
"Is that what you're afraid of on this ship?" Blaine asked.
"Not flying monkeys or evil apple trees," Kurt replied. "But yes. I'm afraid that there's a dark underside to this place, with the perfectly in-tune piano and the popcorn and the clothes made just for us."
Blaine looked intently at Kurt. "You know that if you decide there's no place like home, I will help you click your heels and go back," he said. "All you have to do is ask."
They stayed curled together on the couch until the end of the credits. And then, just as they started to stand, metal straps extruded from the arms of the couch and held them in place.
"Being held together against our will isn't kinky!" Kurt called to whoever was running this. "So stop it. Now."
"It is only for a moment," Gideon replied. "It is a safety measure for unexpected time jumps."
"Please, no," Blaine said. "I don't want to barf on the couch."
"It will not take long," Gideon promised.
When the time distortion ended, Sara and Zari ran into the room.
"I hope you're both all right," Sara said. "Gideon, what the hell was that?"
"We are now in December, 1943," Gideon announced.
"Gideon, I'm not a historian," Sara reminded her. "Context, please."
"World War II?" Blaine guessed.
"We are in Culver City, California, on the lots of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios," Gideon said.
"MGM," Kurt said, looking at the opening credits of the next movie. "What were they filming in 1943?"
Blaine watched with him. "Um," he said, as the roaring lion gave way to the title card.
Sara nodded. "Boys and girls, it looks like we're meeting Judy Garland in St. Louis."
"Or the version of St. Louis that was filmed in LA, at least." Kurt added.
Chapter 3: Next Year We All May Be Living in the Past
Title is from the original version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine, 1943. Lyrics in the story are used without permission. The history of the lyric change (which does not involve a time-traveling former glee club star) is described in an article from Entertainment Weekly, https://ew.com/article/2007/01/08/history-popular-holiday-song/
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"So. What exactly do you do when you visit the past?" Blaine was sitting on one of the kitchen stools, pulled into the hall beside the bathroom where Zari was putting on lipstick. To a stranger's eye, he might have seemed simply curious, but Kurt recognized the energy that Blaine always radiated before a performance. Blaine might swear that he would go home if Kurt asked, but it was obvious how excited he was by all of this.
"Well, first Gideon helps us find some period-appropriate clothing." Zari pointed at the high-waisted trousers that both Blaine and Kurt were wearing. "Then we come up with a cover story that fits the place we're visiting. That means picking names that fit the time. I'll be 'Zelda," she said. "Or 'Z' for short. Which should make things easier. Blaine, you should be 'Bill.' Kurt and Sara can just go by their own names." She twisted her hair into a roll and inserted a comb. It fell out, sending her hair tumbling down her face. "Shit. I'm no good at this."
"Here," Kurt offered. "Let me try." He twisted Zari's hair again and pinned it in place. "How is that?"
Zari turned her head from one side to the other, trying to knock it loose. "Nice," she said. "That's even better than when Sara does it."
"I spent a lot of time fixing the girls' hair in show choir," Kurt said. "It would have been a disaster if their hair came loose - accidentally, I mean, sometimes it came loose on purpose - during a number. By the time we graduated, I was the only person our friend Rachel would trust."
"Divas," Blaine whispered loudly.
"That should be a useful skill," Sara said, rounding the corner. Her hair was already up, held in place with a scarf. "Film crews are likely to need people to help with the tech work. Kurt, we'll introduce you as an assistant hairdresser or something."
"Or something?" Kurt gave her a skeptical look.
"We improvise," Sara said.
"A lot," Zari added.
"Every time we've had an elaborate plan, it has fallen apart," Sara explained. "So we've stopped even trying at this point."
Kurt and Blaine shared a look. "Well, at least there was a lot of improvisational theatre at NYADA," Kurt said drily.
"Ok. So. Ground rules," Sara said. "Don't bring any future technology. Don't make any bets, or do anything else that relies on knowledge of the future. And don't kill anyone. Remember, we're here as tourists, not because we're trying to change anything. So keep a low profile." She looked at each of them. "You've got a day or so to play. We meet back at the jump ship tomorrow morning. Ready?"
Blaine nodded eagerly. Kurt was a little slower to respond, but even he had a little shiver of anticipation. Classic Hollywood musicals, in the flesh.
"All right, then," Sara said. "Let's go see some music."
The "jump ship" - which was a little spaceship, or time ship, or something like that - landed in a park on Overland Avenue, and promptly disappeared.
"So you don't have Google maps in the 1940s," Sara reminded them. "Look at the scenery. Memorize this place. This is where we meet tomorrow morning. Don't make me come looking for you."
"You're coming too," Blaine said. "Right?"
"We'll try to," Sara said.
"But things pretty much never go as planned," Zari added. "So... just memorize the spot, and don't get lost, and make sure you're here when it's time to go."
"You looked at the maps before we left the ship, right?" Sara looked at Kurt, then at Blaine.
Kurt and Blaine both nodded.
"Ok. So. Which way to the lot where MGM is filming?" Sara quizzed them.
Blaine and Kurt pointed their fingers in opposite directions.
"This is bad," Zari said.
"Ok..." Sara started. "Any clue what time of day it is?"
Kurt and Blaine looked at her.
"Ok. Let's stay in the park for a bit, and I'll explain about analog watches." Sara led them back into a line of trees and explained about setting and winding watches.
Zari stood back and looked amused. "I thought you were actors."
"We never had to rely on props to tell time," Blaine grumbled.
"It's 11 am," Sara said. "Remember to wind your watches tonight. And now... where's the sun?"
They looked blankly at her.
"Seriously? I know you two weren't Assassins, but you were never Boy Scouts?" Sara rolled her eyes.
"I got kicked out of the Boy Scouts," Kurt said. "If you haven't noticed, I'm gay."
"They weren't very friendly to gay kids," Blaine added.
"Well," Sara said. "Fortunately, the Girl Scouts were always the cool ones anyway. So. It's a December morning, so the sun is to the southeast. Ok?"
Kurt and Blaine nodded.
"And on the maps, the MGM lot where Meet Me in St. Louis is filming was southeast of the park. Right?" Sara waited for an answer, somewhat patiently.
They nodded again.
"So... which way do you need to walk to go southeast?" Sara looked at them expectantly.
Blaine closed his eyes for a minute, then opened them and frowned.
Zari shook her head. "Really?"
"It's towards the sun," Sara said. "Fortunately, you just need to follow Overland. The two of you lead, and we'll follow."
They didn't get lost on the way to the lot. Which was something, Kurt figured. But when they got there, there were some kind of security guards watching everything.
They looked at Kurt and Blaine. "You the new errand boys? To replace the ones who just left?"
Blaine glanced at Kurt. Kurt nodded.
"Get in there, then," the guard said. "They needed you two hours ago."
All four of them stepped forward. The guard held out his hand.
"Wait a minute," he said. "Where do you ladies think you're going?"
Sara shrugged and pointed.
The guard shook his head. "You aren't part of the job. Get out of here."
Blaine gave Sara a panicked look. She responded with a shrug and turned away. Zari mouthed something that could have been see you tomorrow morning and followed her.
The guard pointed. "That way," he said. "Get yourselves to the set, and be quick about it."
As they rounded the corner, they could hear something. Or someone. Singing.
"There you are," a voice called from behind them. "Aren't you the two who were just hired to run errands on the set?"
Kurt and Blaine nodded together, as if it were a synchronized dance move.
"Well, then, get over here," the man said. "It's time to bring lunch to the set, and we need help."
When they got back to the soundstage, there was some kind of rehearsal happening. The actresses were out of costume, with their hair down, but were walking back and forth, following one another, saying their lines.
"I don't just want to be introduced to him. I want it to be something strange and wonderful." Judy waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
"Cut!" The director walked over to Judy. "You realize that your character is an innocent."
"Of course," Judy said. "It's just... you know that a girl has urges."
The other actress - Kurt didn't remember her name - sighed and walked away. "I'm never going to remember my lines if she keeps doing this," she said.
"It's not my fault that you don't learn your lines fast enough," Judy shrugged.
"Again," the director said.
"Is that...?" Blaine whispered.
"Liza Minnelli's father." Kurt nodded. "Before he fell in love with Judy."
"He doesn't seem in love with her now," Blaine commented.
"Shh," Kurt said. "They're starting again."
But then Judy saw the food cart, and cut the scene short herself.
"Can't we just eat?" she asked. "There's no point in practicing this if we have to switch scenes after lunch."
The other actress rolled her eyes, but walked over and picked up her meal.
"Not that one," one of the assistants said. "Just soup for you."
"That's not what I ordered," Judy said.
"That's what you've having," the assistant said. "Studio's orders."
Judy sighed, but sat down to eat, anyway.
"What are we doing after lunch?" the other actress asked.
"We're switching to one of the Christmas scenes." Another assistant had a copy of the schedule. "You'll need to go back to your dressing rooms and change."
Judy stood up. "I'll go and change now," she said. "I'll eat my lunch in my dressing room."
"Here," Blaine offered. "Could I help you carry something?"
Judy plopped her dish into his arms.
Kurt and Blaine shared a look, and followed her.
A woman holding a pile of fabric - another costume? - looked up in surprise. "You're back already."
"There's another scene this afternoon," Judy said. "One of the Christmas scenes."
The woman with the fabric looked worried. "Your hairdresser just quit," she said.
Kurt coughed. "Actually..." He paused for a second. This was insane. Totally insane. Sara Lance was a madwoman to even suggest it, and... "I'm the new hairdresser."
Judy looked at the costume assistants. "Then everything is set."
Blaine - no, Bill, Kurt needed to practice his cover name - offered to go find Judy's real lunch order. The costume assistants got Judy dressed. And then...
Kurt stood behind Judy Garland - Judy Garland! - and brushed out her hair. "I just wanted to say, Miss Garland... it was truly wonderful to watch you sing. In person, I mean."
"Thank you," she said. "It was only a rehearsal, though."
"I mean it," Kurt said. "You really sold it."
"You thought he was really going to ring my bell?" She looked out of the corner of her eye.
Kurt smirked down at her. "I think everyone's bells were ringing." He rolled one side of her hair up and fastened it in place.
She laughed. "What's your name?"
"Kurt," he said, walking around to her other side.
"Nice to meet you, Kurt," she said.
"It's nice to meet you too, Miss Garland," Kurt said, rolling up the other side of her head. She winced. "Sorry!" Kurt apologized. "Did I poke you with that pin?"
"I was just surprised," Judy said. "I'm not usually poked... there."
Kurt pressed his lips together and tried not to smile.
"You can laugh," she said. "I would prefer it if you would."
Kurt laughed. "I need to curl your bangs now, Miss Garland," he said. "Hold still. This iron is hot."
"It's time for something to be hot," Judy said. "And please. Call me Judy."
"All right," Kurt smiled. "Judy." He finished with her bangs and attached the flowers to the back of her hair. "These will barely show," he said.
"That's true of the best things, you know," she said. She turned her head so she could see the back in the mirror.
"There's a scarf..." Kurt looked around. "There. Just hold still..." He wrapped it over her head. "Ready."
At that moment, Blaine came back with the food.
"Thank you," Judy said to both of them. "I'll eat this before getting my makeup done." She glanced at the dressing room door. "Could you watch? To make sure the studio people don't come in here until I'm done?"
"Of course," Kurt said, and followed Blaine out the door.
"You just did Judy Garland's hair," Blaine whispered.
Kurt pressed his lips together to keep from smiling too widely. "I know."
The actual filming was kind of boring. The props had to be put in place, and then moved, and then adjusted. The lighting would be set, and then changed, and then changed again. The actors would run through their lines, and the director would stop them, and tell them to change positions, and they would run through them again. It might have been excruciating, especially compared to being on a live stage, except that Judy kept performing her lines as other characters. In the voice of the little girl who played her sister, or as the woman playing her mother. Once, even, imitating Winston Churchill.
Blaine was sent off to pick up something for the prop department in another part of town. When he got back, he walked up behind Kurt, close enough to talk without other people hearing.
"I saw Sara and Z," Blaine whispered. "They're heading down to the ocean on the rail line. They said we can meet them in Venice this evening, if we want."
Kurt nodded. "I think I've got a job," he whispered back. "I don't know when a hairdresser stops working for a movie like this."
"Sara said that we should set a rendezvous," Blaine said. "How about where the streetcar crosses Overland, at 10 o'clock? Sara pointed that out as a good landmark."
"I'll be there," Kurt whispered.
And then Kurt was called to fix Judy's hair, and Blaine had to move some props to a different part of the sound stage, and before Kurt knew it, the crew was shutting down for the day.
"I expected someone to say 'that's a wrap,'" Kurt admitted. He untied the scarf from Judy's head and set it aside.
"The scene is never done," Judy grumbled. "There's always a prop in the wrong place, or hair that isn't quite right, or someone who has trouble with a line."
Kurt pulled out the flowers and set them beside the scarf. "Do you need to run lines?" he asked. "I have friends who ask me to help sometimes."
"I know them already," she said. "You don't have to leave anything behind," she said, imitating someone... Groucho Marx? "Except your snow people, of course." She waggled her eyebrows. Yes. Definitely Groucho Marx. "Next scene," she said. "We won't get to that one for weeks. Who knows what props we'll go through before we get that set up just right."
Kurt loosened one of the hair pins, then the other, and smoothed down her hair. "Does it always stay like that?" he asked, looking at the waves.
"It need brushing," Judy said. "Else it gets all tangled, and it will take forever to get it ready tomorrow."
Kurt picked up a brush and started.
"It will take forever," Judy warned.
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Kurt's voice was too high for a good imitation of Clark Gable, but Judy laughed anyway. "Sorry," Kurt said. "I just realized that was the competition."
Judy laughed again. "That hardly matters."
"I've got a feeling that we're not in Kansas any more," Kurt quoted. Then he winced. "Sorry. You probably get that all the time."
Judy winked at him and cackled. "Toto! We must be over the rainbow." But her voice sounded more like...
"Nice wicked witch," Kurt commented.
"Her voice is fun," Judy said. "Though the makeup was a nightmare."
And she proceeded to perform Dorothy's entire last scene - the one after she returned from Oz - entirely in the voice of the Wicked Witch of the West. And Kurt had to keep brushing her hair, and avoid randomly quoting Wicked in response. No anachronisms, he reminded himself.
"That's it," Kurt said, as he released the last tangle.
"This has been fun," Judy said. And then she glanced upwards. "It's early," she said. "The little girls can't work in the evenings. And I don't have to perform tonight. But it's far too early to retire." She shook her hair loose. "I'm going out. Would you care to accompany me?"
So Kurt... went out drinking with Judy Garland. Well, Judy drank alcohol. Kurt drank water, and watched, and laughed, and occasionally redirected some creepy guys who were making a move on her.
After a few hours, they took a streetcar back to Judy's apartment. She was weaving and stumbling, so Kurt supported her off the trolley, and then helped her up to her apartment.
She sunk into a chair and pulled off her shoes. "Thank you," she said. And then she stood, walked into the kitchen, and pulled a bottle of pills off a cupboard.
"What are those?" Kurt asked. Every atom in his body quivered in a warning. Like every other one of Judy's fans, Kurt knew exactly how she had died. In 1969. Not in 1943. But from an overdose of pills. Like those.
"Just medicine," Judy said. Her voice was less slurred than it should have been, given how much she had had to drink.
"I don't think you need those," Kurt said, as gently as possible.
"I do," Judy said. "Can't sleep without them."
Shit, Kurt thought.
Judy frowned at the bottle. "Can't get it open," she said. "Help me?"
"Here," Kurt said, and took the bottle from her hand. Then he turned and looked for the highest shelf, and put the bottle on it.
Judy looked up at him. She was short. Shorter than Rachel. She frowned at him. "Not fair," she said.
"No," Kurt said. "I'm not playing fair right now. But you can't have those." Barbituates. Alcohol. Shit. Bad news.
Judy's face fell. "But I can't sleep."
Kurt pressed his lips together and thought. "When I was little," he said. He pushed his memory back, back past the stories that he normally told. "My mother..." He stopped, then started again. "My mother would sing me to sleep." Was it a memory? Or a wish? Honestly, Kurt wasn't sure.
But Judy was listening. And nodding.
"If you want..." he paused. "I can sing you to sleep."
She looked at him.
"Go and change," Kurt said gently. "I'll be out here."
Judy's nightgown was not... the kind of nightgown that Kurt had expected. Of course, girl-next-door movies were not representative of the wardrobe of the actresses. He knew that.
He averted his eyes, and pulled his chair into the bedroom.
"Close your eyes," he said. "Take a deep breath."
And then he sang.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles may be out of sight...
Judy's eyes popped open. "You're singing it wrong," she slurred.
Kurt shook his head.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay...
"That's not right." Judy pushed herself back to sitting. "Those aren't the words."
"Yes, they are," Kurt said. "Close your eyes..."
"NO," Judy insisted. "Remember. I know my lines."
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, Judy sang.
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past...
Kurt frowned. "Really?"
Judy nodded, with the exaggerated and completely sincere nod of someone who is quite drunk. "Those are the lyrics," she said.
Kurt winced. "Really? Because they're..."
"Awful." Judy nodded again. "So awful."
"I was going to say depressing," Kurt shrugged. "But... yes."
"They get worse," Judy added.
Faithful friends who are were dear to us
Will be near to us no more...
"Wow," Kurt said. "Well. That's not such a great bedtime song, now, is it." He paused, trying to remember. Honestly, the History of Musical Theatre class at NYADA had been a long time ago. Plus all he could remember from it was Rachel's incessant commentary. But maybe there had been some story about lyrics that were changed...?
Judy started to climb out of bed. "Need my medicine," she said.
"NO." Kurt stood and pushed her back into the bed. Holy shit, this was awkward. "Look," he said. "If I make up different lyrics, will you at least lie down and listen?"
"Not the right lyrics," Judy grumbled.
"I know," Kurt said. "But sometimes a singer needs to make them his own. Or her own. You know?"
"Ok." Judy lay down with an overdramatic flourish.
"Just close your eyes and listen," Kurt ordered.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now
By the end of the song, Judy was snoring quietly. Kurt got up, let himself out of the apartment, and headed for the streetcar's intersection with Overland. It was getting close to ten. Blaine would be waiting. And, hopefully, not worrying.
Blaine was standing on the corner, half shadowed. When he saw Kurt, he smiled.
"I... just sung Judy Garland to sleep." Kurt wanted to skip, or pirouette.
"What?" Kurt asked.
"You're giddy," Blaine said.
Kurt just hugged himself and smiled. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, even."
"Wow," Blaine said. "That's..."
"I know!" Ok. Kurt did actually skip.
Blaine grabbed his hand. "You have to tell me everything," he said. "EVERYthing. I mean, you just spent the past FIVE hours - maybe even more - with JUDY GARLAND."
Kurt smiled. "I know."
"So..." Blaine prodded. "What's she like?"
"Oh. My. God. Blaine, you wouldn't believe it from watching her movies," Kurt started. "She is the funniest person I've ever met. And her impressions..."
"Better than Sam's?" Blaine asked.
"You've got to be kidding me," Kurt said. "Yes. SO much better."
"That sounds so amazing," Blaine said. "I'm jealous. Not, you know, toxic jealous. I just would have loved to be there."
"It wasn't all wonderful, though," Kurt admitted. "She wanted to take sleeping pills."
Blaine gave him a look that said that he understood.
"That's why I sang to her," Kurt said. "Because she couldn't fall asleep otherwise." He shook his head. "I knew that her life was rough. That she was sad. But I didn't know it was so overwhelming."
"Are you going back tomorrow?" Blaine asked.
Kurt nodded. "I'm her hairdresser now." He laughed. "Judy Garland's gay hairdresser. How much more stereotypical could I get?"
Blaine just smiled. "What will you sing next time?" he asked. "If you have a chance?"
Kurt looked into the distance. "Honestly, part of me wants to sing Get Happy to her."
"When was that written?" Blaine asked. "Wasn't it from a movie in the 50s or something?"
Kurt nodded. "I think so. But I remember the sheet music for it. I think it was originally written in the Depression." He grimaced. "But I would want to do the slow version, the version from the duet with Barbra Streisand. And Judy won't sing that until the 60s. So maybe that's not a good idea."
Blaine nodded. "Probably not."
They walked for a while. "But what about you? How are Sara and Z? How was Venice Beach?"
"I... got propositioned," Blaine admitted.
Kurt stared at him.
"I said no. Obviously." Blaine gave Kurt a strange look.
"But...?" Kurt prodded. "Because you've got one of those looks. And it's 1943 in Los Angeles. I hope you haven't prepared an entire dance number with a bunch of gay GIs backing you up."
Blaine laughed and shook his head. "I got an address," he said. "Of a hotel that rents rooms." He gave Kurt one of those intense looks. "Discreetly."
Kurt's pants suddenly felt tight. "How far?" he asked, as lightly as possible.
"A few blocks," Blaine said.
Kurt kept his voice carefully flirtaceous. "Which way?"
It didn't take long to check in - a quick exchange of cash and keys, then directions to a room upstairs. Actual keys were frustratingly slow when you were used to key cards, but eventually Blaine and Kurt got the door open.
And then they got the door closed.
It was difficult to get undressed, between the hungry kisses and the groping hands, but eventually they managed it and fucked until they saw stars.
Afterwards, Kurt lay back on the bed, naked and sated, Blaine's head pillowed on his shoulder. "A cigarette would be period-appropriate right now," he murmured.
"You would need to sit up," Blaine said, putting his chin on Kurt's shoulder. "And also, lung cancer is gross."
"I'll just have to make do with pillow talk," Kurt smiled.
"That would be fine with me." Blaine stroked Kurt's chest. "You know, I've been wanting to do this ever since you put on that smoking jacket back on the ship. Two days ago."
"So have I," Kurt admitted.
"So why didn't we?" Blaine lifted his head enough to look Kurt in the eye. "Were you that worried about the ship being safe?" He ran his finger along Kurt's collarbone. "Because... I'm glad we had sex, but this is 1943. I think the ship is safer."
Kurt lifted his head enough to kiss Blaine's ear. "It wasn't that. It's..." He looked around the room. "These walls don't talk to us. Or watch us."
Blaine crawled up the bed until his face was next to Kurt's. "You don't like being watched."
Kurt shrugged. "No," he said. "And certainly not by an AI stalker who knows my type of underwear."
Blaine nodded slowly. "I hadn't thought of it that way," he admitted. And then he gave Kurt a look that made Kurt's toes curl. "How long do we have this room for?"
"I paid for the entire night," Kurt said softly. "Our next round can be slow."
"Come in!" Judy called as soon as Kurt knocked on the door of her dressing room.
It was morning, back at the sound stage. And Kurt was ready to work.
But when he entered the dressing room, he saw that Judy was sitting in front of the mirror in a dressing gown, brushing her hair. Kurt paused. "I'm here to do your hair," he said. "But shouldn't you be in your costume first?"
"I'm not going onto the set today," Judy said. "I'm sick." She looked at him and coughed dramatically.
Kurt looked at her skeptically. "Are you sure?"
Judy made a face. "Sick of this part, at least. Sick of playing a naive girl."
Judy turned, and her robe fell open. She stood and walked towards him.
Kurt covered his eyes. "No. Wait. What are you doing?"
"Seducing you," Judy said.
"Wait. Stop," Kurt protested. "I'm..."
"Married," Judy said. "I know. I saw your ring. But that hardly matters."
"It does to me!" Kurt spluttered.
"Well, you're the first man for whom it does," Judy replied skeptically.
"Well, it's true," Kurt replied. He was about to elaborate - though he had never imagined that he would need to come out to Judy Garland, of all people.
But she sank into her chair, wrapped her robe around herself, and started to cry.
Kurt grabbed another chair and pulled it up beside her. "What's wrong?"
"Everything," she said. "I feel sick. There was barely any breakfast. And this movie is going to be awful... the songs are wrong, the director keeps fussing about props until I'm bored to tears, the other actresses hate me..." She looked up. "And I'm tired of being the plain little girl next door. I'm twenty-one years old. I'm a woman." She sighed. "And nobody thinks of me that way."
"Of course they do," Kurt says. "You're a beautiful woman. And an amazing performer. And thousands - millions - of people think so. And most of them love you without wanting to sleep with you."
Judy shook her head. "Like a little girl."
"No," Kurt said. "Listen. You might not realize this - you might never realize this - but your work is important. To so many people." He paused. "Are you sure you don't want to go on?"
Judy sighed. "I'm just so tired," she said. "I don't know if I can."
"Then take a break." Kurt sat back and looked at her. "Take the time you need. Get some sleep." He frowned at her. "But don't use those pills."
She nodded. "The other hairdresser was gone yesterday because he was sick," Judy said. "I could be sick now, too." She frowned. "But if I'm sick, do you still get paid?"
Kurt had no idea how to answer that. But fortunately, there was a knock on the dressing room door.
"I can answer it," Kurt said. "If you want people to think you are really sick, you should stay in here."
Judy nodded, and Kurt got up and opened the door.
Blaine looked in. "Hi," he said. "Am I disturbing anything?"
Kurt looked at him, and looked back at Judy, and made a decision. He leaned forward, grabbed Blaine's face, and kissed him.
When they pulled apart, Blaine looked at him, confused.
"Judy," Kurt said, "This is Bill. He's..."
Judy nodded. "He's what matters," she said. "Now I understand." She looked from one of them to the other. "Why you don't want to sleep with a woman."
Kurt nodded. "No matter how beautiful she is," he added.
Blaine gave Kurt a worried, we need to hurry look.
Judy saw it. "Go," she said.
"Take care of yourself," Kurt said. "Rest when you need it. Be amazing... for a long time." He swallowed.
"Go." Judy waved them out of her dressing room.
The door closed behind them.
Kurt looked back for a moment, and then followed Blaine back to the jump ship.
The jump ship docked, and the air lock opened, and they - Sara and Zari as well as Blaine and Kurt - climbed out. They walked through the halls of the ship in silence.
Sara led the way into the library and untied her scarf. Zari followed, shaking her hair out of her combs. Blaine held Kurt's hand all the way to the piano bench.
"Gideon?" Sara looked at Kurt and Blaine. "We check in every time we get back," she said. "To see if we changed history."
"Meet Me in St. Louis was released in 1944, and is considered one of Judy Garland's best performances," Gideon recited. "By the end of filming, Judy was in a relationship with Vincent Minnelli. Their daughter Liza was born in 1946, and became a musical star in her own right." She paused. "In 1969, after two more marriages and divorces, Judy died of an overdose of barbituates."
Kurt nodded. Blaine squeezed his hand.
"So history is what it has always been," Sara commented.
"In her later concerts, she was quite popular with gay men," Gideon added. "Some nights, she was known to dedicate a song to 'Kurt and Bill, wherever they are.'"
Blaine looked at Kurt and gave him a little smile. Kurt nodded, and smiled slightly back.
They sat for a moment longer. Then Sara stood up. "I'm going to the kitchen to get some food," she said. "Is anyone else hungry?"
Zari nodded fervently and followed her out of the room.
Blaine stayed behind. "You ok?" he asked.
Kurt nodded. "Go get something to eat," he said. "I'll be along soon. I just want to change out of these pants." He looked down at them and shook his head. "High waists are not my style."
Blaine looked at him for another moment, then nodded and got up. "I'll see you in a bit," he said.
Kurt returned to his room and looked at the walls. "Gideon?" he asked. "Are you there?"
"I am everywhere on this ship," she replied.
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," Kurt said. "But first. Thank you."
"You're welcome?" Gideon sounded unsure.
"You were the one who decided to go to 1943," Kurt said. "You were the one who took us to see Judy Garland."
"I thought you might appreciate that," Gideon said.
"You know me pretty well," Kurt said. "Surprisingly well. Disturbingly well." He looked around at the walls. "You know, it's really hard to have a conversation with someone I can't see."
"I am sorry," Gideon replied.
"And that's part of what bothers me," Kurt said. "But it isn't all of it. These clothes, for instance." He pointed at the pair of green pants lying on the bed. "I don't even need to try them on to know that they'll fit like a second skin."
"I hope they are appropriate," Gideon said.
"They are perfect," Kurt admitted. "But that's also what's wrong with them. They are exactly right. Like you've been... not just watching and listening. But stalking." He looked intently at one corner of the room, and then at another. It was hard to have this kind of conversation without eye contact.
Gideon was silent.
"I don't know what you want from me," Kurt said. "From us. But I do know one thing. If we help you get what you want, we're going to need something in return." He looked at the bed. "And not just Judy Garland movies and perfectly-fitted clothes."
"Anything you want," Gideon replied.
"Privacy," Kurt said. "I want some privacy. When I'm in this room - and especially when Blaine is in this room with me - I want you out." He frowned at the walls. "Whatever that means. No watching. No listening. No mysteriously delivering condoms to the bedside tables."
"I thought you might want them," Gideon said.
"Just... make them available someplace else. Someplace we can pick them up. Along with the clothes. And the skin care products. And the hair gel. And, for god's sake, let us pick up clean underwear someplace before we go to bed." Kurt looked at the walls. "Understood?"
"Completely," Gideon said. "This is the last that you that you will hear from me while you're in this room." She paused. "Except... can I make one request?"
"I'll listen," Kurt said. "No promises."
"After you eat..." Gideon said. "Could you sing Over the Rainbow?"
And so, after dinner, he did. With Blaine singing harmony, all hope and dreaminess and attempts to get Kurt to smile back.
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" scene from Meet Me in St. Louis: https://youtu.be/CreWsnhQwzY
Map & article about LA's old streetcar system: https://la.curbed.com/2018/9/6/17825186/los-angeles-streetcar-map-red-pacific-electric
The making of Meet Me in St. Louis: http://www.thejudyroom.com/louis.html
Chapter 4: This Time Baby
1979. Chicago. The end of disco... unless Blaine, Kurt, Sara, and Zari have anything to do with it.
Content warning: oblique reference to people lost to AIDS. If you were around in the 1980s, it might hurt to think about.
Impeach the President (The Honeydrippers): https://youtu.be/jpFZQtBJkMI
I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor): https://youtu.be/ARt9HV9T0w8
Kung Fu Fighting (Carl Douglas): https://youtu.be/bmfudW7rbG0
This Time Baby (Jackie Moore): https://youtu.be/koUAtkI2aB0
Confession: I really want to see spontaneous musical numbers of “Impeach the President” breaking out on the street.
(Edit: I realize that “Impeach and Remove the President” would be harder to dance to, but maybe the song should be remade by someone clever.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Blaine walked down the Waverider's main hall, humming to himself. As he walked, a drum beat started up from somewhere in the walls: boom-boom chuck, boom-boom chuck. Then the long high-hat came in on two, every other measure. Then a funky bass, and a rhythm guitar. Blaine looked at the walls, grinned, and strutted down to the control room.
He stuck his head into the room and looked from Kurt to Sara to Zari. "Some people say/that he's guilty..."
"That he's guilty," Kurt sang back.
"Some people say/I don't know..." Blaine spun around and tilted his head.
"I don't know..." Zari responded.
"Some people say, give him a chance," Blaine raised his eyebrows at Sara.
"You know none of us will say that," Sara replied.
"Aw, some people say, wait till he's convicted,"
"Till he's convicted," Kurt and Zari sang in harmony.
"Impeach the president," they all sang. "Impeach the president."
Sara danced forward and spun up to Blaine. He took her hand and danced forward, stepping in sync. Kurt and Zari kept the chorus going.
"Impeach the president
Impeach the president
Impeach the president
Impeach the president..."
When they were done, Sara laughed and nodded. "So we have musical numbers now." She glanced at the walls. "Gideon, I'm glad that you and Kurt worked things out."
"And that the boys can walk down the hall and say 'hit it' at any time, and burst into song," Zari added.
Kurt glanced at the wall with a sideways smile. Blaine suppressed a laugh - he had noticed Kurt testing Gideon, to see how few notes he could give her before she found the correct song in her impressive library of backing tracks. It hadn't been long before Blaine had joined in the game. Thus... the Honeydrippers cover.
"BUT," Sara emphasized, "we're not going to make the world change by singing about it." She raised her eyebrows to Blaine, then at Kurt. "Didn't you say that? When you first got on the ship?"
"So..." Sara said, "I guess it's time for me to play captain again. I want all of you to think about history. When could we go so we can fix something? Something that will stick, for once?" She looked at Kurt, then at Blaine. "This is your universe. Your timeline. So here's your job: think of something that could have gone differently. Something that could make 2019... or really, 2016... work out differently."
They all stood there looking at each other.
"Go think about it, at least," Sara said, waving them away. "Go."
"Hey, Zari." There were doughnuts in the kitchen. And Blaine was almost as hungry as Zari was. "I didn't know you could sing."
"I don't do it very often." Zari looked at her doughnut.
"So why not?" Blaine asked. "Your voice is really nice, you know."
Zari shook her head. "I had a weird experience singing here," she said. "Two weird experiences, for the people who were listening to me."
Blaine frowned. "What does that mean?"
Zari sighed and put down her doughnut. "Sara and Gideon - and the rest of their crew, the people you figured out were here when you went snooping in our rooms..."
"It wasn't really snooping," Blaine protested. "The doors were open."
"THAT was Gideon's work," Zari pointed out. "Anyway, the other people on the ship... they knew another Zari."
"Huh?" Blaine frowned and shook his head.
"I've been on this ship for about three months. But before I got here, all the people on this ship knew me. Except... they knew someone who had lived an entirely different life from the one that I remembered." Zari shrugged and picked up her doughnut again. "Me. But not exactly me."
"Like, a Zari from a different universe?" Blaine asked.
"A Zari from a different timeline," she corrected. "They changed the timeline, in my past. And that changed the future me."
"How so?" Blaine couldn't help but be curious. After all... time travel! So cool. So bizarre.
"The person they knew... had powers. Had grown up in a crazy dystopia, paranoid, hiding. Had lost her brother." Zari paused to take a bite of her doughnut. "Was in a relationship with one of the crew members... after some insane drug-induced Bollywood musical fantasy."
"Bollywood," Blaine said. "Wow."
"Yeah," Zari said. "So when I sang normal pop songs, the guy - Nate - he kind of freaked out. Expected me to declare my undying love to him. But as far as I was concerned, he was a total stranger. And I wasn't even one hundred percent attracted to men, as a general rule."
"You're bi?" Blaine asked.
"We didn't use labels like that in my timeline," Zari shrugged. "I was attracted to individuals. Not to genders. But... well, maybe if I had gotten to know him, I might have liked him. But he expected this immediate intimacy, and I just couldn't be the person that he fell in love with."
"That sounds tragic," Blaine said. "For both of you."
"So then Sara and I went on a mission together, to try to help me figure out who I was. And..." she stopped. "Well. That's not my story to tell. But it didn't go well."
"So you stopped singing?" Blaine asked.
"Well, first Sara and I offered to try to save the multiverse by going back in time and fixing things. And then we ended up in a different universe from all of our friends." Zari shrugged. "All of Sara's friends, at least. Like I said, I didn't really know them. But the point is... there didn't seem much to sing about after that."
"Well," Blaine said, "I, for one, am glad that you are finding your voice." He picked up a doughnut and bit into it.
Blaine wasn't sure why an AI would need to cough, so he responded. "What is it, Gideon?"
"Mr. Hummel is looking for you," she said. "And Captain Lance wants you to know that she wants a decision about when to travel, and has ordered me to wait until you and Mr. Hummel have made a decision before I jump."
"Thanks, Gideon," Blaine said. "Does Kurt want a doughnut?"
"He's in your room," Gideon said. "And you know that I won't bother him there. You will need to guess for yourself."
"I've been thinking about things that could change the election of 2016," Kurt said. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling his pants back on.
"I totally forgot about that," Blaine admitted. He was lying on the bed, still entirely naked. "Sara's orders, right? I got kind of distracted when you jumped me."
"Sorry about that." It didn't actually sound like Kurt was apologizing. "I just get turned on when you make musical theatre out of politics."
Blaine sat up and searched for his discarded underwear. "So what was your idea?"
"Remember all those nights when you would come back from AOC's election office, talking about growing income gaps, or wealth gaps, or both?" Kurt asked.
"Of course," Blaine said. "We spent a lot of time talking about it at the office. I even remember some of the graphs that the other staffers were looking at - how it really all started in the 1980s. The Reagan administration, with 'trickle-down economics,' tax policy favoring the rich, things like that." He pulled on his underwear and went looking for a shirt. "Though that might not be the real root of our problems. We had lots of arguments at the office about the relative contribution of economic factors versus cultural things like racism and homophobia."
Kurt nodded. "You had a long discussion with my dad about it, last Christmas."
"Your dad has a pretty interesting point of view," Blaine said. "He totally gets all the economic anxiety arguments, but he ended up as a progressive. He's so frustrated that his high school friends don't see things the same way."
"Not every Mellencamp fan ended up with a gay kid," Kurt said wryly.
"I wonder what made the 80s happen," Blaine mused. "It was such a 180 from the previous decade."
"Racism and homophobia have been around for a long time," Kurt pointed out. "And they never really went away."
"Yeah, but when you listen to music from the 70s..." Blaine started.
"Like that song that you sang earlier," Kurt interjected. "That was a Nixon-era funk song, right?"
"Yeah," Blaine said. "There was funk, and soul, and disco... but if you asked the guys in glee club about the 70s, they would have talked about classic rock."
"'Disco sucks.'" Kurt's imitation of the other guys was spot on, down to their physical mannerisms. As usual.
"Exactly. And we heard that all the time, from kids who heard it from their parents." Blaine shook his head. "I certainly heard it from mine."
Kurt looked at him. "I wonder if we could change that?"
They found Sara and Zari in the kitchen.
"We have an idea," Blaine said.
"We want to fix the 80s," Kurt added.
"We figure that the root of the problem, really, is in the Reagan administration," Blaine said. "So if we could change the 1980 election, maybe we could fix the problems 35 years later."
"The Civil Rights movement, feminism, gay rights... they might have all kept going instead of stalling," Kurt said.
"Nixon tried to keep progress from happening, but he was brought down by Watergate," Blaine explained. "There was a huge turnover in Congress after that. So much potential."
"There was even renewable energy research," Kurt added. "Jimmy Carter wanted solar panels and sweaters."
"And then, in 1980, everything fell apart." Blaine looked at Sara, then at Zari, then back at Sara. "So... what do you think?"
"Great argument," Sara said. "What do you plan to do? Go to Iran and release the hostages, so the October Surprise doesn't happen?" She eyed them skeptically. "Do the two of you know anything about helicopters or firearms?"
"We didn't even consider anything like that," Kurt said. "We're not nearly that geopolitically minded."
"So...?" Sara encouraged.
"We want to save disco," Blaine said. He might have made a little flourish. Well, maybe the flourish wasn't so little.
Sara and Zari looked at each other. Sara shrugged. "Ok," she said. "Tell me more."
"So you know that disco was the most popular music in America in 1978," Blaine started.
"Saturday Night Fever in 1977, I Will Survive and Disco Inferno in 1978," Kurt continued.
"Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, Chic, Sylvester, the Village People," Blaine added. "It even influenced bands like the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead."
"But suddenly, in 1979, it was declared dead," Kurt continued. "July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, between two White Sox games." He shrugged. "Gideon helped with the baseball history."
"They say that the sudden change was a cultural backlash," Blaine said. "Disco was part of the gay club scene. Plus it had roots in Black and Latino music."
"Hating disco was part of straight, white, macho culture," Kurt finished.
"We get the argument," Zari said. "But what do you plan to do about it?"
"We want to go to Comiskey Park and sing," Blaine said. "Hold a disco party."
"We did our homework," Kurt said. "The 1979 Chicago White Sox were so bad that the owners would do anything to get people into the park. That's why the 'Disco Demolition Night' was even considered. It was just another crazy ballpark promotion that got out of hand."
"So... we go to Chicago in May of 1979, before the season tanks for good. We meet the owners of the White Sox, and we offer a different promotion: dance lessons, in the most popular genre of the year. We figure that if we can stop the cultural backlash, maybe we could change the election. Or at least, the perception that Reagan had a mandate to make America go backwards." Blaine looked at Sara and Zari, feeling pleased with himself.
Sara nodded slowly. "We'll need to do some work to get everything set up. Meet the people involved." She smirked at them. "Let's get ready to dance."
Chicago wasn't that cold in May, but the wind blew off the lake, ruffling Blaine's uncontrolled curls. And his polyester vest didn't really cut the wind like modern fabrics would have. But at least he had something covering his arms, he thought, as he looked at his friends.
Sara strutted down Dearborn Street, shoulders bare, halter top tied behind her neck and pants flowing around her legs. Zari's dress didn't have sleeves, either, and she was shivering where she walked behind Kurt. Blaine was in the rear; he kept stopping to look around. Yes, he had been to Chicago before. But not in 1979. And not with the sound of music spilling out of the club ahead of them.
Kurt slowed and let Zari pass him. "You do realize that we're pretty much time tourists for gay culture," he whispered. "I don't think Sara believes that we've really got a plan for going here."
They looked up at the sign across the street: Dugan's Bistro. "I just don't think we can put on a disco show at a baseball game if we haven't been to a real 70s disco." Blaine shrugged innocently.
Kurt just gave him a knowing look and crossed the street.
Inside, it took a moment to get used to the lights. Kurt's head bobbed to the base drum, and he gave Blaine a sidelong look.
"Want to dance?" Blaine asked, knowing the answer, but asking just for the sheer joy of seeing Kurt's little smile as he said yes.
It took a few dances before Blaine started to pay attention to more than the lights and the beat and that little wriggle that Kurt did with his hips every time he turned. But when Blaine finally started to look around, he was overwhelmed. There was so much to watch, from the costumes, to the dancers on the bar, to the men moving into the shadows to make out.
Sara was on the other side of the floor, dancing with a pair of men. Zari was off to the side, watching the bouncers.
"We should probably get drinks," Kurt whispered. "The dance floor isn't a great place to hear the conversations." He nodded at the groups that were gathered around the bar and at the tables at the edge of the darkness. "Get me something that makes sense. I'll pretend to drink it."
Blaine nodded and worked his way through the crowd to the bar. What did people drink at gay bars in the 70s, anyway, he wondered, trying to remember lyrics that would give him a clue. He probably should have asked Gideon, but he had been too busy trying to remember all the details about American League baseball standings in 1979 to think about alcohol.
"Buy you a drink?" The drag queen next to him was probably six feet tall and dressed mostly in glitter.
"I'm getting something for my friend," Blaine answered. "But I'm new here. What's good?"
In a moment, Blaine was carrying two drinks back across the floor, leaving his new friend talking to another patron. He had just handed one to Kurt when the music went silent for a moment.
And then the piano arpeggios started up. First I was afraid, I was petrified...
Sara was out on the dance floor, acting out the lyrics.
Kurt leaned over to Blaine. "I know this is a great song, and I've always loved drama. But I'm glad that we've gotten through all the angst and can act like a boring old married couple most of the time."
"Me, too," Blaine replied. "Do you want to move to one of the seats? We can watch just as easily from there."
Kurt smiled, moved his drink to his other hand, and followed Blaine to a table. "This is a lot less choreographed than I expected from Saturday Night Fever," Kurt confessed.
"Less dance competition. More pure seduction," Blaine agreed.
"It's hot, but it's also kind of sad," Kurt said. "It's 1979. How many of these guys will be dead in ten years?"
Blaine took a sip of his drink. "I almost forgot about that."
"I couldn't," Kurt admitted. "I may not have gotten a part in Angels in America in that NYADA production, but I read the script."
Blaine sipped his drink again. "We have a time machine," he said. "I wonder if we could do anything..."
Kurt took his hand and pressed a handful of foil packets into it. "I came prepared."
Blaine looked down at the handful of condoms.
"It's not that many," Kurt said. "But maybe we could put some in a basket in the restroom, like they always had at the dorms at NYU. Maybe they would make a difference for somebody."
"Can't hurt to try," Blaine agreed. He finished his drink, and watched Sara dance to I Will Survive.
It didn't take long for Blaine's drink to work its way through his system.
"I'm going to the rest room now," he said. "I'll be back in a bit." He leaned down and kissed Kurt, long and slow.
"We may be old and married, but you're still hot," Kurt whispered. "I like the hair, you know." He ran his fingers through it, ever so slowly, and then let Blaine go.
The rest room was crowded, and there wasn't really an obvious place to put the pile of condoms. Blaine eventually worked his way to the sink, between a drag queen putting on fresh lipstick and a man with a dollar rolled up to his nostril.
Oh. Cocaine. Ok. Right. The 70s, in a disco.
Blaine put the pile of condoms beside the glass with the white powder on it. "Here," he said to anyone who might be listening. "These are free."
"Oh, honey," the drag queen said. "You know we aren't going to need those."
"Not for pregnancy," Blaine said. "Obviously. Just... for other things." Don't give away knowledge of the future, Sara's voice reminded him. Change it without giving away the game.
The drag queen looked at Blaine kindly. "That's sweet."
"Thanks," Blaine said. And then he left, not sure how any of that had helped with their plans.
A new song had started up while Blaine was in the rest room.
Everybody was kung-fu fighting...
Blaine heard the thud of a fist hitting a body, and shoved his way back to the table where he had been sitting with Kurt.
"Good, you're back," Kurt called from behind him. "We need to..."
A body crashed across the floor. A body wearing a uniform. A police uniform.
"Is that a costume?" Blaine asked.
"Nope," Kurt answered. "And there are more."
They moved to the side to avoid being hit by another body, and then they saw Sara. She was in the middle of the crowd, spinning...
Oh. And that was NOT a dance move, Blaine realized, as he watched Sara kick another cop.
"Like I was trying to say," Kurt yelled in his ear. "I think we should get out of here."
Blaine agreed, and followed Kurt as he wove around the tables and made his way to the door. A pair of arms reached out and grabbed both of them.
"Hey!" Blaine yelped, before recognizing Zari.
"Sara's covering for us," Zari said. "Let's go."
Sara had gotten some contact information, in addition to beating up a bunch of Chicago cops.
"You don't worry that the brawl could have changed history?" Kurt asked Sara.
"Naw," Sara shrugged as she kicked off her platform heels. They were back on the Waverider to eat, sleep, and change, and wait for the start of the next day's baseball game.
"Dugan's Bistro was the site of regular altercations with the Chicago police," Gideon informed them.
"Which was why I was watching the door," Zari said, spooning some polenta into her mouth. "Mmm."
"Nice work, Gideon," Kurt said.
"Thank you, Mr. Hummel. I agree, this recipe is an improvement." Gideon sounded smug. Could an AI sound smug?
They all ate in silence for a while.
"What's the plan for tomorrow?" Zari asked when her plate was clean.
"We need to find a way to convince the owners of the White Sox to let us hold disco lessons," Blaine said.
"And to convince them that disco lessons are a good way to get people to the park," Kurt added. "I think that's going to be the hard part of the plan."
"We need to get a sense of the crowd that goes to White Sox games," Sara mused. "What do they like? What do they hate? What's missing from games, and what could dance lessons provide?"
"People-watching," Blaine said. "We're going people-watching."
"Exactly," Sara said. "It won't be a mission yet. You can enjoy the baseball. Drink a beer... or not, whatever you like. Eat a hot dog. Sing along during the seventh-inning stretch." She smirked at them. "I know that's the part you're looking forward to the most."
"People-watching is fun, too," Blaine argued.
"Though making fun of their fashion sense would defeat the purpose of the mission," Kurt pointed out.
"You'll survive. Probably." Sara looked amused. "It's a day game in May, so the summer fashion will be especially entertaining. Plenty of skin."
"I will make sure you are dressed appropriately," Gideon told her. Or maybe all of them. It was always hard to tell where Gideon was directing her comments.
"It's Memorial Day," Sara reminded them as she showed off her red, white, and blue halter top.
Kurt frowned at the outfit that Gideon had picked for him. "It's great for you, Blaine," he said. "You're a winter. You would wear these colors anyway."
"The red is nice," Blaine suggested. "McKinley colors and all. And you still look good in a t-shirt. Subtle and undercover, you know."
"You know it's going to take more than matching the clothes to fit in," Zari pointed out.
"I parted my hair in the middle," Kurt said. "I looked at the pictures."
"And we know who to cheer for," Blaine added. "We've been to baseball games before. And I actually kept score at a few of them."
"Zari's right," Sara said. "People watching means thinking about what makes them tick, not just imitating them. Pay attention to what's on the inside. You want to change hearts and minds, right?"
"We get it," Blaine assured her. "Kurt's actually really good at figuring people out."
"And then ignoring everything I learned, because sometimes, people are stupid," Kurt grumbled.
"If you're done acting like the youngest old married couple in the world," Zari said, "the jump ship is ready."
"Everyone have their tickets?" Sara asked. "Because we don't want to strike out."
"That wasn't her best work," Blaine whispered.
Kurt rolled his eyes and nodded back.
"I heard that," Sara said. "Just... get on the jump ship."
Their seats were on the third base side, with their backs to the sun. The park was only maybe a third of the way full, even on a holiday, so they had seats near the top of the lower level. There were kids running everywhere, shouting and throwing Cracker Jacks at each other.
Zari shivered. "I should have chosen something with sleeves," she said. "What about you, Sara? You're wearing even less than I am."
"I'm a little chilly," Sara agreed. "Want to see what they've got in the way of hoodies, or whatever baseball parks are selling these days?"
Zari nodded. "We'll be right back," she promised. "Want any snacks?"
"We'll go wandering later and get some for ourselves," Blaine said. "I want to watch the teams warm up."
"And I want to admire the collars on those uniforms," Kurt added. "They are so awful that they might be amazing. I can't quite decide."
"Behave yourselves," Sara laughed. "See you in a bit."
Blaine sat beside Kurt on the bleacher and wished that this was a time and place where they could snuggle, or at least hold hands. Baby steps, he promised himself. When they got back home, everything would be better, and they wouldn't have to worry about the clock getting turned back or their marriage getting annulled by a homophobic Supreme Court or...
"Oh," Kurt said, in a tone that said this is confusing and surprising and probably not good.
"What is it?" Blaine asked.
"See that kid over there?" Kurt pointed to one of the rows in the next section.
"The one in the Cleveland Indians hat?" Blaine asked. "Yeah. He's cheering for the other team. But I don't think it's going to be a problem. I mean, sports rivalries are intense, and yes, they're another reflection of the human tendency to divide everyone into us versus them..."
"That's not it," Kurt said. "That kid... is my dad."
Blaine stared at him. "Are you sure? That's... not how I thought he would look with hair." Blaine thought for a moment. "Though, you know, I never actually imagined him with hair. Or, you know, as a ten-year-old kid."
"That's him," Kurt said. "It's absolutely him. There were pictures of him in one of our family albums. Just like that."
"But I thought your dad was from southern Ohio, born and raised," Blaine said. "Isn't he a Reds fan, not Cleveland? And I know his family didn't have enough money to travel across two states to get to a baseball game."
"He didn't live in Ohio for his whole life," Kurt said. "His father was laid off from a steel mill. Dad used to tell me that part of the family history, over and over. Especially when I was doing US history in middle school. The steel mill shut down, or fired a lot of people, or something. So they moved, to try to find a new job. It didn't work out, so they moved back."
"So your dad lived on the south side of Chicago in 1979?" Blaine said. "Really?" This was way too weird.
"I guess so." Kurt nodded, still staring at the boy who would become his father.
"Time travel is bizarre," Blaine said. Then he paused. "You know we need to stay away from him, right?"
"Of course," Kurt said. "Look, I need to find a restroom." He smiled slightly at Blaine's worried look. "I'll go to the other side of the stadium. I won't be anywhere near my dad. And I'll come back soon."
"Ok," Blaine said, still worried.
"Hey," Sara called as she walked down the row of bleachers, spinning around to model her new hoodie. "Where's Kurt? I need him to tell me how grey doesn't work right with my coloring."
"He went to the restroom," Blaine said. "He's trying to avoid running into his father."
"Wait." Sara was suddenly deadly serious. "Did you say his father?"
"Shit." Zari was about two steps behind Sara. She climbed to the next row down so she could get closer to the conversation.
"I thought you two were from Ohio." It sounded like Sara was accusing him of something.
"We are," Blaine protested. "But apparently, Kurt's dad's family moved to Chicago in 1979, after one of the steel mills closed."
"So Kurt's dad is going to move back to Ohio at some point? Sometime after this game?" Sara asked. "Do you know why?"
Blaine shook his head. "I guess Chicago just doesn't work out somehow. That's all Kurt knew about it."
Zari looked alarmed. "What if...?" She looked at Sara.
"It's possible." Sara looked worried. "Blaine, what are the odds that Kurt's grandparents moved back to Ohio after the Disco Demolition night, a few months from now? It was practically a riot."
Blaine shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't even know that they ever lived in Chicago. His dad is such a stereotypical southern Ohio guy, all baseball caps and dying steel mills and failed farms. You know. John Mellencamp, maybe a little Bruce Springsteen mixed in if he's feeling really urban."
"The Disco Demolition chaos could have made a family that was new to the city decide that small town life would be better after all..." Zari pointed out.
Sara nodded. "We need to get Kurt and leave. Now."
"Kurt knows not to talk to his father," Blaine said. "We're not totally clueless about time travel."
Sara just shook her head. "That's not enough," she said. "We need to get him back to the jump ship." She took a breath. "God. The 70s really weren't that long ago, were they. We shouldn't be messing with your own history."
Zari nodded. "Even thinking about changing gay culture in the 80s was a mistake," she said. "At least with you and Kurt along."
Of course, Blaine thought. It sounds like Zari's story. Except... "I'm not worried about Kurt changing if we somehow make everything better, you know," he said.
"Well, maybe you should." Sara glared at him.
Blaine shook his head back at her. "I don't believe that suffering is what makes a person. Kurt is my soulmate, and even if we grew up in a world that was different, that was better, we would still have ended up together."
Sara threw up her hands. "You don't get it, do you," she said. "Kurt's father is supposed to meet Kurt's mother in Ohio, sometime in the future... Unless his life changes, and he never goes back to Ohio." She crushed a paper cup in her hand. "What if you end up living in a world in which your soulmate never existed?" She shook her head and walked away.
"Where are you going?" Blaine asked.
"To look for Kurt," Sara said. "Zari, get the jumpship and bring it to the entrance nearest to home plate. Blaine, come on." She looked at him. "We're going to get Kurt. And then we are going to get back on our ship and leave." She tossed her head. "Nobody is losing a soulmate tonight."
Kurt wasn't in the restroom near the center field picnic area. Or the one near first base. Or the one by home plate. And that took them all the way around the stadium.
After each restroom, Sara got more agitated. It was stressful just watching her, even though Blaine couldn't quite believe that Kurt could just disappear. But... what if Sara was right?
It was unthinkable. So Blaine tried not to think about it. And then...
There Kurt was. At the front of a concessions line, being handed a box of Cracker Jacks.
Sara pushed her way to the front of the line. "Come with me," she ordered.
"Hey, it's not your turn, lady," a large man yelled.
"I need to pay," Kurt said. "Just a minute."
Sara didn't reply. She just bent and twisted and suddenly she had Kurt hoisted onto her shoulder and was striding away. Blaine threw a twenty dollar bill at the cashier and followed her.
"Don't you want your change?" the cashier called.
But Blaine kept walking. Well, practically running. Sara was moving fast.
"Put. Me. Down," Kurt demanded. "Sara, this is insane."
"Sara, you're drawing attention," Blaine added.
She dropped Kurt onto his feet, and he stumbled forward. "Fine. But you need to move. Now." She grabbed Kurt's hand and didn't let go until they were on the jumpship.
Kurt spun around and stalked towards Sara. "What the hell was THAT?"
"THAT was what happens when you don't follow orders. Immediately." Sara glared at him. "You needed to get out of there. " She threw her hands into the air. "You saw your father. Your. Father. Don't you understand what a risk that is?"
"That's why I was in a different part of the stadium," Kurt said. "I had it handled."
"You have no idea what events could change history," Sara snarled. "Zari, what was that saying that you had?"
"Butterfly wings," Zari said. "A flap of a butterfly's wings."
"Right," Sara said. "Any little thing, anything that ANY of us do, anything that any of us DID... it could change history."
"Like forcefully dragging someone out of the concessions line without paying?" Kurt rolled his eyes and shook his head at her.
"Actually, I paid," Blaine pointed out.
"You're right, Kurt," Sara said. "Carrying you out was a mistake. You should have come on your own. Quietly. As soon as I asked."
There was a slight click. "The jump ship is docked," Zari said.
Sara sighed. "Good." She stalked out of the jump ship, then turned around. "Get back into the Waverider." She looked from Blaine to Kurt and back. "We're staying the hell away from the 70s and 80s."
Kurt went to take a shower. Sunscreen in the 70s was truly awful, he had told Blaine. Though Blaine suspected that he was still mad at Sara, and was trying to cool down before he had to deal with her again. Being slung over her shoulder was pretty awkward, after all.
Which gave Blaine time to confront her. She was in the kitchen, making toast as if nothing had happened.
"Hey, Sara," Blaine said. Somewhat cautiously. Because he wasn't quite sure what had set her off. "Back there, in the ballpark... that was kind of extreme, wasn't it?"
Sara rolled her eyes. "What, are you, the good cop to your husband's drama queen cop?" she asked.
"No," Blaine said. "Well. I don't think so. Not normally. It's just... you were pretty upset back there."
"I was saving your husband," Sara pointed out.
"Yes. Fine. And trust me, I appreciate it," Blaine said. "But you were calmer fighting an entire squad of Chicago cops in a disco than rescuing Kurt from a ballpark concessions stand. I mean, it's like you had something against Cracker Jacks."
Sara put down her toast and turned towards Blaine, hands on her hips. "What would you do, Blaine, if you lost Kurt?"
"I would get him back." Blaine didn't hesitate. "I would fight for him, and I would get him back."
Sara shook her head at him. "No," she said. "What if that wasn't possible? What if... somehow... Kurt didn't exist anymore? What if he had NEVER existed?"
Blaine stared at her and started to put the pieces together. No one is going to lose a soulmate tonight, she had said.
Sara turned and started to leave.
"Sara." Blaine followed her to the door. "Who did you lose?"
Sara paused. "Ava." She took a breath. "Her name was Ava." And then she pressed the door latch and walked out.
I’m trying to collect a list of songs about love and loss (or romance, or sex) (from many time periods) for the next chapter, and realizing that my musical taste is just failing me. (Also, romantic movies and musicals. Being a sci-fi nerd makes me a lousy writer for these characters.)
I’m setting the comments to “moderated”. I’ll delete any suggestions after noting them. If you give me an idea and want credit, let me know.
Sources for this chapter:
Disco Demolition Night
1979 Chicago White Sox schedule: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHW/1979-schedule-scores.shtml
Comiskey Park: https://www.ballparksofbaseball.com/ballparks/comiskey-park/ ; http://www.andrewclem.com/Baseball/ComiskeyPark.html#place
Chapter 5: Move on, it's no good to go back in time
In which Sara tries to keep the boys from killing each other while they are stuck on the ship, and the boys try to get Sara to tell them what happened with Ava.
I didn't get any suggestions for love songs, so the soundtrack is a bit weird.
• I Got You Babe (Sonny and Cher): https://youtu.be/BERd61bDY7k
• Piece of My Heart (cover by Bryan Ferry): https://youtu.be/eimxvaqGSEw
• (And also by Janis: https://youtu.be/SCngPse1iiI And yes, there's a lot of kind of awful stuff on the album cover. If you haven't seen it, sorry.)
• Into the West (Annie Lennox, end credits of Return of the King) (https://youtu.be/ZagR90a8j2g). I'm an ancient hobbit-slasher; this will always be a song about love and loss for me.
• She's Gone (Hall and Oates): https://youtu.be/87Q042KlxI4
• Sara (Starship): https://youtu.be/32ScTb6_KHg
• Sara (Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac): https://youtu.be/9bWGy0K5VF0
FYI, my YouTube recommendations are now all for really cheesy 80s songs. (There are a lot of them.) The hair. Oh, the hair. I'm traumatized all over again.
My name is Sara Lance.
I ran off on a boat with my sister's boyfriend. I was assumed dead twice, and was actually dead once. I've been an Assassin, a time-ship captain, and two different shades of Canary. I have fucked up my life, and other people's lives, and the entire world, more times than I can count.
And that was just in my first universe.
I tried to save everything, and I ended up here. In this universe, I've looked up my friends and family, and discovered that Dinah Laurel Lance died at age 16, in a car crash, along with Ollie Queen and Tommy Merlyn. Her mother died before that, of breast cancer. Her father died two years later of a heart attack; the death of his only child must have been the final straw.
That's right. His only child.
In this universe, there never has never been a Sara Lance.
Not until I arrived.
So now I'm here, along with my time ship, a frequently insubordinate AI, a friend whose history I changed, and two gay recruits who like to sing.
I'm trying to fix their world. But I kind of suck at it.
I'm not a hero. I'm not a legend. I don't even really belong here. But, dammit, I'm going to protect my own people this time.
Sara entered the Waverider, let the door to the jump ship close behind her, and headed for the control room.
"Well?" she asked Gideon.
"The reports about the Education Secretary's involvement in the student loan scandal circulated," Gideon said, "but they didn't even last for an entire news cycle."
Sara slumped into her chair.
"That's too bad." Kurt's voice came from the other side of the room. "So the loans still won't be forgiven?"
"Probably not." Sara looked up as Kurt joined her in the big group of chairs. "Did you have loans?"
"Yes," Kurt said. "And I still do. But I've never done the kind of work that qualified for those programs; my loans weren't going to be forgiven anyway. I've got friends who could use the help, though."
Sara shook her head. "Sorry we can't ever seem to do anything." She looked up. "So... what brings you in here? You've never seemed to like this space very much."
Kurt shrugged. "Bored, I guess. Looking for a new place to hang out and read." He waved a book at her.
"Well, I'm glad that the library's being useful," Sara said. She tilted her head at him. "We haven't talked much since Chicago. I thought you were still pissed at me."
Kurt nodded. Then he looked at her. "May I be honest?"
Sara shrugged. "Sure."
"It took me a while to forgive you for just picking me up and CARRYING me." Kurt rolled his eyes at her. "It's been a while since people tossed me around like that. I'm not fond of it."
"Sorry," Sara said. "Didn't mean to trigger anything."
"I understand why you did it," Kurt said. "Just don't do it again."
"Do you?" Sara watched him carefully. "Do you understand?"
Kurt raised an eyebrow. "The rules of time travel are simple and finite. Right? Don't meet your parents?"
"I'm not a Cosmo girl," Sara said with a smile. "Even if I'm blonde. And no, actually, the rules of time travel are complex and frequently changing. I've been doing this for years, and I'm still figuring them out. But... so far I've learned that you shouldn't do anything that happened in the Back to the Future movies."
Kurt nodded. "At least the pop culture references are constant across our universes."
"Some of them," Sara said.
"So... what have you figured out about the rules of time travel? Besides don't meet your parents and don't make bets." Kurt looked at her, eyes wide and innocent.
Deliberately innocent. Sara frowned suspiciously. Kurt smiled back, a hair too wide to be believed.
"You're starting to go stir crazy." Sara raised her eyebrows at him.
"Maybe," Kurt said. "And maybe I'm just curious about what happened with Ava." He shrugged as she froze. "Blaine told me..."
Sara stood. "No," she said. "Tell Blaine that he can stop prying about that. It's my story." She started to leave, then glared at him. "You know... this is my control room. I'm not storming out of it."
Kurt tilted his head at her. "It won't be as good of an exit if I'm the one who leaves."
"I'm not interested in the drama of it," Sara said. "Out."
Kurt shrugged again, and left.
Sara glared at the walls. "Gideon," she said. "Did you put him up to that?"
"You ordered me not to tell your stories," Gideon replied. "I am doing as you asked."
It didn't really answer the question, Sara knew. But she also knew that it was as good of an answer as she was likely to get.
It turns out that, if you made a Venn diagram of the skill sets involved in being an Assassin and being a time-ship captain, the overlap would be less about kicking ass and more about learning to read people. The motivations were different: Assassins had to size up people who might want to kill them. Time-ship captains needed to know when people might want to kill each other after being cooped up on a ship together.
So maybe not so different after all.
It took a few weeks, but Sara thought she was figuring out the boys.
For instance: Kurt. Those sarcastic comments were actually a good sign. Criticism and an eye-roll? Even better.
"Is that..." Kurt frowned. "Sara... are you wearing a scrunchie?"
Sara flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Three, actually."
Blaine looked up the game of UNO that he was playing with Gideon. "What year are you visiting this time?"
"1996," Kurt guessed. "You're going to grab the last Tickle-Me-Elmo doll."
"Those things are kind of creepy." Blaine made a face and threw down a Draw Two card.
"You totally want one." Kurt shot back.
"Actually, I'm going to 2017," Sara interjected.
"Wearing scrunchies." Kurt shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Sara. If you're going to change history by bringing back the scrunchie, at least make it an interesting color."
Another tell: Kurt's voice would switch to a higher register when he got worked up. Could be upset. Could be enthusiastic. But it was never, ever a sign of boredom.
"Lime green???" Kurt looked horrified. "Are you SERious?" His voice jumped an octave.
"I suggested something darker," Gideon interjected. She probably thought she was helping. "Dark blue. Black. Magenta."
"Magenta." Kurt settled down. "Yes. That would work."
"Fine," Sara rolled her eyes. "I'll wear a magenta scrunchie." She looked over at Zari, who was just sitting, waiting for Sara's costume to be ready. "And we aren't getting any toys."
Zari shrugged in response, and Sara remembered that this version of Zari didn't know that particular in-joke.
And then there was Kurt's sing-song tone. Used exclusively with Blaine. Sometimes accompanied by actual singing.
For example, when Sara came back from 2017 (having triggered a return of the scrunchie, but with no changes to the political situation):
Gideon was playing some kind of waltz, and the boys were mid-way through a song. Sara pulled the scrunchies out of her hair and stopped to watch.
Kurt tilted his head and smiled.
"They say our love won't pay the rent/ Before it's earned, our money's all been spent..."
Blaine sang back: "I guess that's so, we don't have a plot..."
"Is it plot, or pot?" Kurt interrupted.
Blaine raised his hands in the universal gesture for I don't fucking know. "Honestly, I could never really make it out."
"There are conflicting reports in my files," Gideon added.
Kurt shook his head. "Ok. Just keep singing. The next line is still yours."
"Right," Blaine said. "But at least I'm sure of all the things we got..."
Kurt joined in for the chorus, in harmony:
"Babe. /I got you babe/ I got you babe..."
They stopped and looked at each other.
"I think it's your line next," Blaine said.
Kurt frowned, looked at the ceiling, and mouthed something, as if running through the song in his head. "You know, this song is really weird, considering how everything turned out for Sonny and Cher."
"You mean Sonny becoming a Republican politician?" Blaine asked.
"More about divorce, death..." Kurt shrugged.
"That certainly adds another layer to the song," Blaine admitted.
"Another layer?" Kurt raised an eyebrow. "I'd say it makes the entire song sad."
"Yeah, it's actually really tragic," Blaine agreed. "What do you think?"
Sara blinked. She hadn't realized that either of the boys had known she was watching. "You're asking me?"
"Yes," Kurt responded. "Under the circumstances, is I Got You Babe a tragic love song?"
Sara just shook her head in confusion. "I don't follow celebrity romances," she said. "It's just a song."
The boys' faces fell.
"I mean, of course nothing is ever just a song," Sara backpedaled frantically. "Maybe it means something to other people. And that's fine."
Kurt and Blaine looked at each other.
"That's fair," Blaine said.
And they walked into the kitchen without finishing the song.
Zari looked at Sara, shrugged, and followed them.
There was also a rawer, harsher tone that Kurt would use when he was genuinely angry. Like after Sara had dragged him away from the concessions stand in Chicago. Sara listened for that, but she hadn't heard it lately. Which was a good sign.
Now Blaine, on the other hand, was a bit more of a challenge to read.
It hadn't seemed that way initially. He seemed like the type to just wear his heart on his sleeve. Be an open book. Name your favorite cliché. But after watching closely, Sara realized that Blaine was a performer, even when he wasn't dancing down the hallway as if Gideon were a horde of backup singers. But when something bothered Blaine, he didn't talk about it. He avoided it. And then, as things got worse, he would get snippy about completely unrelated things.
So... Sara wasn't initially sure what was going on when she walked down the hall past the library and saw Blaine at the piano, singing...
"Didn't I make you feel / like you were the ooonly one..."
Sara stopped to watch. She couldn't miss a reference to Janis Joplin. Even if it was a cover of the far less angsty Bryan Ferry version, sung by an over-dramatic boy at a piano.
Kurt leaned against the wall, eyebrows raised. Skeptical. Especially when Gideon joined in for the chorus, singing. With bonus horns.
"So come on, come on, come on, come on... / Take it!"
Blaine spun around. "Take another little piece of my heart now, baby..."
Zari joined in from behind Sara. "You know you've got it, if it makes you feel good."
Sara glanced at Kurt. "You know, nothing will ever beat seeing Janis sing this at Woodstock."
Kurt shrugged. Blaine kept singing.
"When you're done getting serenaded..." Though Sara wasn't quite sure this counted as a serenade. Janis's version, at least, had been marinated in pure pain. "Zari and I..." She tried to sound dramatic, but it was hard to compete with Blaine. "Just come down to the kitchen when you're done. We've got news."
It took a little while - there were more verses, and also a lot more "oh-oh-oh"s and "break it!"s from Gideon. But eventually the boys (plus Zari, who somehow chose singing boys over food, which was kind of weird) joined her.
"You had news?" Kurt prompted her.
"Well, boys..." Sara raised her hands. This was big news. It required big gestures.
Kurt and Blaine looked at each other, then shrugged at her.
"We've just been to 2019. And..." she smirked. "The president has just been impeached."
Kurt jumped up and gave her a high five.
"So, boys, you can change the song to Impeach and Remove the President." She looked at Blaine. After all, he was pretty good at improvising songs on the fly.
"At the Senate trial, the vote is still party-line," Gideon informed them. "With no removal. The attack on voting rights continues. And the 2020 election remains, as Sara has called it, a fucking undemocratic dumpster fire."
Sara slumped. "So it wasn't the success that we had hoped."
Zari sighed. "Nope."
Sara looked at the boys for a reaction. After all, it was their world that was still falling apart.
But Kurt was looking at Blaine.
Blaine looked back. "What?" See, that was the snippy voice.
"Something's bothering you. And you're avoiding it." Kurt raised his eyebrow at Blaine.
Zari looked at Sara and started to move towards the door.
Sara followed her. "It sounds like you boys need some privacy."
Kurt shook his head and mouthed "stay" at them.
Blaine didn't say anything.
"Blaine," Kurt said. "You remember when we stopped going to therapists, because it got too expensive after college. Remember how we promised to try to play therapist for one another? Or at least to watch out for our warning signs? Like how you were going to warn me if I started picking fights with you?"
Blaine nodded. "And you promised to call me out if I started bottling things up."
"Right," Kurt said. "So..."
Blaine just looked at him.
"Come on, Blaine." Kurt shook his head. "This ship is bigger than our apartment, but it's smaller than New York City. Whatever's going on, you need to say something before it becomes a crisis."
Blaine shook his head. "Ok. Fine." And then he looked at Sara. "It really bothers me when you call us 'boys.'"
Sara blinked. "I don't mean anything by it," she started.
"I know," Blaine said. "But that doesn't make it ok." He shook his head. "So we don't have a mortgage. We don't have kids. But we're in our late 20s."
"Mid- to late-20s," Kurt corrected.
Blaine shot a look at Kurt, but continued. "Right. But really, we're not that much younger than you. And we've been married for almost five years. We are adults. Not kids."
"Oh." Sara wasn't quite sure how to respond.
"Sorry," Blaine said.
Kurt shook his head at Blaine.
"Right. That wasn't really supposed to be an apology," Blaine corrected himself. "I know I was ranting. It's just... it's a discussion that we had all the time. In AOC's staff office. We just got tired of a world where nobody was ever going to listen to us."
Sara looked at Kurt. "You, too?"
Kurt shrugged. "I get bothered more by other things."
"Ok." Sara considered her options. "So what would you like better? 'Guys?' 'Gentlemen?'"
Kurt and Blaine looked at each other. "I mean, 'gentlemen' has a nice elegance to it," Blaine suggested.
"But maybe too much of an edge," Kurt responded. "It would always sound a little sarcastic to me."
"You choose," Blaine said to Sara. "Just... remember that we aren't kids."
"Even if we're stuck on a time ship and aren't able to try to fix our world," Kurt added. He looked at Blaine. "See. It wasn't that bad. You didn't need to avoid it."
Blaine shrugged. "I guess." Then he gave Kurt a suggestive look.
Kurt coughed. "Could you excuse us?" he asked. "We... need to go to our room now."
"Positive reinforcement," Blaine agreed.
And with one more shared look, they left.
Zari watched them go. "And that's it for the fight that they were avoiding," she said. "It's nice to have a healthy relationship on the ship again. It's been a while."
Sara frowned at her.
"I mean..." Zari saw the look on Sara's face and clamped her mouth shut. Then she stood and picked up her doughnut. "I'll be in the control room going over some simulations with Gideon."
Sara sighed, then looked at the ceiling. "Don't you say anything," she told Gideon. "Not to me. And not to the rest of them, either."
Gideon remained silent.
Sara and Zari were in the control room, going through every obscure record they could find, trying to find something that, if planted in the media, could shift history in 2019. Or 2018. Or 2016. Or...
The boys were singing. No, wait. Not the boys. Kurt and Blaine. Actually, just Kurt; the narrow halls amplified the notes in his range more than Blaine's, so it was actually easier to hear him when he sang alone. Zari looked at Sara, shrugged, and headed for the door. Sara followed her.
"Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You're only sleeping..."
They were in the library. Blaine was sitting on the couch, feet up, watching Kurt.
And then Kurt stopped. "I don't know," he said. "Do you really think this counts as a love song?"
"Of course it does," Blaine insisted. "Frodo has gone away forever, leaving Sam behind... it's like the saddest thing ever."
"I just never saw the Lord of the Rings movies as love stories," Kurt admitted.
"You only saw them once," Blaine reminded him. "And you fell asleep."
"Plus I thought the primary relationship was between Frodo and the Ring. Didn't he call it my precious or something like that?" Kurt walked over to the piano and started flipping through a pile of sheet music.
When did the Waverider get sheet music? Sara wondered. Really, Gideon was full of surprises.
Blaine shook his head at Kurt. "Seriously? You don't even remember that much?"
Kurt shrugged. "Like you said. I fell asleep."
"Ok, so... the whole my precious thing was Gollum," Blaine explained.
"That was the weird CGI character?" Kurt asked.
"Right," Blaine said.
"So you're saying there was a love triangle between Frodo, Gollum, and the Ring?" Kurt put down one pile of sheet music and started going through another.
"No, Kurt," Blaine argued. "Frodo and Sam were the OTP in the movie."
"So you're saying it was a love quadrilateral," Kurt picked out several sheets and set them aside.
"No, that's not what I'm saying at all," Blaine said. He looked up at Sara. "What do you think? Is Into the West a love song?"
"I don't even know the song," Sara shrugged. "I was a Harry Potter fan."
Sara came back from another visit to 2016 - just scouting for the moment - to yet more singing.
"Get up in the morning, look in the mirror
One less tooth brush hanging in the stand..."
Blaine's hair was unusually wild. Sara looked at it, amused, and wound her way between Kurt and Blaine as they harmonized. She didn't recognize the song. But some of the lyrics got through to her:
"She's gone, she's gone
Oh I, oh I
I better learn how to face it
She's gone, and she's gone
Oh I, oh I
I'd pay the devil to replace her
She's gone, and she's gone
What went wrong?"
Sara frowned at them, then shook her head and kept going.
"Sara?" Blaine called after.
Sara spun around and glared. "I don't feel like music right now," she said, and stalked into the kitchen.
Gideon was saying something to Zari, but she stopped when Sara walked in.
"What are you looking at?" Sara asked Zari. She really wanted to aim the comment at Gideon, but a bodiless AI wasn't a very good target for dirty looks.
The next time she returned - and honestly, they were all blurring together with the futility of trying to change the goddamn political situation in 2019 - Blaine and Kurt had moved onto another soft rock song...
"...Move on, it's no good to go back in time"
"Tell me about it," Sara grumbled.
"I'll never find another girl like you
For happy endings it takes two
We're fire and ice
the dream won't come true"
Sara frowned. The song was familiar. Someone singing it on a playground, teasing her? In the late 80s? When she was little?
No time is a good time for goodbye"
"Gideon," she said.
The backing track kept playing.
"GIDEON." Sara glared at the walls. "Enough."
The music stopped, and Kurt and Blaine just stared at her.
"Maybe neither one of you had the pleasure of being named for a hit song," she said.
"Kurt was actually named for the kid that Julie Andrews couldn't remember in The Sound of Music," Blaine said.
"Not relevant," Kurt whispered.
"So," Sara said. "Blaine. I've agreed that you aren't boys. And Kurt, I promised not to toss you around anymore. And now... I know something that I want in return." She looked seriously at both of them. "No songs with Sara in the lyrics. No Hall and Oates, no Stevie Nicks, and certainly no Starship." She raised her eyebrows to punctuate her point. "Understood?"
When Sara got to the kitchen, she poured herself a drink.
"Maybe you should let them off the ship," Gideon suggested.
"And let them erase themselves from time?" Sara shook her head. "No. Not happening." She threw the drink back and poured herself another. "Could you help them find something else to entertain themselves?"
The next time Sara came back, she found Blaine and Kurt dressed in Shakespearean doublets. With rapiers.
"No sharp things," Sara ordered, and walked away without even trying to figure out what was going on.
"You suggested finding a way for Kurt and Blaine to entertain themselves," Gideon said.
"Maybe keep the costumes and the weapons put away," Sara replied.
"Blaine, what's this?" Kurt walked into the kitchen and dropped a pile of papers on the table.
"Oh." Blaine looked at them and... was that actually a blush? "Nothing. Just things that I was writing."
Zari leaned over to try to read it, but Blaine covered it up.
"If you don't want people reading it, you should pick it up from the printer right away," Kurt said. "I found it while grabbing some sheet music that I asked Gideon to print for me."
Blaine just nodded, turned the papers upside-down, and picked up his bagel.
Sara flipped the omelet that she was cooking. "You can have the stove in just a moment," she said, as Blaine stood up.
"I'm not that hungry," Blaine said, and left.
Sara walked into the library and heard the guys arguing.
"I'm just saying that you could probably use that typewriter that was in one of the empty rooms." Kurt was standing over the piano, looking down at Blaine and holding another stack of papers.
Blaine looked at the keys, not at Kurt's face. "You know it's easier to edit a digital file."
"Yes," Kurt said. "But it's also less private. You know that every time you save a file on this ship, you're sharing everything that you write with an AI."
Blaine didn't respond.
Kurt's eyes widened. "Oh. My. God. You're sharing your stories with Gideon ON PURPOSE."
"I am an experienced beta reader," Gideon interjected. "I have helped edit numerous romance novels."
Blaine stood up. "Look. I don't want to talk about this. Kurt, I promise that I won't use the printer anymore. Ok?"
"That's not the real problem," Kurt said to Blaine's back.
"Excuse me," Blaine said to Sara, as he tried to get past her.
Sara frowned and stepped aside.
Zari was sitting at one of the screens, reading something. When Sara walked by, she closed the file. But it was time to break into the Justice Department and look through files that hadn't been delivered after a FOIA request, so Sara didn't ask what was going on.
When they got back, Kurt was standing beside the screen. The screen that Zari had left on.
"Blaine!" he yelled. With that rough edge to his voice. Like he was actually angry this time.
Blaine didn't appear.
Kurt stomped down the hall. "Blaine!"
Blaine came out of the room. He had gel in half of his hair, which looked really bizarre.
Kurt shook his head at him. "I read your story."
Blaine blushed, but didn't say anything.
"Blaine," Kurt warned.
Blaine looked away. The un-gelled half of his hair flopped as he turned.
"Your story..." Kurt stopped. "That character. The one with the weird name. The dialogue." He stopped and tried to catch his breath. "Blaine, that was something that YOU said to ME."
"And then the sex scene..." Kurt stopped and looked like he was trying to gather his thoughts. "What the hell are you thinking? Writing our actual experiences into your stories?"
Blaine attempted to look innocent. "You're hot?" he tried.
"And I'm glad you feel that way. I really do. It's just..." Kurt shook his head and walked away. "We had that whole deal with Gideon to give us privacy. And then you write STORIES about it? And share them with Gideon?" He spun back. "What the hell are you doing? Who else were you planning to share this with?"
Zari raised her hand from behind Sara.
"You were going to share self-insertion porn with everyone?" Kurt glared at Blaine.
"You know how self-insertion porn sounds, don't you," Zari commented.
Sara elbowed her. The fight sounded serious. Kurt was yelling. Blaine was avoiding answering anything. This was no time for Zari to get titillated by the whole thing.
"I'm fine with you writing these stories, even if I don't really understand why you want to," Kurt said. "But I'm not ok with you sharing them. Not with Gideon. Not with Zari." He glared at Sara.
"I haven't read them," Sara swore.
Kurt shook his head and walked out of the room, heading towards the library. Blaine watched him, then went the other way.
"You should probably do something about that," Zari said.
Sara glared at her. "I know," she said. "And also... you weren't helping."
Kurt was rifling through a pile of papers - sheet music, again, probably - without really looking at anything. Sara stopped at the door and coughed. It took a moment, but Kurt finally looked up and gave her an impatient look.
"I realize you're kind of on edge," Sara started.
"Kind of?" Kurt spit out.
"Ok," Sara conceded. "You're really pissed off. But you know that thing you said a few days ago? About how you and Blaine promised to play therapists for one another?"
"I hope that isn't another of Blaine's fics." Kurt scowled at her. "A therapist fantasy."
"What?" Sara said. "No. I said hadn't read any of the fics. But I distinctly remember you saying that you had promised to watch out for signs of trouble. Blaine avoiding conflict. You picking fights."
Kurt stared at her. "What are you trying to say?"
"I'm trying to say that you two need to have a conversation about this. An honest, open conversation." Sara raised her eyebrows to punctuate the sentence.
"Is that an order, Captain?" Kurt shot back.
"You're not my crew," Sara said.
"It pretty much feels like it," Kurt said. "We're stuck here with you."
"Ok." Sara shook her head. "Fine. Yes, you are stuck here. And yes, I'm the captain of this ship. Which means I'm responsible for keeping everyone from killing each other. Including you and hour husband." She walked to the door. "I'm going to go find Blaine, and bring him here, and you're going to discuss this like the adults that you both swore you were."
"Wait," Kurt said. "Not here." He looked at the walls. "I'm not comfortable doing this where Gideon can listen to us."
"She's in the entire ship," Sara pointed out. "I'm not dropping you off at some place and time when you can be erased from history, you know."
"We can use our room," Kurt said. "I made Gideon promise to give us privacy in there."
"Fine," Sara said. "Let's go."
The door clicked shut behind Sara. "All right," she started. "You two need to..."
Kurt turned and looked at her. "Sara. This is an intervention."
Blaine sat on the bed and nodded in agreement.
Sara tilted her head and frowned. "Wait. What?"
"You're hurting," Blaine said. "And you won't talk about it."
"Your room has a half-made bed in it. You freak out at the slightest possibility of erasing people from the timeline. You're cranky." Kurt ticked off the evidence on his fingers. "Zari knows about it, but you told her not to tell us."
"And you made Gideon erase - or hide, or something - the records of whatever happened," Blaine added.
"Gideon's worried about you," Kurt said. "And so is Zari. But neither one of them is going to go against your orders."
"Wait," Sara said. "Hold on. Go back. I came in here to make you two talk to each other. To get this fight out of your system." She looked from Kurt, who was standing by the door with his arms folded, to Blaine, who was leaning against the bed with the gel-free half of his hair sticking out in all directions. "What happened?"
Kurt rolled his eyes. "Sara. We're trained as actors. Remember?"
"That's not something that we forget how to do," Blaine added. "Even if we had trouble getting actual jobs."
"So you just... convinced me that you were fighting? So you could confront me?" Sara shook her head. "That doesn't make any sense."
"That wasn't the first thing we tried," Kurt pointed out.
"But you're really obtuse about angsty love songs," Blaine added. "And you didn't recognize the scene from Romeo and Juliet that we were acting out."
"Extreme circumstances require extreme measures," Kurt said.
"I don't have to listen to this," Sara said, and turned towards the door.
It didn't open.
"Actually, you do," Blaine said.
"I asked Gideon to lock you in here with us," Kurt explained.
Sara shook her head. "Gideon," she said. "Unlock this door. Now."
"She can't hear you," Kurt said. "Her listening is turned off in this room."
"So I wait you out." Sara folded her arms and leaned back against the door. "Because the two of you might be crazy and manipulative, but you must have planned some time for Gideon to let us out."
"Not exactly," Blaine said. "We've got a signal. Well, Kurt does. There's a note that he can hit that penetrates Gideon's soundproofing. When she hears that, she'll let us out."
Sara looked at Kurt.
"Not until you talk," Kurt said. "Spill."
"Sara, we know there was someone named Ava," Blaine said. "Please. Tell us what happened to her."
"Or you will be stuck with us. In this room. Indefinitely," Kurt threatened.
"And you'll do what," Sara rolled her eyes. "Sing to me?"
They looked at each other.
"Which one?" Blaine asked.
"The Stevie Nicks song, I think," Kurt said. "Drowning..."
Sara turned towards the door again. "Gideon, if you hear me..."
"...in the sea of love..."
Sara spun back. "Ok. Fine. I'll talk."
Kurt nodded and walked over to the bed, then hopped onto it and crossed his legs.
"Once upon a time, there was someone named Ava..." Blaine prompted.
Sara sighed. "She was the Time Bureau Chief, and a clone from the future, and the sanest person on this ship," Sara said. "And I loved her."
"What happened to her?" Kurt's voice was gentle, gentler than Sara had heard so far.
"It was after we got Zari back on the ship. She was confused by the way everyone acted around her." She glanced from Kurt to Blaine and back again. "You remember that there used to be more people working with us, right?"
"Zari was kind of freaked out by the way they reacted to her. So we left them dealing with some other superhero business, and we took Zari to 1814 to see fireworks." She looked away. "And by we, I mean Ava and I. And I guess Gideon, because she's always on the ship. And by fireworks I mean Baltimore, the War of 1812, the battle that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner."
Kurt frowned. "You took your girlfriend to a war?"
"You know, Disneyland can be traumatic for some people, but it's probably safer to watch fireworks there," Blaine added.
Sara sighed. "You're right about that. But we wanted to show off the wonders of time travel, so we went big." She shook her head. "There was a fire. Which, you know, not so surprising with the bombs and all. We got separated in the chaos - I was with Zari, and Ava headed back to get the ship. Zari and I got the fire put out, but when we got to the ship, Ava wasn't there." She stopped to breathe. "Ava never came back. And worse - she wasn't in any of Gideon's records. Not in 1814. Not in 2019. Not any time. Zari and I remembered her, and Gideon remembered things that she had done on the ship... but according to history, she never existed."
"I'm sorry," Kurt said. Blaine just took Kurt's hand for a moment, then nodded.
They sat there for a while, silent. But finally, Kurt and Blaine looked at each other.
"I know this hurts," Kurt said, "but we need to ask. What happened?"
Sara shook her head. "The rules of time travel are complex and frequently changing," she said.
"But there's got to be some kind of rule that you broke," Blaine suggested. "Something that we can avoid doing."
"Because the fight might have been an act, but we really are going kind of stir crazy," Kurt said. "The world is a dumpster fire, we've got a time machine... and we can't do anything."
"What was Ava's connection to 1814?" Blaine asked. "Why her? Why then? Because Zari's problem was meeting her younger self, back in her old timeline. And you weren't worried about traveling with us until we saw Kurt's father."
"That's the thing," Sara said. "I have no idea. I mean, Ava's from 2213. And I have no idea what could have happened in 1814 to erase her."
"Wait. Go back." Kurt shook his head. "What about 2213?"
"'Clone from the future,'" Blaine reminded him. "Ava's a clone from the future."
"Right," Kurt said. "I missed something. How exactly did you meet?" he asked Sara.
"Long story," Sara said. "But yes, time travel was involved, if that's what you're asking. I met her in 2016. She didn't know her real past."
"And the clone part?" Blaine prompted.
"I don't know much about it," Sara admitted. "Neither of us did. Just some story about making her from a genetic mix of the perfect women."
Kurt made a face. "Eugenics sucks," he said.
"Agreed," Sara said. "But no matter how creepy or unethical the science was in Ava's world... to me, she was perfect. And I loved her. And somehow, I did something that erased her from existence."
"And you couldn't forgive yourself," Kurt guessed.
"And that's how you ended up here," Blaine finished.
"Pretty much," Sara agreed. She looked at them, then at the door. "So now you know my tragic love story. Are you going to let me out?"
"One more thing," Kurt said. "You know that Blaine and I aren't actually clones from the future. Born in the late 90s? Grew up in Ohio? No previous experience with time travel?"
Blaine nodded, as if Kurt's story needed some kind of confirmation.
"I believe that," Sara said. "There's no evidence that anyone in this universe has ever developed a time machine."
"So if we can come up with a time and place that couldn't have any conceivable connection to our parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents..." Kurt started.
"And has historical relevance," Blaine added. "Because we do want to make a difference."
"She hasn't agreed to let us off the ship," Kurt pointed out.
Sara looked at Kurt. "If I don't let you off this ship, you won't let me out of this room."
Kurt shrugged. "Pretty much."
Sara sighed. "Ok. Fine." She shook her head. "I have a bad feeling about this. But yes, you can get off the ship."
The boys - no, not the boys, Blaine and Kurt, Sara was going to remember that - bounced up. The gel-free half of Blaine's hair fell into his eyes.
"But you have to check with Gideon to make absolutely sure that your ancestors won't be anywhere near us. Deal?"
Kurt watched her, then nodded slowly. The door opened.
Sara frowned. "You didn't actually have to sing?"
Kurt shrugged. "It was on a timer."
"We figured you'd cave in soon enough," Blaine added.
Sara shook her head. Maybe she would go back to calling them boys again, after all.
Chapter 6: Do you remember the paths where we met? (Long, long ago)
In which Kurt tries to read Moby Dick, Sara introduces Kurt to shurikenjutsu, Blaine promises not to sing, and everyone argues about the existence of soulmates.
Chapter title from the early 1800s song "Long, Long Ago". Lyrics here (warning - web site created in 1999, but at least there aren't blink tags): http://www.contemplator.com/england/longago.html
Soundtrack: none, though there are references to the soundtrack to Hamilton.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Well," Kurt said, watching Sara leave. "FINALLY."
"That took a lot longer than I expected," Blaine admitted.
"I can't believe how far that had to go before she finally broke down and talked to us." Kurt shook his head.
"I know," Blaine agreed. "Seriously. 'Self-insertion porn?' I still can't believe you said that."
"Oh. My. God." Kurt flopped back on the bed laughing. "I almost broke character then. Did you see Sara's face?"
"I saw Zari's," Blaine said. "I think she was a little turned on."
"I don't think I can do deliberate innuendo again for a week," Kurt gasped.
"That's too bad." Blaine eyed Kurt carefully. "I had ideas."
"Don't you dare go off and write them without acting them out first." Kurt raised a very suggestive eyebrow.
Afterwards, they lay back on the bed, breathing. "I'm so glad that you aren't actually mad at me for writing porn," Blaine said.
"It's flattering, if a little embarrassing," Kurt admitted. "Sharing it still feels weird, though. I like having you all to myself."
"I'll stick to sharing stuff that's less obviously personal from now on," Blaine said. "Though I think Zari might be shipping us. At first I thought she was just encouraging us for Sara's sake, but by the end... Well."
"Gideon definitely is," Kurt said. "Which is why I asked her to leave this room out of her surveillance."
"I'm glad they are both enjoying having us on the ship," Blaine said. "But it will be nice to see something other than these rooms for a little while."
"We still need to come up with a time and place to visit," Kurt pointed out.
"By we, you mean me, don't you." Blaine smiled to soften the criticism.
Kurt shrugged. "You're the one who almost minored in history, or political science, or something."
Blaine shrugged. "Hamilton was really good," he said.
"I thought so, too," Kurt said. "But I just sang along with the soundtrack. You're the one who actually took classes and wrote papers and got a job with AOC."
"Fair enough." Blaine rolled over and looked for his underwear.
"So if soulmates exist, does that mean that everyone has one?" Zari was sitting on the counter, talking to Blaine, when Kurt walked into the kitchen. "What if they don't? Are you planning to pair up everyone in this story by the end?"
"You sound like Kurt," Blaine said. He had a plate of something in front of him. It smelled delicious.
"No, she doesn't. I never told you that you had to pair up everyone in your stories." Kurt pulled another seat to the counter beside Blaine. "I mean, you're right, I don't believe in soulmates. I think they're a lazy way to think about relationships. You don't just meet the one and live happily ever after. Relationships take work." Kurt picked up a fork and stabbed a piece of Blaine's food. "Mmmm," he said. "This is really good."
"I know, right?" Blaine agreed. "Zari made it."
"Is this feta?" Kurt asked. "And... there's only one olive. Do you want it?"
Blaine shook his head. "I've already had two. You can have it."
"Thanks," Kurt popped the olive into his mouth. "See, that whole conversation was just a bunch of decisions. Blaine chose not to be mad when I ate his food. I chose to ask permission to eat the last olive, because I know that he loves olives."
"So you could just choose to be with someone else?" Zari asked.
"I couldn't," Blaine said. He looked at Kurt. "Really. I couldn't."
"Mmm-hmmm," Kurt responded, knowing all the complicated history behind that claim. "But you know that my problem with the idea of soulmates doesn't have anything to do with us, right? It's just that I've seen people move on from losing the love of their life. Eventually, I mean."
"Rachel," Blaine said.
"Well, Rachel too, but I was thinking about my father." Kurt looked at Zari, who was probably confused. "My mother died when I was a kid. My father re-married while I was in high school, and he's currently living happily ever after for the second time with Carole. So either my mother wasn't his soulmate, or Carole isn't, or he has two soulmates... Or soulmates aren't real, and love is built on other things, like friendships and the choices that we all make."
"It's not as romantic," Blaine argued.
"Come on, don't you think my dad and Carole are romantic?" Kurt asked.
"I think they're adorable. But I'm not going to write a fic based on them," Blaine replied.
"Who are you writing a fic about?" Sara asked as she walked into the kitchen. "And is there any of that left? It smells delicious."
"I made enough for everyone," Zari said. "More than enough, because Kurt just ate some of Blaine's."
"And nobody's writing fics about anybody on this ship," Blaine said. Which was a total lie, but Kurt wasn't going to call him on it.
"Kurt's going to make you an online dating profile," Zari said.
"Wait, what?" Kurt ducked, in case any weapons flew across the room. "I thought we weren't talking about anyone in particular."
"You did say that people can move on after losing the love of their life," Blaine pointed out.
"Yes, but... I didn't mean Sara. Or now." Kurt held up his hands in the universal symbol for please don't kill me, kick-ass assassin.
"I believe you," Sara said. "And I'm going to eat some of this food. And then I'm going to listen to your ideas for places and times to go next."
"I think Blaine has a plan," Zari said. "I was trying to get him to tell me about it, but we got distracted by talking about his latest story."
"I do have a plan," Blaine smiled. "But I'm going to make you guess it."
Kurt raised an eyebrow at him. He had played these games before.
"So." Blaine rubbed his hands together. "Who was the worst president in the history of the US?"
"Not counting 2019, presumably," Sara said. "Because we've been working on that one for a while."
"Right. Before 2019," Blaine amended.
"'I am not a crook,'" Zari guessed. "Nixon?"
"Wait. I remember something about this from high school," Kurt frowned. "One of the presidents before the Great Depression? Oh, crap. What was his name. Harding? What was the name of that hilarious-sounding scandal? Tea Pot Dome?"
"It's got to be someone that nobody ever remembers," Sara said. "One of those guys with the beards in the late 1800s or something."
Blaine looked mischievous. "I'll give you another hint. Who was the first gay president of the US?"
"There's already been one?" Zari frowned.
"Wait, I know this," Sara said. "FDR? Or was that just Eleanor?"
"Wait. Did you ever sleep with Eleanor?" Zari asked.
"Not telling," Sara replied. Which put a new wrinkle in the whole Sara-lost-her-soulmate thing that they were dealing with. Kurt filed away the information for future discussions, and continued thinking about other possibilities.
"What about Abraham Lincoln?" Kurt asked.
"Bzzzz," Blaine said. "All wrong, on both counts. The worst president - who was also probably the first gay president - was James Buchanan."
"I don't even know what years we're talking about," Sara said.
"James Buchanan was president of the United States from 1857 to 1861," Gideon informed them.
"Among other things, he pressured the Supreme Court to deny citizenship to Blacks in the Dred Scott decision," Blaine said. "Between his election and the inauguration, even. When he shouldn't have been talking to the Supreme Court justices. And then he destroyed the economy in the Panic of 1857. He pretty much protected slavery until Lincoln was elected, and the Civil War started."
"Ok," Sara said. "Sounds pretty bad."
"It is." Blaine went into his earnest arguing mode. It was kind of cute, Kurt thought. But Blaine kept talking, whether or not he noticed Kurt's amused smile. "What if the Dred Scott decision had gone differently? What if the US just got rid of slavery and extended citizenship, real citizenship, to former slaves, and to anyone born in the US?"
"So you mean like the 14th amendment - birthright citizenship, due process - but earlier?" Zari asked.
"And without all the Jim Crow laws that kept the citizenship clause from really having an effect for almost a hundred years," Blaine agreed. "So that, by 2016, white supremacy would be a historical footnote and not the nasty undercurrent of an election."
Sara nodded. "Could you fix citizenship for women while you're at it?"
Blaine shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"
Kurt raised his hand. "So... how exactly does this involve James Buchanan?"
"I'm glad you asked." Blaine looked pleased with himself. Which probably meant that he had something over-the-top in mind. "Before he became president, Buchanan lived - for years - with another politician, William Rufus King. When they weren't together - they were ambassadors and things like that every now and then - they wrote long letters to each other. They even had plans to run for president and vice president together."
"Romantic." Zari looked skeptical.
"I don't know. Maybe?" Blaine shrugged. "Buchanan was from Pennsylvania. King was from North Carolina. Maybe it was the easiest way for them to be together."
"Ok. So, North and South, star-crossed lovers, fine," Sara said. "So did King influence Buchanan about the Dred Scott decision or something?"
"No," Blaine said. "Because before Buchanan was elected president, King died. Of tuberculosis. King was actually vice president at the time, briefly."
"How brief?" Zari asked.
"A little more than a month," Blaine said. "March through April 1853. Buchanan became president in the next election, after the death of his lover."
"So you're saying he lost the love of his life, and then destroyed the country," Kurt said. "Almost Shakespearean."
"Ok," Sara said. "So what would you fix?"
"I've been thinking," Blaine replied. "I mean... being closeted is awful. Andrew fucking Jackson apparently called them names early in their relationship. What if Buchanan had come out when he was young?"
Kurt looked at him skeptically.
"I know," Blaine said. "Pressuring people to come out of the closet is a bad idea."
"Plus it could change history in unpredictable ways, if you make a change that early in someone's life," Zari pointed out.
"But I had another thought," Blaine said. "What about sometime between 1853 and the 1856 election?"
"After King died?" Sara frowned. "Why?"
"It was just a thought that I had," Blaine said. "Listening to Kurt. Thinking about soulmates and grieving and moving on."
"You want to fix the history of racism in the US by convincing James Buchanan to start dating again?" Sara pursed her lips.
"Okaaay." Sara dragged out the response, as if she wasn't convinced quite yet. "So why do you think that this won't change history enough to erase either of you?"
"Kurt's family all came to the US in the late 1800s," Blaine said. "And mine mostly immigrated in the 20th century. So anything before the Civil War should be ok."
"Gideon?" Sara asked.
"I will do a search for any unknown relatives," Gideon responded.
Kurt wondered if she had their DNA, but decided not to ask.
Gideon cleared them for travel. Blaine was in the library, doing background research to solidify his plan. Kurt sat in the kitchen, drinking coffee and reading Moby Dick, when Sara came in.
She glanced at the spine. "You'll have to tell me if the whale dies or not. I've never been able to finish that book."
Kurt looked up. "I don't know if I'll finish it before we leave. I'm just trying to get a sense of the time."
"Want to do something else?" Sara asked.
Kurt eyed her carefully. "That depends on what you're suggesting."
"That's reasonable, given everything you know about me," Sara said. "I was thinking about our plans. Blaine wants to make the argument to Buchanan..."
"He'll be good at that, you know," Kurt said. "Blaine can be very convincing."
"He's got charisma," Sara half-agreed. "I'm a little worried that he'll do some kind of outrageous musical number. Introduce the Beatles to America a century too early, or something like that."
"He won't." Kurt hoped, at least.
"I think I'll go with him, whatever he plans to do," Sara said. "That way, if he gets in trouble, I can get him out of it. And Zari will be in charge of dealing with the jump ship."
That made sense. After Sara, Zari had the most experience. But that meant...
"So what am I going to do?" Kurt asked. "Come with you and Blaine?"
"I have an idea," Sara said. "Remember when you and Blaine found the weapons room?"
"And totally failed to attack you?" Kurt replied. "Yes. I thought you were going to break my wrist."
"You actually didn't look that bad, handling that knife," Sara said.
"I had an entire class in stage-fighting," Kurt replied. "I guess I haven't forgotten everything."
"You remembered more than Blaine did," Sara agreed. "I know I told both of you to stay away from all pointy objects. But that might be a mistake." She watched him carefully. "I know you don't like to be thrown around," she said. "So how would you like a little combat training?"
They started with wooden knives. First, the basic disarming technique that Sara had used on Kurt. Then attacks. Kurt didn't think he was doing badly - it was like dancing, after all. And stage fighting had always been kind of fun.
But Sara disagreed. "You're never going to kill anyone like that," she said as she stepped back and picked up a towel. "You pull back every time you get the blade close to me."
"The point of stage fighting isn't to kill someone," Kurt said. "It's actually the opposite of killing someone."
"You know, you should probably stay away from hand-to-hand combat, then." Sara looked disappointed.
Kurt spun the knife around, then flipped it. "I'll just have to distract them, or something."
Sara watched the move. "Wait," she said, and walked over to a cabinet. "I've got an idea. How do you feel about throwing things?"
"Like what?" Kurt asked. "Footballs? No. Chairs? Probably not. Darts?" He shrugged. "I'm not that into bar games, but my housemates and I used to throw them at pictures of people we disliked." Well. That was mostly Santana, but she was even more dangerous when bored than she was while throwing pointy objects. So, yes. Kurt knew how to throw darts.
Sara opened a small case. "How about throwing stars?"
They practiced for a while. Kurt was hardly a Sara-level ninja, but he didn't do that badly. In the end, Sara picked out a set that were fairly simple to handle.
Kurt eyed them, then followed Sara's example and practiced hiding them. "I've never thought of myself as the action hero archetype," he confessed.
"Yeah?" Sara said, demonstrating how to pull out a star in one move. "I never thought of myself as a leader. This line of work is pretty weird that way."
Kurt nodded and kept practicing.
"I think I might enjoy this time period," Kurt said, "if only for the cravats and the waistcoats."
"Well, hopefully there will also be a chance to make history better," Blaine replied. "Though the clothes are really hot. Plus I like the tousled hair look. You're totally rakish."
"You should see yourself," Kurt said, moving behind Blaine to help tuck one of his gel-free curls into place. "I'm looking forward to taking these off when we get back," he whispered, running his hand along the cravat.
Blaine stepped back and looked at Kurt. "Are you sure you're ok with this?"
Kurt shrugged. "About the not-insignificant chance that the worst president in history will fall in love with my very attractive husband?" he said lightly.
"Yes," Blaine said. "That."
"I'm controlling my jealousy," Kurt said. "For now. Also, Sara taught me how to use Japanese throwing stars. So if James Buchanan makes a move on you, he might not survive to become the worst president in history."
Blaine laughed. "Would it help if I told you what I plan to say?" he asked.
Kurt looked at him for a moment, then nodded. "This had better not be seductive. Even with the waistcoat and cravat."
"I'll let you judge for yourself," Blaine said. "I'm going to express my condolences, first. And tell him how horrible it must be to lose someone you love that much."
Kurt just looked at Blaine, not passing judgment. Yet.
"I'll say that I don't have that experience myself. But the love of my life has reminded me about other people who have. He knows people who have grieved, and fallen in love again, and lived happily every after." Blaine looked hopefully at Kurt.
"I don't know if the fairy-tale language will resonate in the 1850s," Kurt said. "But the rest of it... sounds great." He laced his fingers through Blaine's. "Thank you." And then he gave Blaine a skeptical look. "You're not planning to sing. Right?"
"Sara made me swear not to," Blaine said. "No singing. Just talking."
They hid the jump ship in the docks on the Delaware River and headed into the city of Philadelphia. Buchanan was apparently staying with a friend; the 1856 convention that would make him the official candidate for president was about to happen in the city, but Buchanan had been in London since a few months after his lover's death. It seemed to Kurt like they might be cutting things close, waiting until it was almost time for the presidential election, but Gideon wanted to keep Kurt and Blaine in the United States. So 1856 it was.
The plan was pretty simple. Blaine and Sara would go into the house where Buchanan was staying, convince him to have hope for future love, and leave. Kurt and Zari would back them up: distract the servants for long enough to let Blaine and Sara get into the house, and be ready to get the jump ship when everything was done. Each of them carried a pocket watch - Blaine and Kurt had them on chains on their waistcoats, and Sara and Zari had them hidden somewhere in their dresses. Sara had who-knows-how-many weapons hidden in her dress, as well. And Kurt had the Japanese throwing stars tucked into the sleeves of his coat.
The first step went well. Kurt approached the servants, pulled out a map, and explained that he was visiting from New York and wanted to see Independence Hall. Five minutes of confusion later (including holding the map upside-down, pointing in the wrong direction, and generally playing the part of a completely clueless tourist), and Blaine and Sara had slipped inside. Kurt and Zari thanked their guides and left, and then checked their watches to make sure they were wound. Sara planned an hour for Blaine to make his argument. If they didn't succeed, they would leave as politely and quickly and safely as possible.
So Kurt and Zari explored. Down a side street, through a park, past a church. They got some food at the market, and then it was time to head back.
The house was near one of the big parks that dotted the city. As they went through it, they noticed someone setting up a grandstand or something.
"Do you think there's going to be a concert?" Kurt whispered to Zari.
Zari looked at it. "I think it's just for people to speak," she said. "Though maybe there will be music. I have no idea."
Kurt glanced at his watch. It was almost time for Blaine and Sara to be out. He watched the door, expecting to see them at any moment.
They didn't show up. Not at the expected time. Not five minutes, or ten minutes, or fifteen minutes later. Someone got onto the stage - there was a brass band, briefly, at the beginning - and began speaking. Kurt paced on the edge of the crowd, wondering what had gone wrong. Zari offered to check the side streets, while Kurt waited at the park. A tall blonde woman handed him a pamphlet, and he glanced at it. An abolitionist rally, or something like that.
Blaine still wasn't back. He wasn't in the park. He wasn't on any of the side streets either, according to Zari.
Fuck. Something had gone wrong.
And then Sara appeared. Running. Kurt caught Zari's eye on the other side of the growing crowd, and both of them ran to meet Sara.
"What happened?" Zari asked.
"Where's Blaine?" Kurt demanded.
"It turns out that James Buchanan isn't particularly worried about being closeted," Sara said. "Or about finding love again. And also, his hosts have a piano." Sara gave Kurt a significant look.
Kurt winced. "What did Blaine sing?"
"A medley of pieces from Hamilton," Sara said. "The ones about slavery. And a little about immigration. They didn't go over very well."
Kurt could imagine. "Where is he?"
"He's coming," Sara said. "He went out another way while I distracted the early version of Philadelphia's finest. I went out the side door, and he's going out through the stables." She looked around at the crowd. "What's going on?"
"Abolitionist rally," Kurt said, and handed Sara the flyer.
"Hmmm," Sara mused. "This could work. Zari, go get the jump ship. Is there a good place to put it near here?"
"There's a cemetery," Zari said.
"That should work. And if things get really weird, maybe it will seem like a ghost story or something." She shrugged. "Kurt, go meet Blaine. Get to the cemetery, and get on the jump ship."
"I suppose we shouldn't ask what you'll be doing," Zari said.
"Creating a diversion," Sara replied, and turned away from them. She worked her way along the edge of the crowd to the grandstand, then took a running leap onto the stage.
"Hi." Sara projected really well, even with the lack of amplification. "I agree with the previous speaker that slavery is immoral, and that Pennsylvania should be proud of herself for liberating slaves when they turn 28. But..." She glanced around. "Isn't that, actually, kind of old? If it's immoral to keep a 28-year-old as a slave, isn't it also immoral to keep a sixteen-year-old? Or, you know, a baby?"
There were some shouts in the crowd.
Sara kept going. "Look, people. Slavery needs to end. Now. And all of those former slaves, and their children, and their descendants, need to be full citizens of the United States. Voting rights, owning property, everything. In fact, we probably need some kind of reparations, and I don't mean taking over land in Africa and sending people away."
There were more shouts. Something flew through the air.
"In fact, you know, everyone born in the US should be a citizen. Right? Isn't this city the home of the Declaration of Independence? All men are created equal, and everything? Though seriously, next time, include women in the sequel."
Someone - maybe with a uniform, Kurt wasn't sure - rushed the stage. That was enough for Kurt. He turned and ran.
Behind him, Sara was still going. "Also, you all realize that the West isn't this empty wasteland for your Manifest Destiny, right? There are people there, people you are forcibly displacing and killing. People with cultures. Not savages."
Kurt kept running, then turned. Blaine ran out from a side street and crashed into him.
"Blaine!" Kurt pulled him back to his feet.
"James Buchanan is actually very happy with his version of the closet," Blaine said. "And also white supremacy is gross."
Kurt turned to see several men chasing Blaine. He pulled out the throwing stars that Sara had given him, threw them, grabbed Blaine's hand, and ran.
They turned down one narrow street, then another, then another. They had gone pretty far from their destination at the cemetery when they ducked behind a cart in an alley.
Blaine peeked out. "I think they're gone." He looked back at Kurt. "Nice aim back there, by the way."
Kurt just grabbed Blaine by the cravat and kissed him, long and hard.
Blaine pulled back, breathing heavily. "What was that for?"
"Not dying," Kurt said.
"Let's continue this when we definitely aren't dead," Blaine replied. "Which way to the jump ship?"
"Zari went to get it," Kurt said. "She's bringing it to the cemetery on Mulberry Street. It should be that way." He got up and brushed himself off.
They turned onto the street that should have led to the cemetery when they heard shouting. Sara's 'diversion' had gotten out of control.
"I don't think we can get through this way," Blaine said.
Kurt was about to agree when a tall blonde stepped in front of them. Her hair was coming loose from her bun, as if she had been running.
"Don't go back that way." She looked at Kurt as if she recognized him. "You were at the park. Where the abolitionists were speaking. I gave you a pamphlet. I saw you talking to the new woman, the one who spoke at the end, the woman we've never seen before. Where are you from?"
"New York," Kurt answered.
"And you don't know the streets very well," the woman finished for him. "You need another route. Where are you going?"
"The cemetery on Mulberry Street," Kurt said.
"I know a shortcut," she said. "Follow me."
They ran down one street, then another, following the blonde woman. And then, there was the cemetery. With...
"What is THAT?" The blonde woman stared in confusion at the jump ship.
But before Kurt or Blaine could explain, they heard a commotion from another street. Sara came running from the other direction. And she was being followed.
The jump ship door opened.
Sara stopped in her tracks and stared at Kurt and Blaine.
Or maybe she was staring at their companion. Because she grabbed the woman, threw her over her shoulder, and ran for the jump ship.
Kurt's first thought was that he was glad that he wasn't the one being hoisted over Sara's shoulder this time. His second thought was confusion. Who? And why? And what the hell was Sara doing?
His third thought was that the crowd following Sara was getting close. He looked at Blaine, who appeared to be thinking the same thing. So they followed Sara onto the jump ship.
The door closed behind them. They stumbled down the short corridor to the crowded control room, where Zari was standing, staring at Sara. Well, actually, mostly staring at the woman with her. The woman was on her own feet, at least, looking at Sara, and awkwardly trying to get her hair back into her bun.
"Holy crap," Zari said. "Ava?"
I had the basic parts of this chapter's plot bunny for a while, but then this Twitter thread (https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1207375006575058945.html) by @michaelharriot caught my attention. I don't think I'm alone in having a really mediocre understanding of all the undercurrents in America leading up to the Civil War. There's the horror of slavery (and the Fugitive Slave Act, and the Dred Scott Decision); it's hard to even wrap my head around the pain of Blacks at the time, though Beloved by Toni Morrison helps. And simultaneously, there is the (mostly white in what's easy to find) women's history, the Seneca Falls Convention and other events, that was intertwined with the abolitionist movement. And there was the western expansion of the US, Missouri and Minnesota and Kansas and Nebraska and California and Oregon. Every bit of western expansion was accompanied by displacement and genocide of American Indians. It takes separate searches to find information about each of these topics. I don't have a good sense of the ways that these events interacted with one another. Did white Americans on the East Coast treat them like separate events? Were they so distant, in a world where trains were new, that they thought about slavery and the treatment of Indian tribes separately from one another?
I'm not a historian. I'm also white, as are most of the characters that I'm writing. I want the characters to confront their blind spots, because I don't think we can make real progress without dealing with the racist underpinnings of the US. But I'm probably going to do it badly.
Fanfic doesn't have sensitivity readers. But I will revise, with thanks, if anyone has comments about my mangling of the storytelling in this chapter (or others).
History and other notes:
I binge-watched Dickinson (the 2019 Apple+ show about Emily Dickinson). It helped me think about the men's clothing. And also I loved it, and highly recommend it. Even if (like me) you haven't read much 19th century American literature since high school. Emily is awesome, and the show makes fun of Thoreau. I stole some of this chapter's commentary on 1850s politics from it.
Other things I read:
Essay about the schism between anti-slavery/anti-racists and women's rights advocates in the 1800s, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Philadelphia abolitionist history, including the various factions (the older white Quaker-derived factions, and the groups that included Blacks and women)
Philadelphia riots 1830s and 1840s - 1838 burning of Pennsylvania Hall (background for thinking about how abolitionists were viewed)
Historic maps of Philadelphia (which you can open overlaid on a Google Maps image; so much fun to play with) https://www.philageohistory.org/rdic-images/index2.cfm , https://www.philageohistory.org/tiles/viewer/
But there isn't a streetview for the 1850s, so I totally made up the geography in the end.
Declaration of Sentiments, the Seneca Falls Convention, 1848 (not actually used in Sara's speech, but part of what I read) https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/senecafalls.asp
Plus I used wikipedia a lot, particularly for the timeline of James Buchanan's and William Rufus King's careers. (I think I found the comment about Andrew Jackson calling them names in Wikipedia.)
I've never read Moby Dick (published 1851), so I don't know if the whale dies or not.
Chapter 7: On a maddening loop
So what, exactly, does one do with the genetic original of someone's soulmate after they've been locked on a timeship?
And why does Sara think that the crewmate who doesn't believe in soulmates can help at all?
Really, Kurt has no idea.
Chapter title from the lyrics (posted here: https://www.stlyrics.com/songs/r/rem3346/endgame159798.html) to Endgame (R.E.M.). Which was on the album Out of Time. And which doesn't actually have words on the album. So way too far of a stretch for a chapter title, I realize.
The excessively meta commentary about writing reflects my own insecurities, not commentary on any other fics that I've read. Kurt plays the role of my snarky internal editor.
On 'promiscuous audiences' (which totally cracks me up, given the characters, especially Sara): https://www.nps.gov/wori/learn/historyculture/antislavery-connection.htm
Soundtrack: Winter Wonderland (any of a gazillion versions)
"So a woman from 1856 - who happens to look like the girlfriend you accidentally erased from existence - is currently drugged and lying in one of the spare cabins." Kurt stood in the library in front of Sara, head tilted, arms crossed.
"She doesn't just happen to look like Ava," Sara said. "But... well, yes."
"I mean, maybe she's the original person who was used to make the clone that Sara fell in love with," Blaine suggested. "The timing makes sense. Sara's girlfriend disappeared after Sara and Zari did something in 1814. We found this woman in 1856, and she's what, 30-something?"
Kurt was going to say that this entire situation was insane, but he could already hear the pitch of his voice rising, before he even said a word. Plus the whole time travel thing was crazy to begin with. And given everything else, Blaine's explanation made a certain logical sense. Could something make insane logical sense? Kurt wasn't ready to pass judgment quite yet.
Zari went to the piano bench and sat down. "So what are you going to do?" she asked.
Blaine nodded. "You can't just keep the love of your life drugged forever."
Kurt shook his head. "She doesn't know Sara," he said. "Didn't you hear me the first time? She called Sara 'the woman we've never seen before.'" Ok. So yes, his voice was rising. He took a breath. "Look. Don't you have one of those flashy things... Blaine, you know what I'm talking about."
"From Men in Black," Blaine said. "Something to make her forget. But Kurt, nobody wants to make Ava forget."
"It doesn't matter anyway," Sara said. "Yes, we had a flashy thing. But it belonged to Ava and the Time Bureau." She waved her hands at Kurt's confusion. "Never mind the Time Bureau. Just... when Ava stopped existing, so did the flashy thing." She turned and headed out of the room. "Whatever damage I've done to Ava is done," she said. "There's nothing I can do about it."
Kurt was sitting in the TV room on the couch, listening to music on headphones, when Sara came in, pulled a chair up, and sat on its arm.
"Hey," Sara said. Or at least that's what it looked like.
Kurt pulled off the headphones. "So have you decided to let Sleeping Beauty awaken yet?"
Sara sighed. "I'm looking for advice about what to do when she wakes up."
"You should talk to Blaine," Kurt suggested. "He's got a lot more ideas about soulmate reunions than I have."
"I already asked him," Sara said. "And yes, he had a lot of ideas. But he also said I should talk to you."
"Ideas?" Kurt asked.
"He started planning out an entire musical number for me to sing to her," Sara said. "Except I don't sing. So then he told me that he sung to you the first time you met. And that was what soulmates apparently need to do."
Kurt gave her an amused look. "Did he tell you that he was actually singing to his entire school? And that it wasn't even love at first sight for him?"
"He did not," Sara smiled back. "But to his credit, he did tell me that I should hear your perspective. Which is why I'm here."
Kurt laughed. "I mean, I did fall head-over-heels for him during that song. But I'd only been out as gay for a year or so, plus I was only 17. I was prone to falling desperately in love with any boy who was the least bit nice to me. Blaine was the first openly gay kid I ever met, so of course I had a crush on him from the moment I first saw him."
"Blaine described it as a meeting of soulmates," Sara pushed.
"Blaine has romanticized the entire thing," Kurt said. "And I love him for it. Don't get me wrong. But for him, it was more of a friends-to-lovers trope than love at first sight." He shrugged. "I think that's why it ended up working out. Every time we broke up - and we did, you know, twice, plus we had a lot of fights - anyway, eventually we would miss our friendship, and next thing you know we would get back together. At some point we realized that being best friends and being an old married couple were kind of the same thing, except that old married couples have sex, and it was ok to keep our relationship going as a slow burn in the background of the rest of our lives."
Sara smiled. "That sounds nice."
"It is," Kurt said. "But I have no idea how that applies to a situation in which you have come to a different universe and kidnapped and drugged the genetic original of your clone girlfriend."
Sara grimaced. "I know," she said. "For the record, Zari agrees with you. She doesn't see any reason why this version of Ava would necessarily fall in love with me."
"Well, she did notice you when you spoke," Kurt said. "The woman who looks like Ava, I mean."
"Everyone noticed me," Sara said. "That was the point."
"Well, she noticed you talking to me. Before you ran onto the stage. So there's that." Kurt shrugged.
Sara looked like she was filing that piece of information away for future reference.
Kurt sighed. "Ok. Let's assume - just for the sake of argument - that it's not a coincidence that we ran into your erased girlfriend's doppelganger. If there's anything there - IF, I said - then maybe knowing your Ava will help us figure out how to deal with this woman. How would your Ava deal with being flung over a stranger's shoulder, carried into a bizarre metal building, and drugged?"
"She would be pissed off," Sara admitted. "She would totally freak out. That's why I drugged her so fast. I could already see it starting."
"We need to let her wake up, you know," Kurt said. "What will happen then?"
Sara gave Kurt a hopeful look. "I was hoping that you would be in the room."
Kurt looked skeptical. "Me?"
"Sure," Sara said. "You had two conversations with Ava. She recognized you the second time, and offered to help you. So you're the closest thing to a familiar face here." She grinned. "Also, I had this same discussion with Zari and Blaine. Zari's still too freaked out by the way everyone on my old crew said they knew her after her timeline changed, so she said no. And Blaine said you would be better at it than he would be."
Kurt sat in a chair, dressed in another waistcoat and cravat, and waited for the woman that the others all called 'Ava' to wake up. Occasionally, he would glance at the walls. Gideon was monitoring this room, and projecting the video and sound for the others. Which would have been creepy, except that they had also drugged the woman, and it probably made sense to monitor her medical condition.
Not that two (or more) wrongs made a right.
But if things went off the rails, he would have help.
Kurt expected to see some kind of gradual awakening - eyelids fluttering, body twitching, sleepy movements. He did not expect the woman to sit bolt upright in bed and stare at him. But that's what happened.
"Where am I?" The woman looked around frantically. "What is this place? Who are you? Why am I here?"
Kurt twitched backwards, but forced himself not to move any further. "It's ok," he said.
The woman frowned at him, confused. Kurt suddenly wondered how long 'ok' had been part of the English language, and whether he should have been reading more Melville to prepare for all of this.
"You're safe," Kurt tried again, as gently as possible. "I'm Kurt. Kurt Hummel. You met me at the abolitionist rally. You helped me get away from a mob." He waited for a response. "Remember?"
"Of course I remember you," the woman said. "But what is THIS?" She waved her arm around.
Okaaaay. So they weren't going to ease into this at all. "This is a time ship," Kurt started.
"What?" Well, that certainly didn't help calm the woman.
"We travel through time," Kurt tried again. "I... don't belong in 1856. Which you can probably guess from the way I talk. I'm from your future."
"The future..." The woman held her shoulders stiff.
"We were trying to make the future better. By fixing our past." The argument was falling apart, and Kurt knew it. This would have gone so much better with Blaine's charm or Sara's panache.
"They told me what would happen if I mixed with promiscuous audiences..." the woman said.
Kurt pulled back. "Trust me, I'm not promiscuous."
"A mixed male and female audience was considered 'promiscuous' in the 1850s," Gideon informed Kurt through the earpiece that Kurt had nearly forgotten that he was wearing.
Which meant that Kurt jumped. And then tried to correct himself. "I mean, in my time, it's ok for men and women to talk to one another."
The woman still looked horrified. "What are you going to do to me?"
This was not going as planned at all. "Me?" Kurt said. "Nothing. Trust me. Not promiscuous. Not attracted to women. Just trying to be a friendly ear."
The woman jumped down from her bed, and suddenly there was something at Kurt's throat. A knife? No, maybe a letter-opener? He tried to remember the disarming technique that Sara had shown him, but he didn't know how to use it while sitting in a chair.
The door burst open, and Sara rushed in. "Ava! Stop! Leave him alone!"
The woman looked up. "You...?" She shook her head. "How do you know my name?"
Sara just stepped behind Ava and twisted the letter-opener out of her hand. "I just do, ok?" She looked at Kurt. "You should probably go. I'll take it from here."
So Kurt brushed himself off, as carefully under control as possible, and left.
Blaine and Zari were sitting in front of the TV, watching Ava's room. And also eating popcorn. Blaine held out the bowl, but Kurt shook his head.
"How are they doing?" Kurt asked.
Blaine pointed to the TV. "Just watch."
"You dragged me into this place," Ava was saying. "You gave me opium."
Sara's ponytail swished as she shook her head. "There was a mob chasing you," she said. "And the drug wasn't opium."
"It was a mob that YOU incited," Ava pointed out. "The speech was peaceful until you arrived."
"It was also ineffective," Sara responded.
"You don't know that," Ava argued.
"Actually, I do," Sara said. "I'm from the future."
Ava shook her head. "Is that why you are dressed like a man?"
Sara glanced down at her typical black jeans.
"We probably should have planned for her to go in as backup," Zari said. "Dressed appropriate for the time, and everything. But I honestly thought that Ava would listen to Kurt."
"Shhh," Blaine said, and handed the popcorn to her.
"Women get to wear whatever we want in my time," Sara was saying.
"Then your promiscuous speeches have clearly had their effect," Ava responded.
"Not exactly." Sara looked at her. "Look. We can't take you back home. You're stuck here with us. So you should probably get used to... promiscuity, or whatever it is that you're worried about." She turned and headed for the door. "My name is Sara, by the way. Sara Lance."
As the door closed behind Sara, Ava slumped onto her bed and held her head in her hands.
"Well, that didn't go well," Blaine said. "Maybe you're both right. They aren't soulmates."
Zari shrugged. "I don't want to say I told you so, but...."
Sara strutted into the room. "But you were wrong," she said. "That is my Ava. One hundred percent." She smiled. "I'm going to get her some food."
"Well, I have no idea how THAT's going to turn out," Kurt said to Blaine as the door to their room closed behind them. He started unbuttoning the waistcoat. "I mean, is Sara..."
"Wait," Blaine said. "Don't take that off just yet."
Kurt gave him an amused look. "No fair. You're back in 21st century clothes."
"I know," Blaine said. "Just... leave it on. For a little while."
"Ooookaaaaay." Kurt looked at his feet. "Can I at least take these shoes off? They hadn't invented comfortable insoles yet in the 1850s."
"Plus we promised not to have shoes on the bed," Blaine agreed.
"So I can get onto the bed?" Kurt gave Blaine a flirtaceous look.
"Yes," Blaine said. "Please."
Kurt looked carefully at him. "Blaine, you aren't writing a historical fic, now, are you?"
Blaine blushed. "Only in my head," he admitted.
"Well," Kurt said. "I'd like to know what it says."
Blaine smiled slowly, kicked off his own shoes, and climbed onto the end of the bed. "All right," he said. "But lie down first."
Kurt crawled onto the bed and leaned back against the pillows. "Waiting," he whispered.
Blaine blinked at him. "Ok." He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them with a little half smile. "He lies on the bed, hair already tousled. The turquoise in his waistcoat brings out the blue in his eyes, and the midnight blue cravat looks almost black against his alabaster skin."
"Alabaster?" Kurt tried not to laugh. "Really?"
"What word should I use instead?" Blaine argued. "I mean, pale would sound like you're sick or something. It would spoil the mood. And this is just a first draft, anyways. I try to ignore my internal editor and just write."
"Sorry," Kurt said. "Continue. Please."
"He leans forward to undo the buttons," Blaine said, and reached for Kurt's waistcoat.
"Wait, did 'he' just change there?" Kurt asked. "I'm confused."
"Look, pronouns are hard," Blaine said. "Plus I didn't know whether it would be better to give us other men's names while we're in bed."
"Why don't you use first person?" Kurt asked.
"I don't know," Blaine said. "I just don't like it. Why?"
"Just thinking about it after trying to read Moby Dick," Kurt said. "The first-person narrator was jarring. I don't read much in first person these days."
"Maybe that's why I don't use it. It just doesn't sound right." Blaine reached down and carefully loosened one of the buttons. "You should keep this waistcoat," he said. "It really does look good on you."
"You've stopped writing," Kurt said. "Or narrating. Or whatever you're doing."
"You kept interrupting," Blaine pointed out. "I didn't think you liked it."
"I do," Kurt said. "I like knowing what's in your brain. It's sexy."
"Even with pronoun confusion and words that sound silly when I say them out loud?" Blaine asked.
"Even with all of it," Kurt said. "The present tense is hot, too. Very in the moment."
"Noted," Blaine said, and loosened a second button. He frowned. "The buttons are sewed on tightly, and he fears to break them, as his fingers quiver with anticipation."
Kurt kept his mouth carefully closed and tried not to do any quivering of his own until the waistcoat was finally removed and set carefully to the side.
"He grabs the cravat and pulls his lover up to meet his lips." Blaine grabbed the cravat and tugged.
"I was hoping you wouldn't leave that out," Kurt murmured against Blaine's lips.
They were too busy kissing for Blaine to talk while he unbuttoned Kurt's shirt, and Kurt pushed Blaine's sweater over his head.
"His pants were getting uncomfortably tight..." Blaine finally said.
"The ambiguous pronouns actually work pretty well," Kurt said.
"He kisses..." Blaine stopped and frowned. "Or should it be licks? Did I use kisses already?"
"I honestly can't remember," Kurt said. "How about more action and fewer words?"
Afterwards, Kurt lay back, eyes closed, breathing. When he opened them, Blaine was looking down at him.
"You're not going to narrate the afterglow, are you?" Kurt asked lightly.
"No," Blaine said. "I'm just watching."
"And thinking," Kurt said. "You're totally thinking."
Blaine laughed. "Yes. I'm thinking."
"About what?" Kurt rolled onto his side so he could see Blaine's face better.
"About how I can't believe that you don't think that soulmates are real," Blaine admitted.
"I just don't think it makes much of a difference," Kurt said. "Even if there's some kind of destiny or fate or whatever, it still takes a lot of work and communication to avoid all kinds of angst."
"I guess that's true," Blaine said. "I guess I just like to know how the ending's going to turn out. Like with Sara and Ava. I have no idea how that's going to work."
"You mean with Sara's possible soulmate locked in a room on a time ship?" Kurt asked.
"Yes," Blaine said. "I don't see how that could possibly turn into a happy ending. I'm just glad that I'm not the one writing that relationship. I don't usually do enemies-to-lovers."
Kurt rolled over, found Blaine's undershirt, and handed it to him. "I'm glad you're not writing it, too," he said. "Because that would be creepy."
Kurt woke up slowly.
Blaine was already out of bed, bathrobe on, carrying a towel. "Good morning, sleepyhead," he said. "I'm going to go shower and shave. Meet you in the kitchen for breakfast?"
Kurt yawned. "I'll be there in a while," he said. And then he closed his eyes for another minute.
Straps whipped out of the sides of the bed and held him in place. Everything spun, and his stomach heaved (but fortunately didn't empty).
Shit. Time jump.
When it was over, Kurt climbed out of bed and pulled on his clothes. He had no idea what year they had gone to, or whether Sara would let them out of the ship, so he grabbed what was available in the room - 21st century pants and shirt, plus the 1850s vest. At least there were clean underwear and socks.
He had one sock on when he realized that someone was trying to pound on the door.
Sara stood outside. "What took you so long?" she demanded. "Where's Blaine?"
"He's in the shower," Kurt said. "And our room has soundproofing. Remember?"
Blaine skidded down the hall in bare feet. "What's going on?" he asked. "And did you know that the shower has restraints?"
Kurt glanced at the walls, but Gideon didn't say anything. Neither did Sara.
"Seriously, when did we end up?" Blaine asked.
"2019," Sara said. "New Year's Eve. Get dressed." She looked at their feet. "With boots. We're in Wisconsin." She looked uncharacteristically worried.
"And..." Kurt prodded.
"Ava's gone." Sara turned to go.
Kurt's heart sunk. Oh, poor Sara. Not again.
"Wait. We couldn't have done anything to erase her from the timeline," Blaine argued. "We jumped to her future."
"She's not erased," Sara said. "She got out. She's left the ship. There are tracks, so I know which way she went. But I'm going to need help dealing with her."
"Hold on," Kurt said. "Why do you need our help? It's not like either one of us is going to throw her over our shoulder and carry her away. I mean, she nearly slit my throat with a letter-opener."
"It's New Year's Eve," Sara said. "She headed for a party. A big party. She disappeared into a crowd, and I need more eyes looking for her."
They tromped through the snow along the lake shore, scarves wrapped tight around their necks.
"I didn't realize we were in northern Wisconsin," Kurt said, looking at the trees. "I thought we'd be in Milwaukee or Madison."
"Look," Zari pointed. "The Milky Way. You can't usually see it in 2019."
"Hey, what's up with Orion?" Blaine asked.
Zari frowned. "Oh, yeah, you can still kind of see Betelgeuse. It hasn't gone supernova yet."
"Supernova, huh," Sara said. "Well, hopefully there won't be any stars blowing up tonight, because we need to get into that party."
"Was Ava still wearing her 1850s clothes?" Kurt asked.
"That would make her easy to find," Blaine pointed out. "We might not be here very long."
A door opened in the building down the shore - it looked like some kind of meeting space for a campground - and light and people spilled out. They were dressed...
"Are you sure we've gone to 2019?" Kurt asked.
"It looks like a costume party," Zari said. "They're dressed like movies that came out this year."
"That explains Chewbacca," Blaine said.
"And the 1850s clothes are people dressed up as Little Women," Sara said. "Which is why I need all of you to help."
Sara and Zari left Kurt and Blaine at the door. "Someone needs to stay out here to make sure that Ava doesn't run off while we're inside looking for her," Sara said. "Just walk around the building once or twice. It's crowded, but it's not that big."
The snow wasn't very deep, and it crunched under their boots. Blaine started humming something. Kurt listened for a moment, and then started singing:
"Sleigh bells ring, are you listening
in the lane, snow is glistening..."
Blaine joined in, taking the harmony part:
"A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland..."
"We missed Christmas this year." Blaine sounded just a wee bit mournful. Kurt smiled. Blaine did love those duets.
And then Kurt realized what that meant. "Shit," he said. "We missed Christmas. My dad is probably worried to death. Do you think the rules about messing with the past would keep us from visiting him? For just a little while?"
Blaine shrugged. "We haven't been to that time," he said. "We should ask Sara."
Kurt started to answer when he ran into a person standing in the dark.
"Ooof." It was a large man dressed entirely in green and yellow, with some sports team's logo. Blaine would know what it was. "Hey. What are you doing out here? The opening band is done. You need to get in there."
"Um," Blaine said.
"There must be some mistake," Kurt added.
The man handed them a flyer with their photos on it. "This is you, right?" He opened a door behind him. "Get in there. We need someone to sing Auld Lang Syne at least. I don't care what else you do."
Chapter 8: Time keeps on slipping (slipping, slipping) into the future
Otherwise known as "Tonight we're going to party like it's 1999... I mean, 2019."
- Fly Like an Eagle (Steve Miller Band originally, but imagine Kurt trying to make the guitar sounds from this cover: https://youtu.be/4-awWzNUJIo)
- You've Got a Friend in Me (duet movie version: https://youtu.be/7ndMJmq7QI8)
- Shallow (performance at the Oscars: https://youtu.be/JPJjwHAIny4; also see the cover by Max Sheldon and Ben Platt: https://youtu.be/ti3qLlLyioI)
- Winter Wonderland (again)
- Do You Want to Build a Snowman (from Frozen; so many versions online)
- Let It Go (from Frozen; so many versions online)
- The Lion Sleeps Tonight (many versions; here's one of the Lion King casts singing backstage: https://youtu.be/MF87aKOGtWE)
- 1999 (Prince, https://youtu.be/rblt2EtFfC4)
- Dancing in the Dark (originally Bruce Springsteen, but imagine a show choir version based on this cover by Scary Pockets ft Darren Criss: https://youtu.be/b5rySSphFO0 )
- Hamilton Polka (Weird Al: https://youtu.be/3v0c6smpHSk)
- Auld Lang Syne
- Impeach the President (The Honeydrippers: https://youtu.be/jpFZQtBJkMI )
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sara stopped Zari just inside the door, where they could still hear each other over the sound of the polka band, but out of earshot of the guys.
"Why did you do it?" Sara demanded. "Send us to 2019? And let Ava out?"
"It wasn't me," Zari insisted. "I was as surprised as you were."
"The guys have alibis," Sara pointed out. "Kurt was in the bedroom, out of contact with the ship. Blaine was in the shower. Plus you also thought that Ava shouldn't have been locked up. Even if you weren't as loud as they were about it."
"Yes, I did agree with them. You don't lock people up just because you're convinced that they're your soulmate," Zari said. "But I didn't program the ship. And I didn't let Ava out."
Ok. So, not getting a confession out of Zari. Sara decided to drop that argument for now. "If you find Ava first, what are you going to do?"
"Hopefully, the same thing that you would do," Zari replied. "Calm her down. Make her feel safe. Sara, there wasn't even electricity in the 1850s, let alone time travel and amplified music and people dressed as Wookies. I know how different things were the first time I went back 25 years in time. I can't imagine traveling more than 150 years into the future. Especially without any kind of context."
Sara's sense of humor started creeping back. "So you're saying that I shouldn't throw her against a wall and kiss her," she said.
"No," Zari said. "NO. And the fact that you're even fantasizing about that worries me. You, more than anyone, should know that."
Sara nodded grimly. "I do. And I remember the long talk I gave to you, and to Nate, about the importance of you having choice and agency after we changed your past." She shook her head. "I just didn't expect my advice to come back and bite me so hard."
"Maybe, if you're patient, she'll be the one who kisses you," Zari said. "But for right now, she's an abolitionist from 1856 who is freaked out by mixed-gender audiences. And who knows what else has gone on in her life. Be patient."
"That's fine for you to say," Sara said. "You didn't lose her once already."
"No," Zari said. "But I know what it's like to be the one who was found. So... just take it easy."
The hall wasn't actually that big. It looked like some kind of community party, decorated with streamers and strings of Christmas lights, with a lot of grey-haired people dancing with kids. The polka band was actually a bunch of teenagers, and they seemed to have their own little cheering section hanging out in a back corner.
"It shouldn't be too hard to find Ava," Sara whispered. "So we can grab her, get the guys, and head out before anything bad happens."
"I wouldn't mind staying until midnight," Zari said. "It's nice to be out of the Waverider. But you should ask Ava what she wants to do." She looked pointedly across the room.
Ava was standing as if she were trying to be alone. But she wasn't having much luck: she had been cornered by a Jedi and a grey-haired Captain America. And that was not ok.
Sara sauntered over and placed herself between Ava and the creepy men. "Hey, you." Sara nudged one of the men with her elbow to get him to back further off. "Want to get some food?"
Ava nodded, but looked too freaked out to say anything.
Sara glared at the men and gently took Ava's elbow. "Come on, then." She steered Ava towards the food table. There was a lot of cheese. And also wings. Sara grabbed a paper plate. "And now, you get to experience the glory of 21st century party food."
Ava wiggled the paper plate and frowned at it.
"They can't hold much weight," Sara advised her. "Don't load it up with too much food at the start." She speared a couple Swedish meatballs from a slow cooker, then grabbed a couple crackers. "If you take the wings, make sure you grab a lot of napkins."
"Wings?" Ava looked left and right along the table.
"Those things." Sara pointed. "I don't know what spices you're used to. Or for that matter, whether they actually use any spices in northern Wisconsin. But if you grab them, get some of the dipping sauce, too." She put a wing and some sauce on her plate. "Or maybe, to be safe, stick with cheese and crackers for now."
Ava picked up a couple crackers and frowned at them. "How are they made in the exact same size every time?" she asked. "It's hard enough to just get the dough even."
"I've never been in a cracker factory," Sara shrugged. "Come on, we need to move along." The crowd of teenagers had moved to the refreshments table like a single giant organism when the polka band ended their set.
Ava followed Sara to an empty table and sat beside her. "You were telling the truth about traveling through time," she said, looking at the giant 2020 banner hanging above the stage.
Sara nodded. "I try to be honest with you," she said.
Ava frowned slightly, as if trying to work out whether the verb tense meant something, or was just 21st century weirdness, and took a bite of a cracker. "It really is just a cracker," she said.
"Want to try a meatball?" Sara asked. "They're pretty good."
Ava stabbed one with the plastic fork and popped it into her mouth, then frowned.
"One of the tines broke off," Sara said. "Cheap plastic. That happens sometimes. Here, just spit it out into the napkin."
Ava gave her a skeptical look, but did as Sara suggested.
"Twenty-first century problems," Sara said. "Everything's made to be thrown away. Sometimes, even before you're done with it." She pointed to the napkin. "It's paper. Just put it on your plate, and we'll put it in the garbage later."
Ava looked at Sara's plate. "May I try the..." she frowned at the pile of greasy orange-brown things. "...wings?"
"Here," Sara offered, and dunked one into the sauce.
Ava handled it delicately, biting as if avoiding the bones.
Sara picked up a fresh napkin. "You've got some sauce on your face," she said, and dabbed at it. Her finger brushed against Ava's cheek. Accidentally. And then Sara glanced up to see Zari, on the other side of the room, shaking her head at Sara. Sara glared back, but moved her hand.
Ava seemed ok with everything. Or maybe she was just contemplating the Buffalo sauce on the remaining part of the wing.
"Do you want to go..." Sara started.
But someone tapped on a microphone, and Ava jumped. Sara stood, ready to shepherd her out of the building.
"Are you ready for more music?" a balding man said. The crowd whooped, the way that only half-drunk grandparents and small children could. "Well, here's a treat for you, all the way from New York." He glanced into the shadows on the edge of the stage. "Currently Nameless!"
And then Kurt and Blaine walked out and took the mics.
Shit, Sara thought, and looked at Ava.
"Are those your friends?" Ava asked.
Sara nodded, slowly, as Kurt began to... what exactly was he doing? Beat-boxing? Making rhythm guitar sounds? Did Kurt even know how to beat-box?
Kurt looked into the audience, caught her eye, and shrugged slightly. And then Blaine started to sing.
Time keeps on slipping, slipping slipping... into the future...
Sara looked at Ava. "Sorry," she said. "I think we've got to stay."
Ava just listened and frowned. And Sara watched her. Ava wasn't wearing her eyeliner, or the subtle lipstick that she used to put on for work. But she had those same little lines between her eyes, and all Sara wanted was to smooth those worry lines away. And then kiss her. And then curl around her in their bed and feel her laugh and moan and...
"Hey, everybody." The song had ended and Blaine was at the mic. "So we're Currently Nameless."
"And the rest of our band couldn't make it," Kurt broke in. "Bad weather. From New York."
"Right," Blaine said. "So... there's a piano over here. Is it ok if we use it?" He paused. Someone must have nodded, because he continued. "Great. Thanks. We just need to move a mic over to it..."
A couple skinny teenagers ran out and started helping Blaine move mic stands around.
Kurt stood at the front of the room and smiled awkwardly. "Anybody know any good time jokes? I mean, good jokes about time?" He put his hand to his ear. "Ok. Yeah." He grinned. "Hey, Blaine. Did you hear about the hungry clock?"
Blaine leaned towards his mic. "No, Kurt. What about the hungry clock?"
"It went back for seconds." A bunch of kids near the front groaned, and Kurt laughed at them.
"I think I've got this now," Blaine said, sitting down at the piano. "How's everybody doing? Did you all have a good 2019?"
The response sounded mixed.
"Yeah," Blaine said. "I hear you. We had a rough year in some ways, too. Lost jobs. But gained some friends."
Kurt looked over at Blaine. "Friends are good."
"They are," Blaine said. "In fact..." He started playing, and a couple of the kids clapped.
"You've got a friend in me," Blaine started.
"You've got a friend in me," Kurt responded. "When the road looks rough ahead,"
"And you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed..." Blaine sang.
"You just remember what your old pal said," they harmonized. "Boy, you've got a friend in me."
A bunch of the little kids got up and started dancing.
"They're cute," Sara said.
"It's a nice song," Ava admitted. "I'm sorry that I attacked Kurt."
"You should tell him that," Sara laughed. "I think he would appreciate it."
Kurt and Blaine got flirtier as the song went on, until Kurt ended up leaning on the piano to sing the part about "none of them will ever love you/the way I do." It wasn't a grand piano, just a worn-looking upright, which meant that Kurt could put his elbows on it and look down at Blaine. Sara raised her eyebrows and looked around. After all: rural Wisconsin. Grandparents. But the kids kept dancing, and the grandparents kept smiling, and the parents went back to get more food for when the kids came back.
When they were done with the song, the kids jumped up and down. Kurt grinned at them. "You like movies?" he asked.
Blaine leaned towards his mic. "That reminds me. Did any of your parents - or grandparents - watch the Oscars this year?" The response was tepid, but Blaine pressed on. "If you did, you would have seen the performance of this next one. It won Best Song."
Kurt looked back at him, head tilted, and gestured you first? Which seemed obvious; Kurt was hardly going to give up the chance to play Lady Gaga.
Blaine nodded and started playing. "Tell me something, Kurt. Are you happy in this modern world?"
Someone squealed from the back of the room, and Kurt grinned at her. But then he looked back at Blaine. "You know, if you're going to change the lyrics, you really should make them rhyme."
Blaine shook his head and kept singing. "I'm falling..."
Ava leaned towards Sara as Kurt started singing "Tell me something, boy..."
"Umm." Ava looked awkward. "Are they..."
"Oh, yeah," Sara said. "They are totally married."
"Oh," Ava said. "Which one is married to you?"
Sara sat up straighter. "What? No," she spluttered. "Neither of them. They're married. To each other."
"Oh." Ava watched them as Kurt sat on the piano bench and leaned his head onto Blaine's shoulder. "That's something that happens. In 2019."
"Yep," Sara replied. "And if we can keep history from screwing itself up, hopefully it will still be something that happens in 2029 and 2039 and forever."
"Huh," Ava said. She looked thoughtful. "So you're not..."
Sara tilted her head to try to catch a view of Ava's expression. "Married?" she said. "Nope."
"So you're an old maid...?" There seemed to be more in the expression than Sara was used to.
"In the prudish sense?" Sara asked.
"I'm not sure what you mean by that," Ava said.
"I've been... around." Sara shook her head at Ava's confusion. "I've been... promiscuous."
Ava sat up. "Oh."
"In all of its implications," Sara said.
"Oh." Ava blushed.
Ava didn't say anything more. But she also didn't move her chair away. Which she totally could have done. If she had been uncomfortable. Which she wasn't.
Sara wasn't quite sure.
Blaine and Kurt finished the song. The teenagers in the back applauded more loudly than their parents did. But nobody was openly hostile, Sara noted. Which was a good sign. A very good sign.
Kurt got up from the piano, did a little bow, and brought his mic back to its stand. "Thanks," he said. "And thanks for having us. It's really beautiful out here. The stars, the snow on the trees..." He looked over at Blaine and mouthed something. Maybe a song name? Blaine nodded back. "I know you probably got sick of Christmas songs and are ready to move into the new year. But all the snow made us think of this one..."
"In fact, we were just singing it while walking in here," Blaine added. "But we hope it's ok if we sing it for you, too."
"Sleigh bells ring, are you listening..." Kurt sang.
They alternated verses, lightly flirty this time. Kurt pantomimed building a snowman and having a conversation with it, all head shakes and shrugging shoulders, before Blaine finished with the verse about cuddling by the fire.
The grandparents clapped louder at the end of this song, Sara noticed.
"I am," Ava said suddenly.
Sara blinked. "You are what?" A horrifying thought suddenly crossed her mind. "Married?"
"An old maid," Ava replied.
Sara pursed her lips and looked sidelong at Ava. Was that some kind of 19th century lesbian pick-up line?
A little kid shouted something from in front of the stage. Kurt ran to the edge to listen. "Yes, I love building snowmen," he said. "Do you?"
The kid jumped up and down and shouted something else. Kurt held the mic away from his mouth and asked the kid something, then stood.
"I guess we're taking requests now." Kurt looked back at the piano. "Blaine," he said. "Do you want to build a snowman?"
Blaine pointed at himself with a confused stage face.
Kurt nodded, and waved him to the front of the stage. Blaine took his mic off the piano stand and joined him.
"Do you want to build a snowman?" Kurt sang again.
"It doesn't have to be a snowman..." Blaine responded. There were some enthusiastic shouts from below the stage.
And they were off. Occasionally the kids would shout lyrics back up to them, as if the kids knew the song better than Kurt and Blaine did, and the guys would correct themselves good-naturedly and keep on going.
When they were done, the kids yelled for more, loud enough that even Sara could hear them. "Let it go!!! Let it go!!!!"
Kurt looked at Blaine. Blaine looked at the piano, and Kurt nodded. But then Blaine picked up his mic and looked at the crowd. "We'd like to bring a friend up for this one."
Sara sat still. She didn't sing, which they knew damn well. But she wouldn't put anything past them. Well, past Blaine, in particular.
But Kurt was looking at the other side of the room. "Zari?"
"We've heard you singing along with this one," Blaine added. "Please?"
So Zari joined them on stage, alternating some of the verses with Kurt, who had clearly had a lot more practice singing. But Zari's voice was still nice. And the song was. Well. Embued with meaning, one might say, if one were feeling a bit pretentious about it all.
Sara was not pretentious. She was just horny. Or possibly sappily romantic. She glanced at Ava, but Ava was too busy listening to look back.
The kids jumped up and down. "The Lion King song! Do the Lion King song!"
Kurt looked at Blaine and shrugged.
"Um," Blaine said. "Which one?"
"Weem-a-way!!!" the kids yelled.
Kurt looked at Blaine, and then at Zari, and shrugged again.
"Ok," Blaine said, getting up from the piano. "We can try."
The background vocals - Blaine and Zari - were a little thin. But then the teenagers in the back started singing along.
"Hold on," Kurt said, stopping halfway through the first chorus. He looked out at the teenagers. "No. Don't be embarrassed. It's fine. You all sound amazing. But I've got one question for you." He smirked at them. "Musical theatre, or show choir, or both?"
It sounded like they yelled three different answers.
"Ok," Kurt said. "So what you don't know is that we..." He pointed from himself to Blaine and back. "...we were in show choir, too. And musical theatre. And one thing we learned... is that you should be ready to be dragged into embarrassing performances at any time."
Blaine just nodded.
"So... we need some more voices to do this well."
The teenagers ran onto the stage and joined them, dancing in something that was coordinated enough that it must have been a choreographed routine. Blaine and Kurt watched their steps, then joined in. When they were done, Kurt waved the kids forward to bow, then took the mic again.
"We're going to take a short break now. But we'll be back before midnight." He and Blaine bowed again, and followed the kids off stage.
Sara turned to Ava. "I meant to find you and take you back to the ship," she said. "But I don't think we can leave right now."
Two plates of food dropped in front of them. Sara looked up to see Zari. "You two ok?" Zari asked.
Sara looked at Ava. Ava nodded.
"I was going to try the meatballs, but then I realized that they might have pork in them." Zari shrugged and picked up a chicken wing from the second of the plates. "By the way, because nobody seems to be introducing me..." She mock-glared at Sara, to make her point clear. "I'm Zari Tomaz. You've seen me on the ship."
Ava nodded slowly, frowning. "You were the person who knew my name." She glanced at Sara. "The first one, I mean."
Sara wasn't ready to have this conversation. The one about why they knew Ava, that is. At least, not over Swedish meatballs in a room full of polka-loving grandparents. "You haven't been introduced to Blaine, either," Sara said to Ava. "He's the dark-haired piano player. If you want entertainment, he'll play almost anything."
"You've found something that he won't do?" Zari asked.
"Not yet," Sara admitted. "But it seems like a good challenge."
"They're good with the kids," Zari commented, looking back at the stage. "Both the little ones and the teenagers. I never would have expected that."
Kurt and Blaine were talking to the teens, huddled in a group on the side of the stage. They were totally plotting something. Sara wondered whether she should worry.
"And I promised to bring them something to drink." Zari took a couple bites of the wing, grabbed a handful of baby carrots, and stood. "It's not long until midnight," she said. "You two think you can hold out until then?"
Ava looked like she was thinking. Sara knew that look.
"She wants to know how you feel about staying," Sara said gently.
"Oh," Ava said. She glanced at Sara, and a tiny smile curved at the corners of her mouth. "Ok."
"You pick things up fast," Sara smiled. And yes, she was flirting. And yes, she knew that she wasn't going to get Ava into bed with smiles and innuendo. At least, not tonight. But that was ok.
Zari gave Sara a careful look, and went back to the refreshments table.
Sara and Ava got up, got more food, ate it. Got something to drink. Non-alcoholic, because maybe they weren't in a time when any of them could possibly be erased from existence, and maybe Kurt and Blaine had already charmed the small-town narrowness out of northern Wisconsin, and maybe Sara had a long history of kicking ass when plastered... but. But Sara knew damn well that the abolition movement had overlapped with whatever teetotaling moralism had eventually turned into Prohibition. And Sara may have been a fuck-up, but she didn't want to be one anymore. Not with Ava.
Sara's totally non-alcoholic spiral was broken by the sound of someone tapping on the microphone.
"Hey," Blaine said. "So we found a backup band, after all."
The teenagers behind him waved. Their parents waved back.
"Our next song goes out to everyone who is over 30... or maybe 40... and remembers what any of these lyrics are about." He grinned as an electric keyboard and drums started behind him. "Your children told me to say that, by the way."
Kurt leaned into the mic and gave the crowd a slightly crazy look. "Don't worry," he said in a slow, surprisingly robotic voice. "I won't hurt you. I only want you to have some fun."
Two of the teenagers came up to the other one of the mics and started to sing. "I was dreaming when I wrote this/forgive me if it goes astray."
Sara's feet started to tap. Dammit. Prince. 1999. She wanted to dance. She wanted to dance, with Ava, and twirl her around and stare into her eyes and dip her into a kiss...
She looked up at Ava, and immediately cooled off. Ava looked overwhelmed, by the music, and the lights that the musical theatre kids had started flashing, and the loudness of everything.
"Ava," Sara called across the table. "Want to go outside for a bit?" She pointed towards the door.
Ava nodded in relief, and Sara stood. She looked back at the stage. Blaine was spinning around and singing about the party being over in two-thousand-zero-zero. Kurt made eye contact with her as he sang harmony and gave a little nod. Good. The guys weren't going to freak if she and Ava disappeared.
The air outside was cold, and crescent moon was setting across the lake. The stars glimmered like sequins in the sky.
"Better?" Sara asked.
"At least the stars are the same," Sara said.
Ava looked at the sky and frowned. "They aren't," she said. "They're moving too fast."
Sara looked at the sky again and realized what Ava was seeing. "Oh!" She pointed at one of the lights and tracked it across the sky. "That one's an airplane. And some of them are probably satellites."
Ava bit her lip. "I don't even know what those things are."
"Flying machines," Sara said "And... that's probably going to need a lot more explanation."
Ava looked sadly at Sara. "I can't go back, can I."
"Do you want to?" Sara asked. "Is there anyone..."
Ava shook her head. "My parents died when I was little. I was raised in an orphanage." She glanced at Sara. "And as I said, I'm an old maid."
Sara nodded. "But there's nobody in the movement who will miss you? Any of the abolitionists, I mean?"
Ava shook her head again. "I'm not a good enough speaker to make a difference. Not like you."
"That wasn't a joke," Ava said.
"But it was," Sara replied. "I am actually incapable of making a difference, it turns out."
Ava's eyes shimmered in the starlight. And then she shivered.
"Here," Sara said, pulling her arms out of her coat. "Everything might be different, but you still need a coat on New Year's Eve."
"You'll be cold now," Ava protested. But she also wrapped the coat around herself.
"Me? Naw." Sara winked at her. "I'm totally hot." She waited for a beat, and then realized that the innuendo had missed its mark.
The door flew open, and light spilled out, along the sound of a new song. Something with a funky baseline, and Blaine singing about dancing in the dark. Sara glanced at Ava and wondered if sharing body heat was a reasonable thing to do yet.
And then the mood was broken by a teenaged girl who stumbled out and vomited in the snow.
"We should go back in," Sara said. "It's almost midnight."
The lights were shocking, but the warmth was welcome. The polka band was back - there seemed to be some kind of overlap with the group of show choir kids - and the entire group appeared to be singing a bunch of songs from Hamilton. To a polka. And the grandparents were dancing.
Sara leaned close to Ava and shouted, "I don't understand this either," and got a little smile as a reward. The smile did more to warm Sara up than anything else in the room did.
The song ended. Blaine looked at Kurt, and Kurt looked at his watch. They both looked at the teenagers, then shrugged.
"So, we've got two minutes until midnight," Kurt said into the microphone. "And we don't know any songs that are that short. So we can either count all the way down from 120..."
"More like 110 now," Blaine broke in.
"Ok, from 110. Or maybe from 100. Or... we could tell more jokes?" He waited.
"Or we could just start at 90," Blaine added.
"Or Blaine and I could just go back and forth until we get to a small enough number that we won't screw this up." Kurt looked back at the kids and shrugged. "Or I guess we can stand here awkwardly for another minute."
The kids all yelled different things. Maybe jokes. Maybe "just start counting!"
"Ok, fine," Kurt said. "But we should alternate or something. Ready? Ok. Twenty."
And he pointed to the kids, one after the other, until someone skipped twelve, and the parents started yelling along with them.
"Five... four... three... two... one... Happy New Year!"
A bunch of the kids kissed each other. Kurt glanced at Blaine, and they started singing. "Should auld acquaintance be forgot..." The crowd drowned them out (mostly with la-la-la-la-la, because like Sara, they didn't know more than the first line), and blew on cheap plastic noisemakers.
Before the noisemakers died down, the guy playing the drums started a beat. Boom-boom chuck, boom-boom chuck. Then the high-hat, and then a funky bass and a rhythm guitar. And then...
Sara stared at the stage. "Really?" she said, to no one in particular.
"What are they doing?" Ava asked. She sounded confused by Sara, as much as by the song.
Blaine picked up the microphone and spun around. "Some people say/that he's guilty..."
"That he's guilty..." the teenagers sung back.
"This song," Sara said. "We're here in, like, the reddest part of the state. Which is a reference that you won't understand. But... whatever. I just can't imagine this is going to go over well." She looked around at the crowd. "I guess it's time to plan a dramatic escape."
"Impeach the president
Impeach the president
Impeach the president
Impeach the president..."
The teenagers were dancing and spinning around and leaning into shared mics. Blaine and Kurt were harmonizing. And the crowd...
The crowd was dancing. And singing along. Several people had their phones out, recording the entire thing.
"Or, you know, maybe we can just wait until they're finished," Sara said, and sat back down.
It was hard to extract Kurt and Blaine from the crowd of excited teenagers. But the parents started leaving, carrying little kids who were all either sleeping or screaming, and the teenagers started peeling off, a few at a time. And finally the guys made their way back to Sara's table.
"You found Ava," Kurt said. "Yay."
Ava looked awkward. "Sorry about trying to cut your throat."
"I'm just glad it didn't work." Kurt gave a grin that was simultaneously bright and completely awkward.
"I'm exhausted," Zari said. "And I wasn't even on stage for most of the time. Ready to go back to the ship?"
So the guys waved again to the kids, and they all crunched through the snow in the cold and rapidly-quieting night, back to the jump ship.
"Did you have a good time, Captain Lance?" Gideon asked.
"You should ask the guys," Sara replied. "They were the ones who got to sing and dance for a crowd."
"And is Miss Sharpe doing well?" Gideon sounded... hopeful.
"Better," Sara said. "At least, I think so."
"Ah," Gideon said. Was that a note of... disappointment? Curiosity?
Sara looked up from the screen. "Gideon?"
"Yes, Captain Lance?" Did Gideon sound... guilty? Like she was avoiding something?
Sara stopped. Ok, so Gideon was acting suspicious.
But it hadn't gone that badly.
So... maybe... the questions could wait.
"Just wondering how history is doing," Sara said.
"It is now 2020," Gideon said. "There are massive fires burning in Australia. Fewer people are running for president. A twelve-foot-tall tumbleweed pile trapped vehicles on a highway in eastern Washington state." She paused. "And the video of Blaine and Kurt singing about impeaching the president has gone viral."
I know that other major things have happened in the past day, including the death of an Iranian guy that looks like a major international event, plus the release of some e-mails (etc.) demonstrating that the president totally knew about all of the stuff involving the withholding of aid from Ukraine. (Which is what the impeachment proceedings were all about.) But I'm still trying to make sense of what's going on (while trying to write and edit super fast), so I'm not ready to incorporate today's news into a fic plot.
Plus I really would like to wrap up a story with some sense of absurd hope, beyond getting Sara Lance happily laid. (Living in a world where hope seems more absurd than time travel with random musical numbers is... super depressing.)
Chapter 9: I was so much older then (I'm younger than that now)
Parents. Have YOU talked to your children about time travel?
Title from My Back Pages (Bob Dylan, but also see the version by the Byrds: https://youtu.be/mKKLIrOGfUo The Ramones version is fun, too, but maybe not very Kurt-like.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Did that make you feel homesick?" Blaine asked. They were walking down the corridor, heading back to their room in the Waverider.
"What, five breakups and a pregnancy scare during a single set?" Kurt gave Blaine a totally dramatic eye-roll. "Though actually - that was just during the second number."
"I'm pretty sure that was a drug reaction, not a pregnancy scare." Blaine waved his finger at Kurt. "And I think at least two of the couples got back together by midnight."
Kurt laughed. "True. But to answer your real question..." He thought for a moment. "Maybe? I don't know. What about you?"
"Yeah, it kind of did," Blaine said.
"Well, the Blaine gets all the solos part probably felt familiar," Kurt teased.
Blaine rolled his eyes. "What are you? Seventeen again?"
"I was cute at seventeen." Kurt tried not to smile.
"You were," Blaine conceded.
"But yes," Kurt gave Blaine a serious look. "I am thinking about childhood. Teenager-hood. Whatever you call it."
"What's up?" Blaine asked.
"I'm still worried about my dad," Kurt admitted.
"Well, then, we should visit him," Blaine said. "Just ask Sara. We can't erase you after you've been born, can we?"
Kurt nodded. "You're probably right."
The next morning, there was a note stuck to their door asking them to meet in the library. When the guys arrived, Sara and Zari were already there. And so was Ava, sitting on the couch and looking a bit nervous.
"Thanks for coming," Sara said. "You might have figured this out... but Ava's going to be sticking with us."
"Because returning her isn't really an option?" Zari asked.
"Well..." Sara looked slightly guilty. "Yeah."
And how many great love stories start with no other options? Kurt wondered. But he didn't say anything as Blaine reached for his twitching hand and held it still.
"But it's not really fair to drag Ava through time without knowing anything about what's going on. So I think we should get her caught up on things that have happened since the 1850s. History. Science. Technology." As Sara paused, Kurt wondered what the big deal was. "And... I need some help. Because I never finished college, and in high school... well, I just wasn't that great of a student." She looked at the guys. "Blaine, could you help fill in some of the history? Like world wars and the 50 states and whatever you wish the average news consumer would know?"
Blaine nodded. "But without the misinformation."
"Right," Sara said. "And Zari, could you explain things like electricity and, I don't know, that quantum whatever that deals with parallel universes and everything." Sara shrugged. "I use light switches and time travel, but I don't really know how they work. You're better at it than I am. I just figure stuff out by doing it. Usually by doing it wrong the first time."
Blaine and Zari agreed, and Zari offered to start by explaining how everything in the kitchen worked. Blaine excused himself and headed for the shower.
"Avoiding spending quality time with Ava?" Kurt gave Sara a skeptical look after the others had gone. "Since when did that become your preferred strategy for wooing the woman that you love?"
"So you've moved on from calling her my 'erased girlfriend's doppelganger?'" Sara looked amused.
"You seem to be getting along better," Kurt conceded. "You get points for that."
"Thank you for keeping score," Sara replied. "And to answer your question: I thought that Blaine and Zari would do a better job than I would."
Kurt raised an eyebrow.
"And yes, I wanted to slow things down. Which is very weird for me. But Ava was just so scared and confused on New Year's Eve." Sara picked up books from a pile and started putting them away.
"Well, kudos to you for doing that. And for not taking advantage of her." Kurt took some of the books and put them on a higher shelf.
"Thank you," Sara said. "And to be honest, I wanted give Ava a chance to get comfortable with Zari and Blaine. That's why I didn't give you a job - she already knows you."
"And here I thought that you just didn't have a use for the history of fashion and musical theatre." Kurt gave Sara a wry look.
Sara turned and looked seriously at him. "You were really great with those kids at New Year's, you know." she said.
"Thank you?" Kurt frowned, not sure where this was going.
"Just don't sell yourself short. You've got a real skill there, under all that snark." Sara shrugged.
"When it comes to dealing with kids, I had a great role model," Kurt said. "Which brings up something that I wanted to ask you."
"Ooookay?" Sara waited.
"I know we were just in 2020," Kurt started. "But we got there by time-travel. And we left in the Waverider in November of 2019."
Sara frowned at him. "Are you asking to get off the ship in 2020?"
"No, that's not it." Kurt shook his head to give a little extra emphasis. "I'm just wondering... if we went to 2019, sometime between November and New Year's Eve, we couldn't possibly erase ourselves from the timeline. Right?"
Sara thought for a moment. "I guess." She raised her eyebrows at him. "What's going on? Do you need to do some Christmas shopping?"
"Maybe," Kurt said. "But mostly, I need to visit my dad. For Christmas." He pursed his lips and nodded slowly. "He is going to be so worried if I don't."
They landed the Waverider - not the jump ship, for once - near one of the reservoirs on the edge of Lima. And made it invisible. Which was not something that Kurt had realized was possible. He gave the walls a skeptical look, but didn't ask Gideon why they hadn't ever done this before.
December 21, 2019. The shortest day of the year. It was Blaine's idea to arrive several days early, on the off chance that Kurt's dad hadn't gotten a tree yet. It wasn't that cold, for December, at least. But Kurt's house was pretty far from the Waverider, so they all piled into a Lyft to drive across town. Kurt looked at his phone, saw that the number of unread messages had too many digits to even consider dealing with, and put it away. He would be seeing the important people soon enough, anyway.
Kurt had to release Blaine's red-gloved hand in order to ring the doorbell. He took a breath and pushed the button. And then knocked, for good measure.
And then the door opened.
"Kurt." His dad stared at him. "Oh, my god. Kurt."
And then Kurt was wrapped in a huge hug and rocked back and forth and... Shit. Was his dad crying? But there were other people on the doorstep, and Kurt's dad moved on to Blaine, with the usual mixed handshake-turned-hug, a little more intense than usual.
Kurt barely had a chance to introduce Sara, Zari, and Ava before Carole burst out of the door. "Burt, you shouldn't pick up the package if it's too big..." She stopped and stared. "Kurt..." She grabbed him and started sobbing. Kurt patted her on the back, a little awkwardly. This was a lot more than he had expected.
A third voice called down the hallway. "I can get the package for you, Mr. Hummel, don't worry about it." And then a pause. "Blaine? Kurt?" Sam Evans looked over Carole's shoulder and stared. "Um. Did you know that the Post Office is returning your mail? With no forwarding address? Because I sent Christmas cards, even though I don't think anyone even reads them anymore and I hardly know any addresses except yours anyway. And the card came back." He looked from them to Kurt's dad and back. "I just stopped by to find out if they knew your forwarding address, because you weren't answering texts and you both gave up Facebook and I knew that Carole still keeps a real paper address book..."
"Kurt," his dad said. "Where the hell have you been?"
"It's a long story, Dad," Kurt said, hoping that someone else would help him avoid the conversation. Why couldn't Sara provide a distraction when he needed one?
"You've been missing for a month," Kurt's dad continued. "You haven't texted. You haven't called. Your friggin' phone goes to voicemail every time, and I know that you work weird hours and you shut the ringer off when you're working, but..."
"We've been out of cell service," Kurt said evasively.
"We lost our jobs at the diner and decided to go on a road trip," Blaine interjected. "Sorry not to tell you."
"We should go inside," Carole suggested.
"You got suitcases?" Kurt's dad asked, looking behind them. "Good. Because you'd better be staying for a while." He glanced at Sara and the others. "You come in, too. We don't normally get into arguments on the doorstep."
Kurt's dad pushed Kurt ahead, and Carole, Sam, and the others followed behind.
"So how are things?" Blaine was trying to have a normal conversation with Sam. Which, ok, was actually pretty on-brand.
"Oh, the usual," Sam replied. "Though I never realized that body armor would chafe my nipples so much." It sounded like Sam was hugging Blaine or something. "Dude. I'm so glad you guys are back. Teaching is hard. Do you know how many things you can't say to teenagers? At least without getting in trouble with the school board?"
They filed into the living room. "Anybody want coffee? Tea? Beer? Wine? Christmas cookies?" Carole was trying to play hostess, but it was a hard role, what with her mascara running and everything.
"We don't have to stay," Sara started. "We didn't mean to make things awkward."
"Oh, no, you need to stay," Kurt's dad said. "Eat some cookies. I'm going to help my son put his things back in his room."
Kurt mouthed please help me at Blaine, but Blaine just shrugged and kept talking to Sam. Traitor, Kurt thought, as his father herded him upstairs.
"All right." Kurt's dad shut the door behind him. "What's going on? Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"No, it's nothing like that, Dad..." Kurt said.
"Then what? Because I don't buy that crap about a road trip without cell signal. You haven't been camping since you were five, and even then you complained about the bugs and the dirt." His dad gave him that Look, that usual Dad Look, the one that punctuated every serious conversation. "You've been honest with me, about everything, for the last ten years. And I've appreciated it. So if you're not telling me the truth, I know that something is seriously wrong."
"We weren't camping," Kurt said. "But I wasn't lying about cell service." He held up his phone, with the crazy number of unread notifications, as evidence.
"You know that doesn't make things better, don't you." Kurt's dad shook his head. "Look, things are bad in the world right now. There's a million things that could have happened. And I'm glad that whatever it was left you alive. And healthy. And with Blaine still with you, too. But I'm wracking my brain, Kurt, and I can't think of anything that could possibly keep you from at least calling on Thanksgiving..."
"I wasn't around on Thanksgiving," Kurt said.
"Around where?" his father demanded. "I know you weren't in Lima. And I assume that you weren't in New York."
"Around anywhere," Kurt said.
"Kurt, you're not making any sense." His dad shook his head.
"Dad, I've been traveling through time and we just haven't been to Thanksgiving, 2019, ok?!?" Kurt burst out.
"Huh?" His dad blinked. "Traveling through time? Is that some kind of, I don't know, polite word for something weird?"
"A euphemism?" Kurt asked. "No. We were literally traveling through time."
"Ok, I'm going to take that seriously, but only because I used to hear you rant about the kids at school saying 'literally' when they meant something else," his dad said. "So I need you to answer this honestly." He leaned forward and looked into Kurt's eyes. "Were you in rehab? Because that sounds like some kind of drug problem. And you've never done drugs."
"Dad!" Kurt looked shocked. "No. It's not drugs. I've literally been traveling through time."
"Ok," his father said. "Then tell me about it."
Kurt thought for a moment. "I saw Judy Garland filming Meet Me in St. Louis," he said.
"You know that if you were having some kind of drug trip, that's exactly what you would see." His father crossed his arms.
"Fine. I... um... went to the 1850s. And Blaine sang part of Hamilton to the first gay president." Kurt winced. "Ok. That one sounds worse, doesn't it."
"Yeah," his dad said. "A lot worse, actually."
"Fine. We went to a disco in Chicago in 1979," Kurt said. "And. Wait! We went to a baseball game."
"A baseball game," his dad said. Listening, this time.
"The White Sox," Kurt said. "And they were playing the team from Cleveland."
"The Indians," his dad said.
"Right. And the uniforms had these weird collars. And there were Cracker Jacks, but no Diet Coke." Kurt looked at his father, remembering seeing him in the stands, and Sara freaking out.
"Ok," his dad nodded. "That sounds more believable. So who won the game?"
"I have no idea," Kurt said. "I left before it ended. I think. I wasn't really paying attention to it."
His dad nodded slowly. "That doesn't sound like something that you would hallucinate."
"I was definitely not hallucinating," Kurt said, weirdly relieved that his dad seemed to believe him.
"So, this time travel. How does it work? And, I don't know, does it pay well?"
Kurt shook his head. "What?"
"I just can't figure out why anyone would do it," his dad said. "That's all."
"Look at the world," Kurt said. "If you could figure out some way to fix things, to make it better... wouldn't you do it?"
"Kurt, I'm running for legislature," his dad said. "If I win, I get to spend time with the biggest assholes in Ohio, just so I can try to fix the boundaries of Congressional districts to make elections more fair."
"Ok," Kurt said. "You've got a point."
"So what do you do, traveling through time?" His dad asked. As if it was the most normal thing in the world. Some days, Kurt forgot how good his dad was at just rolling with pretty much any revelation.
"We go to a time. We do some stuff, to try to change history. We go back to the time ship and find out what happened." Kurt realized that his descriptions weren't particularly vivid. But, well, they were honest.
"And how long have you been doing this?" His dad looked carefully at him. "Doesn't look like it's been that long."
"A few weeks," Kurt said.
"Huh," his dad replied. "So you can visit the future, too."
It hadn't occurred to Kurt that the end of 2019 was technically the future as far as his body was concerned.
"And you could also go off and do your thing for a year, or two, or five, and then show up for my birthday next year," his dad continued.
"Dad," Kurt said. "What are you getting at?"
"Just that it's weird to go through life at different speeds," he said. "I don't like it. I imagine seeing you come back as a 90-year-old, suddenly, and realizing... I just missed my kid's entire adult life."
Kurt blinked. "Dad. I wouldn't..."
"No?" he said. "Not on purpose. I give you that. But life runs away with you sometimes, when you're young. And it was bad enough not hearing from you on Thanksgiving." He shook his head slowly. "I don't know if you're ever planning to have kids yourself. Do you realize that I haven't pushed you about that? Because that's your decision? But Carole and I talk about having grandkids, taking them to the zoo, watching their first singing thing or whatever. And if you keep doing this time travel, when would they grow up? Would we ever see them?"
Kurt felt his ears turning pink. "Dad..."
"Never mind," his father said. "About the grandkids, at least. But I want to go through time WITH you, not passing each other at weird moments."
Kurt nodded. This was the most bizarre conversation that he had had with his father since... well, since a long time.
"We should go back down," his father said. "Carole will be worried."
"Blaine will be, too," Kurt agreed. And he had no idea how Sara would react. Or Ava. Shit. It's one thing to be plucked out of one's time, and another to be dropped into the middle of 21st century family drama.
It turned out that Sam had been the only one to get uncomfortable and leave. The others had turned on the TV and were watching something on the Hallmark channel. Carole and Blaine were crying, of course, and so was Zari. Sara was sitting beside Ava and whispering to her, probably explaining the weird cultural references. Or maybe what a television was. Hard to tell. The plate of cookies was empty.
Blaine shifted to make space for Kurt to sit beside him on the couch. Which was welcome, because Kurt's dad settled into the recliner and gave them a long, suspicious look.
"So," he said. "Let's talk about time travel."
"What?" Carole shook her head.
"Umm." Blaine just looked at Kurt.
"Time travel?" Sara looked innocent.
Ava sat up straight and looked worried.
Zari just tilted her head and looked as if she would have grabbed another cookie if there were any left.
"I told him," Kurt said.
"You told him." It was fortunate that Sara had left her weapons on the Waverider, because she looked like she was considering killing him. "You... told... your father?"
Kurt tried to look as innocent as possible. "We have a very trusting relationship..."
Sara rolled her eyes.
"What do you mean, time travel?" Carole looked worried.
"I mean that Kurt... and Blaine, and I assume their lady friends... have been traveling through time. Trying to change history." Kurt's dad fixed each of them with a stern look.
"We were just trying to make things better," Blaine tried to explain.
"Hmph," Kurt's dad said. "So... Sara, is it. What are your intentions with my son?"
"Dad!" Kurt said. "Sara, sorry, he's not normally like this."
"Don't worry," Sara said. "I've got this. Mr. Hummel..."
"Call me Burt," he said. "I've been trying to get Sam to call me by my first name for five years, given that he's a teacher and everything, but he says it will just confuse him when he tries to talk to the kids at school. But you can call me Burt."
"Fine," Sara said. "Burt. Your son is working with us voluntarily."
Kurt raised his eyebrow at her.
"And he's a respected part of the team. And also, he's what, twenty-six?" She frowned at him.
"Right. Twenty-six. So an adult, and able to make his own choices." Sara sat back.
"Including traveling through time. Trying to interfere with an election." Kurt's dad gave her another stern look.
"You know, Burt actually has a point," Zari commented.
Sara just glared at her.
"Look. Burt." Blaine held up his hands.
"Yeah? You going to defend this, Blaine?" Kurt's dad shook his head. "Your boss has been advocating for using the constitutionally appropriate way to deal with this whole mess. And you've gone off traveling through time instead?"
Blaine sat back, looking sheepish.
"Look. There are ways to deal with all of this. And I thought we were dealing with them the right way." Kurt's dad sat back and shook his head. "You want to fix things? Stay in Ohio and help. We're a friggin' swing state, after all." He got up and headed for the kitchen. "Anyone want a beer? Blaine?"
"Sure. Thanks, Burt," Blaine replied.
Zari looked at Sara, then at Kurt. "What exactly was that?"
Kurt sighed. "If I'm reading things correctly, that was an invitation to stay here."
"You know you can't stay in 2019," Sara said. She was riding shotgun in Kurt's father's car, getting a ride back to the Waverider.
"At least, you can't stay here through New Year's Eve," Zari added from the back seat.
"Because I've already lived that night," Kurt said. "And something crazy would happen if I were in two places at the same time."
"You've got it," Sara said.
"But I can stay through Christmas," Kurt pointed out. "In fact, we've all got nine days before we need to leave."
"Yes," Sara said. "And that was our original plan. Visit your dad for Christmas."
"And then figure out what happens when the time comes?" Kurt asked.
"That's how we roll," Sara said.
Kurt pulled to a stop beside the reservoir. "Well, have a good night in the Waverider."
"Your family doesn't have enough spare rooms for all of us," Sara pointed out. "Or enough beds."
"But you're coming back tomorrow, right?" Kurt asked. "Tree decorating. Football. Cookies. And probably more arguing about time travel."
"We'll be waiting for you," Sara said.
Kurt followed Blaine into the bedroom, closed the door, and sighed.
"I can't believe you told him about time travel," Blaine said.
"He started talking about how we'd always been honest with each other, and it just came out," Kurt said. "I hadn't planned to say anything. But it's been a long time since I've had that kind of 'discussion' with my dad, with him all worried about me and everything. It makes me feel like a teenager again. It's exhausting."
Blaine walked over to the bed, pulled off his sweater, and sat down. "You know what makes me feel like a teenager?"
"Singing with that Wisconsin show choir. Which won't happen for another ten days." Kurt unbuttoned his shirt, pulled it off, and set it on the chair near the door. "We already talked about that."
"Well, that, too. But I was going to say sitting on this bed, in this room." Blaine bounced a couple times, then bent over to take off his shoes. "Making out as quietly as possible, so Burt and Carole won't hear. I think I've been terrified of Burt walking in on us ever since the first time he found me in this bed, before we had ever kissed."
"I'm surprised you even remember that one." Kurt sat on the edge of the chair and removed his own shoes, then stood and unbuckled his belt. "But, I mean, being in my bed hasn't been a big deal for years. Dad even officiated our wedding."
"I'm still a little terrified," Blaine admitted. "Racing heart. Chills. Butterflies in the stomach."
Kurt leaned against the door and looked at him. "Dilated eyes..." He pressed his lips together to suppress a smile. "Are you sure you aren't just turned on?"
Blaine raised his eyebrows. "Maybe?"
Kurt walked slowly towards him and whispered, "How about now?"
"Only if we keep quiet," Blaine whispered back.
"That's on you," Kurt murmured as he leaned over. "You're the one who usually screams."
"When you scream it's louder." Blaine wriggled as Kurt nipped his ear. "But I mean it. No screaming with your dad next door."
Kurt reached around, raised an eyebrow, and handed Blaine a pillow. Blaine accepted it, looked slowly at him... and then hit him over the head.
"Hey!" Kurt sat back. "If you're going to revert to childhood, or teenager-hood, or whatever, then maybe we should play by old rules."
"Taking turns?" Blaine asked.
"OUR old rules," Kurt smirked. "No hands below the equator."
"It's on," Blaine replied, almost breaking out of the whisper. "Loser has to tell your dad that we have to leave before New Year's Eve."
"Ok," Kurt said. "But you have to take your belt off first. So we start from the same point."
Blaine sat up and pulled off his belt. "Ready," he said.
They started innocently enough, kissing slowly, trailing fingertips along a jaw line or through hair. But it didn't take long for their tongues to get involved, and their hands to caress shoulders and arms and backs. Kurt climbed on top of Blaine to get a better angle on the kiss, and Blaine pressed up against him. And that's when it got hard. Difficult. Both. Whatever.
Blaine nudged Kurt, and they rolled over, giving Blaine enough space to kiss his way down Kurt's chest. When he got to Kurt's navel, he licked once, and then gave the most completely evil look in the history of sexy evil looks.
"The rules were no hands. Right?" Blaine grinned.
Kurt shivered as Blaine's head dipped lower. They were both still wearing their pants, but... Kurt felt a moan start rising somewhere in his chest.
Blaine looked up. "No sound."
"Shit," Kurt whispered, and reached for the pillow.
Blaine laughed at the muffled curse words.
"You don't play fair," Kurt muttered as Blaine crawled back up Kurt's body and kissed him.
"Who said anything about fair?" The last word came out as more of a gasp, as Kurt rolled Blaine over and nibbled on his collarbone.
Kurt just handed the pillow back to Blaine and continued working his way down. Blaine bucked upward, and Kurt grabbed Blaine's ass...
"You lose," Blaine yelled into the pillow.
"Eh," Kurt said. "I should be the one to talk to my dad, anyway." And then he unzipped Blaine's pants.
Afterwards, they pulled on pajamas and snuggled close; the double bed didn't leave room for much else. The silvery light of the late-rising moon turned the crumpled blankets into long shadows. Blaine traced the curve of Kurt's cheekbone, and Kurt closed his eyes to let the caress carry him into sleep.
"What do you think we should do after New Year's?" Blaine whispered. "I know we can't be here and in Wisconsin at the same time, so we have to do some time travel, at least."
"I don't know." Kurt opened his eyes to see Blaine's face close, on the same pillow. "What do you want to do?"
Blaine shrugged as much as he could, lying in Kurt's arms. "I still want to make a difference."
"But...?" Kurt prodded.
"I mean, your dad has a point. Though I can't figure out how to make a difference here and now, any more than we could by changing history," Blaine said.
Kurt lay there, quietly, thinking.
"...And I don't know if having a time machine is useful if it could erase us, or erase Ava, or whatever..." Blaine continued.
"Do you want to have kids?" Kurt said suddenly.
Blaine sat halfway up. "What?"
"Not immediately, I mean. Just... ever." Kurt looked up at him.
"I... I don't know," Blaine answered. "I want a stable job. I want to pay off my college loans. I want to be able to afford a place to live."
"How about in abstract?" Kurt asked. "Is it something that you've ever thought about?"
"I mean, in abstract, sure..." Blaine trailed off. "That was one of a hundred different things that we'd worry about, in AOC's office. Would gay couples lose the right to adopt, or share custody of a child, or anything? The older staffers would use me as a theoretical example whenever they wanted to argue a point." He shrugged. "What brought this on?"
"My dad just admitted that he wanted grandkids," Kurt said. "Part of the argument about time travel. I don't know if I can explain it. Plus Sara said something weird about me being good with the Wisconsin kids. Out of the blue." He tugged Blaine back down. "It's not something that we need to decide now, or anytime soon."
"But your dad thinks kids and time travel don't mix?" Blaine curled back into Kurt's shoulder.
"Yeah. Kind of." Kurt looked at the ceiling. "But let's deal with New Year's Eve first. And hope the world doesn't fall apart."
I intended for this to be shorter, and to cover more time, but Burt started arguing, and I just followed his lead.
Chapter 10: Time goes by like pouring rain
Zari likes grilled cheese. Soulmates who avoid conversation? Not so much.
Title from the Allman Brothers, Ain't Wastin Time No More
Walking on Broken Glass (Annie Lennox: https://youtu.be/y25stK5ymlA)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sunday, December 22, 2019.
It started innocently enough.
"Kurt said we have nine days before we have to go," Ava said to Zari. "We have to be gone by New Year's Eve." Something about those statements sounded uncertain, like Ava was trying to figure something out.
"That's right," Zari replied. She and Ava were back in the Waverider kitchen, after a day of twenty-first century comfort food. Which was more than fine, even though it meant that Zari needed to demonstrate how the Waverider's food replicator worked again, plus try to explain electricity and microwaves and so forth. And she also had to worry about the upcoming social obligations, and how she would explain to the Hudson-Hummel family that she preferred not to eat a Christmas ham, please. So maybe Zari wasn't paying that close of attention to the implications of the current conversation.
"Kurt and Blaine come from 2019, but before Christmas. Right? So they haven't been through this week before?" Ava asked. She was beating eggs. Actually, Ava was better at most of the cooking work than any of them, despite a total lack of familiarity with heating elements and electric mixers and food replicators.
"Right," Zari said, nibbling on a piece of toast.
"And you come from sometime in the future?" Ava asked. "I noticed that there wasn't a replicator in Kurt's family's house. You understand technology that they don't have."
"Yep, though we didn't have replicators in my time, either," Zari said, looking at the bowl of beaten eggs. "We can scramble these now."
"So why isn't Sara worried about erasing you?" Ava asked. They had already had the discussion about why Kurt and Blaine weren't allowed to visit any times between the late 1800s and 2019. Without the part about the possibility of losing soulmates. Sara and Zari had come to an agreement: no soulmate discussion with Ava.
"Remember what I told you about the Many Worlds theory?" Zari asked.
"I remember," Ava said. "I had trouble understanding it."
"Yeah," Zari sympathized. "That's true for pretty much everyone. But you remember the implication, right? That there could be an infinite number of worlds?"
Ava nodded and poured the eggs into a frying pan.
Zari checked to make sure the heating element was set correctly, then stepped back and let Ava control the stove. "Well, I'm from the future of another world. I can't be erased, because I'm not from here."
Ava stirred the eggs with the spatula and frowned. "What about Sara? When is she from? How do we know that she can't be erased?"
Zari probably should have realized that Ava was not frowning at the eggs. But she didn't realize that the discussion had gone too far until Sara walked in.
Ava looked at Zari, nervous and awkward.
Sara looked at Ava, and then at Zari. "What's going on?"
"Cooking," Zari said. "We'll have scrambled eggs soon."
"Eggs for dinner," Sara mused.
"I'm practicing," Ava said.
"I'm sure they'll be lovely," Sara replied. With a smile. And then a suspicious look at Zari. Which Zari totally deserved.
Sara grabbed Zari's arm after Ava went to bed.
"What?" Zari asked.
"You know what," Sara replied. "Why is Ava fishing around for information about my history?"
"I don't know." Zari shrugged. "Maybe because you won't tell her anything?"
"I thought we agreed that I needed to slow down," Sara said.
"I told you that Ava needed time to get used to things," Zari corrected her. "Electricity. Time travel."
"You told me to lay off the innuendo," Sara said.
"Because you were making references that were completely outside her experience," Zari replied. "But you could be honest about your history. That doesn't have to be confusing, you know."
"Really?" Sara stared at her. "Because my past is her past. Or the past of another version of her."
"There isn't anything that you could tell her?" Zari asked. "You're the captain of a time ship. You've dealt with dinosaurs and demons and Mick Rory. And you had an entire life before that."
"But it all led to her," Sara said. "And then she was gone. If she hadn't been gone, I probably would have fought beside all of the others, and never would have left our old universe. I can't tell my story without talking about her."
"Well, you're going to need to figure something out," Zari said. "Either you tell your story, or she'll make something up out of the scraps that she can figure out. And you might not be happy with the story that she comes up with."
Zari woke up early to some kind of weird sound.
No. Not just a weird sound. Music? She rolled over in bed, sat up, and frowned. The guys were at Kurt's family's house. There shouldn't be any music.
She pulled on a flannel shirt, some leggings, and a pair of slippers and headed for the hall.
There was definitely music. Coming from the library.
I'm living in an empty room
With all the windows smashed
And I've got so little left to lose
That it feels just like I'm walking on
(duh-duh duh-duh duh duh duh duh-duh duh)
Zari stuck her head into the room. It was empty, except for the music coming from the walls. So Zari did what any half-asleep hacker from the future would do in that situation: she danced along until it was done, and then flopped onto the couch.
"Walking on Broken Glass?" Zari said. "That was kind of angsty, Gideon. What's up? Miss your captive singers?"
"I have no idea what you mean, Miss Tomaz," Gideon said.
"Well, you'll need to live without them for a while," Zari pointed out. "They're staying in town right now."
"I am aware of that fact," Gideon said. Primly, almost.
"I can get Blaine to sneak another chapter of his story to you," Zari suggested.
"That will be unnecessary," Gideon said. "And as you know, I do not take input from twenty-first century memory devices."
"Fair enough." Zari almost relented. Almost. "I guess you'll just have to watch Sara and Ava avoid talking to one another, then." She sat up. "That's it, isn't it? You're bummed that they aren't together yet?" She gave the wall a suspicious look. "That's why Sara didn't wake up. You didn't pipe the music into her room. Just mine." Zari shook her head. "Also, tiptoeing around each other is hardly the same as walking on broken glass. You're being overdramatic, Gideon."
Gideon didn't respond.
"I don't know what you want me to do about it," Zari said. "I'm just along for the ride on this one." She pursed her lips. "Unless you just wanted someone to commiserate with. But you really need Blaine, you know. I'm rooting for a slow burn. Though... yeah. The standoff is getting kind of old." Zari stopped. There were footsteps coming down the hall.
Sara looked in. "What standoff is getting old?" she asked.
"The one between us and fixing 2019. Or 2020, I guess now," Zari said.
Sara sighed. "I know. Something's got to give. I thought the guys were our big break, but it's not working out that way. And now we're going to sit around and watch football."
As Zari went to take her shower, she thought that she might prefer football to watching Sara avoid talking to Ava.
Zari got tired of waiting in the Waverider for Kurt to show up. Which is why she was the only one outside, standing beside the reservoir, when the Hummelmobile drove up. But Blaine, not Kurt, was driving.
"Kurt and his folks went to get a Christmas tree," Blaine said. "Family tradition. They're going to the grocery store, too. I'm supposed to ask about dietary restrictions and get a list to Kurt."
Zari sighed with relief. "No pork," she said. "Thanks."
"But turkey is ok?" Blaine asked. "I think that's what Kurt and Carole were discussing, anyway. They're probably going to look for something free-range and organic and then spend the next two days arguing about how to cook it."
"That will be fine," Zari said. "Thanks for checking."
"What about Sara?" Blaine asked. "Allergies? Mysterious dietary restrictions for assassins?"
"Sara will eat pretty much anything," Zari said. "Ava, I'm not sure about. She hasn't turned anything down. Mostly she's just surprised by the options from the replicator."
Blaine looked like he was going to ask something else, but his phone buzzed. He looked at it. "Kurt wants to know about the food now," he said, and excused himself to make the phone call.
Zari looked across the reservoir, watching the mists rise. It was weird how being on a time ship somehow meant always rushing around, never just standing like this. Blaine came back, apologized for the interruption, and stood there, waiting.
"The Waverider should appear any time now," Zari said.
Blaine nodded. He only managed a few moments of awkward silence before talking again. "We're going to be watching football all day today," he said. "Burt and I, at least. Kurt will get bored, if you all want to do something else."
"I like football," Zari said. She looked at Blaine's surprised face and laughed. "Come on. The 2040s aren't that far in the future. Football exists in my timeline."
"Burt takes it seriously," Blaine warned her. "And I obviously don't know the playoff situation, with the time travel and all, but we'll argue about it anyways."
"Better than arguing about time travel," Zari said wryly.
"We'll avoid that," Blaine promised. "Sam - you remember Sam, who was at the house when we got there yesterday? He'll be there, too. He likes football. Plus he had some kind of fight with his parents over Thanksgiving, and Burt and Carole have kind of adopted him for the holidays."
"Sounds like a party," Zari commented, looking out at the reservoir. The Waverider was still invisible. And there was still no sign of Sara or Ava. "So what about you? Do you have family to visit around here?"
Blaine sighed. "Yes. And yes, I did call them already."
"I wasn't nagging you," Zari assured him.
"No," Blaine said. "But Burt and Carole were. So I will be going to midnight mass with them, Tuesday night." He grimaced. "I prefer the agnostic family gatherings with the Hummels, to be honest. Arguing over how to cook a turkey is more fun than all the silent judginess."
They stared out over the water.
"So... what's taking Sara and Ava so long?" Blaine finally asked.
"They're probably awkwardly avoiding conversations," Zari replied.
"So they slept together?" Blaine looked hopeful.
Zari gave him an annoyed look.
"Come on. It's obviously inevitable," Blaine argued.
"Really?" Zari said. "Because right now Sara's avoiding telling Ava that Sara came from another universe in which she lost a soulmate who looked just like Ava."
Blaine looked like he was going to respond, but at that moment the Waverider appeared. Finally.
"Hi, Blaine." Sara strode to the car and opened the front door. "Ready to go?"
Zari grimaced and looked at Ava. Ava looked almost as pissed off as Sara, but didn't say anything, and opened one of the back doors. Zari went around to the other back door and climbed in.
Blaine glanced at Sara, then back at Ava and Zari, and started the car. "I'll be your tour guide while Kurt and his family are getting groceries," he said. "Any place that you've been dying to see in beautiful Lima, Ohio?"
Silence from Sara. And from Ava.
Zari squirmed. "I think you probably know it best," she said.
Sara nodded sharply.
"Ok, then." Blaine turned on the car and drove. "But you're going to get the nostalgia tour of the places that I know."
So they drove around the suburban malls, out to an amusement park, and past a run-down Italian restaurant, with Blaine pointing out everything that had changed in the past five years. Ava stared at one of the buildings as Blaine chattered on about a school.
"It's big," Ava finally said.
"Not that big," Blaine said. "I felt like I knew everyone there."
"It's smaller than mine was," Zari added.
Sara didn't say anything.
"It's bigger than the school where I taught," Ava said.
"You were a teacher?" Blaine glanced over his shoulder, then looked back at the road. "So is my friend Sam. He just finally finished his teaching certificate, so he's teaching for real now. PE plus music." He turned a corner onto a side street. "What did you teach?"
"ABCs," Ava said. "Sums."
"Oh," Blaine said. "Right. Our school was pretty different from that. Both the one I went to before I was 17, and the one I graduated from."
"I was a governess when I was 17," Ava said.
"I pretended to be a governess once, while time traveling," Zari said. "The kids were monsters."
Sara snorted, but didn't say anything. After all, the kids had literally been monsters. Werewolves, to be precise.
"Were you a governess, too, Sara?" Blaine's focus on the small talk completely missed the undercurrents.
"Yes, Sara," Ava chimed in. "Were you?"
Sara glared at Blaine.
Zari looked at Sara, and then at Ava, and decided to change the subject. "So, who are we supposed to be cheering for when the games come on?"
They drove around a little more, out to the airport and over to the university and past a construction zone that used to be another school. Fortunately, Blaine had figured out that he should just tell stories and not ask questions, so things were calm until they finally got back to the Hummels' house.
So it turned out that 2019 NFL football was not exactly identical to football in Zari's parallel future universe. The rules dealing with concussions, in particular, had changed a lot in Zari's time, so watching the hits was occasionally horrifying. But on the other hand, there were still guys in tight pants patting each other on the butts. So all in all, it was still watchable.
Plus there were grilled cheese sandwiches to dip in tomato soup. Yum.
Kurt fell asleep on the floor, leaning against Blaine's leg. Sara put on her flirty extrovert face and made fun of fumbles and sacks and impressive failed leaps into the end zones. Burt and Sam were cheering for different teams, and the trash talk kept escalating as the game went on. Blaine sounded like he was trying to keep up with it, but he had missed an entire month of injuries and other player-related drama.
Ava frowned and tried to follow along, but the scoring rules didn't make a lot of sense to her. "Why was that kick three points, but the other one was only worth one?"
Blaine nudged Kurt, who sat up suddenly, opened his eyes, said "no, I can't believe she was actually wearing that!" and then looked around, confused.
Carole got up after one of her teams lost. "I'm going to make some gingerbread," she said. "Anyone want to help?"
"Thank goodness," Kurt murmured. He pressed a kiss to Blaine's knee and got up.
Ava stood as well. "May I help?" she asked.
Kurt grinned at her. "Of course."
The score for the second game was close at halftime, and Burt, Blaine, and Sam were all sniping at each other. Zari didn't know the teams or the players, so she had trouble following the discussion until they settled down and shifted the arguments to politics. Blaine's work for that New York congresswoman. Burt's failed re-election bid in 2016, and his current run for state legislature. Sam's high school kids, and whether participating in the climate strike had helped or hurt their cause. The whole presidential mess. What had failed, and why, and whose fault it was.
"I know that Obama had a lot of people going door-to-door," Blaine said to Burt. "But that was more than ten years ago. I just don't think you can discount the power of social media these days."
"You can't. The Russians don't, either," Burt said. "But you know what the Russians don't have? Someone knocking on doors, with a nice, firm handshake. Or a not-so-firm handshake. Doesn't really matter that much. I don't care how much tech you got. Nothing's going to fix things without some real, human connection."
"Yes, but there's absolutely no way that feet on the ground can reach everyone," Blaine argued. "A single meme, a viral video, a comment on Twitter - that can reach so many more people, so much faster."
"But is it really going to change their minds?" Burt asked. "Or is it all just a friggin' echo chamber?" He shook his head. "What we need is to put down the damn phones, sit on couches like this, and actually talk to one another."
"Just shut up!" Sam suddenly yelled.
Everyone stared at him.
"You think I haven't tried to be a human connection with my parents? You think I haven't tried putting stuff on my Facebook about global warming and police shootings and protecting the DACA kids from ICE?" Sam stood up. That might, actually, have been a glare on his face. "My parents don't hear it, ok? All they hear is Fox News, 24/7. And everything else, they hear about at church, from their friends. And their friends don't believe anything that's not on Fox News." He grabbed his boots and started putting them on. "Sorry. I just can't deal with it anymore." He pulled on his coat. "See you at Christmas dinner," he said as he stormed out the door.
Everyone sat in silence, listening to Sam's car start up and pull out of the driveway.
"I'll go talk to him," Blaine said. "I had no idea."
"You should have seen him during Thanksgiving Break," Burt said. "He left Thanksgiving dinner with his folks and drove straight here. Apparently his parents were giving him crap about letting the high school kids sing at a climate march or something, and things turned nasty."
Blaine nodded. "Does he still live in the same place, across town?"
"Yeah," Burt said. "You can take the car. I'll go get my keys."
Which left Sara and Zari alone in the room. The television commentators kept their constant background patter, something about playoff odds and who needed to win the next game to get home field advantage. Zari reached for another chip, but the bowl was empty. She put the bowl on the coffee table and started to get up.
"I know what to do," Sara said suddenly.
Zari picked up the bowl. "About what?"
"About everything. Politics. Impeachment." Sara stood up. "Come on. We need to get back to the Waverider."
Zari looked back at the kitchen.
Sara shook her head. "Ava's safe here. We should do this without her." She headed for the door. "It shouldn't take too long."
Zari managed to stick her head into the kitchen and tell Kurt that they were leaving, but not to worry, they would be back.
They took a Lyft to the reservoir, and Sara wouldn't explain her plan while the driver was listening. But when they finally got back into the Waverider, Zari demanded an explanation.
"We're going to take down Fox News," Sara said.
Zari pursed her lips and nodded. "Ok. How?"
"It might be complicated," Sara said. "We'll need to lay some groundwork. Do some background checking on all the corporate law stuff. Be subtle about taking control of it... but, yeah. We're going to take over Fox News."
Zari looked skeptical. "I don't have a background in law. Or finance. And I can't even hack banks in 2019 - they use programming languages that weren't even taught by the time I got to college."
"We're not going to do it alone," Sara said. "We'll need help. People to switch the corporate assets. People to run the television network after we're done. Hackers who know these languages."
"How are you going to find all those people?" Zari asked. "We don't know people in this universe."
"Yes, but we knew people in our old universe who had those skills," Sara said. "I never existed in this universe, but my sister did. She's dead... but there might be other people who aren't." She walked into the library, grabbed a piece of music paper from the piano, and started writing. "Let's come up with a list of possibilities and see what their lives are like in this universe."
Late December, 2012.
The blonde woman in glasses and a ponytail was the only person working late in the maze of cubicles. Sara led Zari around the partition, then stopped and coughed.
The woman jumped. "Sorry! I didn't see you." Then she frowned. "Actually, I'm the one who is supposed to be here. So you should be apologizing to me."
"Felicity Smoak?" Sara asked.
The woman nodded.
"We're the Ghosts of Christmas Future," Sara said.
Felicity gave them a skeptical look. "You don't look much like ghosts," she said. "And I'm Jewish."
"Well, I'm Moslem," Zari said. "And Sara's just an agnostic bad-ass."
"We're here because we need your help," Sara said. "It might not seem like it right now, but in seven years, the world is going to be in a lot of trouble."
"This is the help desk," Felicity said. "Well, not literally the desk. There isn't really a desk. And I don't do much helping. I just answer phones and fix things. Usually by turning computers off and on again."
"But you've got skills that you aren't using," Sara guessed. "Skills that should let you run your own Silicon Valley startup. But the tech bros won't give you money to do the work that you're capable of."
Felicity blinked. "What, exactly, do you think I'm capable of?"
"Changing financial records," Zari said. "Fixing the legal status of a corporation. Or at least, laying the groundwork to change things in the future."
"We know what you did with those financial aid records, back in college," Sara said. "At MIT."
"So... you're blackmailing me?" Felicity asked.
"More like recruiting you," Sara waffled. "Haven't you always secretly wanted to save the world?"
Felicity tilted her head and looked carefully at Sara and Zari. "Tell me more."
Tuesday, December 24, 2019.
"So are you the Ghosts of Christmas Present this time?" Felicity's hair was down, and she was in a much smaller office space. But other than that, not much had changed.
"Wait, you've got ghosts visiting you?" Well, except for the nerdy Black guy, also working late on Christmas Eve.
"We're actually time travelers," Zari said.
"Curtis Holt," Sara mused. "How is the start-up coming?"
"How do they know us?" Curtis asked Felicity. "How do you know us?" He looked up at Sara.
"Just looking for under-employed geeks," Sara said. "We met Felicity in 2012. She planted some seeds for us."
"Not literally seeds," Felicity said. "I don't garden. I can't even keep a cactus alive."
"I don't care what metaphor you use," Sara said. "But... is everything ready to go?"
"Soon," Felicity said. "Soon. But it might take a day. Or two."
"Hopefully it won't take that long," Sara said.
Zari frowned. It had better not take that long. Because, after all, they had promised to spend Christmas in Ohio.
Not adding Felicity and Curtis to the list of characters. I don't know if they're going to have more than this cameo.
I was planning a set of rules to constrain which characters I could add from which source. (Like it wouldn't make sense to have both Sebastian Smythe and Barry Allen, right?) But I decided to add Felicity because it's fun to write her voice, and she has skills that make sense for the plot. Maybe that will control who I add in future chapters, too.
The reference to kids who were werewolves is something that I just made up - it isn't a reference to anything that happened on Legends. (It just seemed consistent with last season.)
Chapter 11: And since we've no place to go...
Ava is stuck in Ohio for Christmas 2019. There is a mall. And Monopoly. And a lot of cooking.
Also, even when your friends have a time machine, they can be late. Really late.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
A loud noise shattered Ava's concentration, and she pressed the cookie cutter into the wrong place, cutting an arm off of one of the other figures.
"Whoa, hey, it's ok," Kurt reassured her. "That was just the oven saying that it's hot. The cookies can go in now."
Ava lifted the mangled figure. "What about this one?"
"We'll just need a good story about it." Kurt shrugged. "What do you think? A duel?"
Ava frowned and moved her cookie cutter to the side.
"I haven't finished putting the buttons onto these," Carole said. "Anyone else need the raisins?"
"I'm using colored sugar," Kurt said. "And I'll add icing later. Maybe some sprinkles." He stepped back to admire his work. Ava's eyes widened. There were... what exactly were the gingerbread men wearing?
Carole leaned over to look at Kurt's work. "What's the theme this year?" she asked.
"I'm thinking of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Relationship drama plus extravagant costumes. Though a tragedy would give better excuses to eat the cookies." He shrugged. "It's a little weird to have a happily-ever-after and then eat all of the characters."
"Are the cookies ready?" Blaine stuck his head into the kitchen.
"No, but you can decorate some." Kurt pointed to a sheet of unfinished cookies sitting further down the counter.
And then the kitchen was suddenly full. Blaine, and his friend Sam, and Burt, all of them crowded around and talking and grabbing supplies and...
"Where are Sara and Zari?" Blaine asked. "They weren't in the living room when Sam and I got back. I thought they got sick of the arguing and came in here."
"Zari said they had to do something. They'll be back later," Kurt told Blaine.
Ava frowned and continued cutting out her cookies. It made sense that Kurt wouldn't say much about Sara's whereabouts, not with everyone in the kitchen. But... well... Ava pulled further back into her corner and tried to ignore the bustle and chaos.
"Here." Kurt appeared at her elbow, carrying the colored sugar and raisins. "You can decorate some for Sara and Zari, since they're not here to do it themselves." He shuddered. "Otherwise, they'll be left with Sam's cookies. And he used so many red-hots that his gingerbread men look like they have the measles. We wouldn't want Sara and Zari to have to go into quarantine." He tilted his head. "We should get you vaccinated, by the way."
Ava only followed a fraction of Kurt's commentary, but she thanked him and took the decorations anyway. She stared at the cookies, and then picked up the jar of blue sugar, and remembered. There was a stage on the edge of the park, and Ava had been handing out pamphlets on the edge of the crowd. And then there was a commotion on the stage. And then... her. Brazen and outrageous and terrifying and bold, saying the things that Ava had thought but never dared to actually say.
"Nice dress," Kurt commented, looking around her shoulder. "Very 1850s. But you should probably decorate more than one. It won't be long until we need to put that batch into the oven."
Ava blinked. "Thanks." She picked up the red sugar and started another cookie. A red dress, with a warm jacket over it. Lively eyes, and feet tapping like they wanted to dance. A comment about promiscuity, laden with meaning that Ava wasn't sure if she understood...
Right. Need to decorate more cookies. Ava sprinkled a few with something resembling a flannel shirts and leggings, and then made some more dresses, and a suit or two.
The cookies went into the oven, and came out, and had to cool before the icing was added. The activities in the living room ended, and Sam left. Kurt shooed Carole out of the kitchen and took over making dinner. Ava chopped onions, and mushrooms, and squash, and thought of the flashes of knife blades that Sara had showed as she had grabbed Ava, before carrying her into the time ship.
"That's more than enough onions," Kurt said, carefully taking the knife away from her. "You'll have us all crying if you aren't careful."
Ava wiped her eyes and nodded.
"Here," Kurt said. "I'll show you how to make risotto."
There was an hour or more of complex cooking, and then setting the table, and dinner. Polite conversation from Carole, banter between Kurt and Blaine, pithy commentary from Burt. Clearing the table. Dishes. Icing the cooled cookies.
It was late, and the chores were done. Sara and Zari had not returned.
Kurt glanced at his stepmother. "Would it be all right to get the guest bedroom set up?"
So Ava helped make the bed - strange, unstarched sheets that fit onto the mattress, then a blanket that wasn't made of wool or cotton or any other material that Ava knew. But it was soft. And there was another blanket stuffed with something that was not feathers, but felt warm. Carole lent Ava a nightgown - wider and shorter than Ava's frame, but welcome.
"I'm sure they'll be back in the morning," Kurt said, and followed Blaine upstairs.
The bed was too soft, and too wide. Ava felt like she was swimming in the blankets and sinking into some kind of gigantic woman-eating pudding. The Waverider had been strange, but her bed had been narrow and firm, and... intriguing.
Well, perhaps that last part wasn't about the bed.
Ava lay awake for what felt like forever, wondering where Sara had gone. Where Sara and Zari had gone. Both of them. She was worried about both of them.
But when morning came, Sara and Zari still weren't there. Ava changed back into the same set of clothes and joined the family in the kitchen, where Burt was showing off his skill at making some kind of strange eggs without any yolks. Kurt nodded and clapped, as if this was something that he had been encouraging for years, and then turned and looked at Ava.
"You don't have extra clothes," he said. "You weren't planning to spend the night."
Kurt looked at Blaine. "We need to go Christmas shopping," he said. "Ready to take on the mall?"
The 'mall' was a giant marketplace inside a building, with ugly, too-bright lights and music coming from the walls, like on the Waverider, except that Sara wasn't there to pretend she wasn't secretly dancing to it. There were crowds, and the lines were long, but Kurt and Blaine took her by the arms and walked her through to the sections with undergarments and sweaters and...
"I don't normally think much of pantsuits," Kurt said. "But that actually works on you."
Ava nodded and went back into the dressing room.
They looked for gifts for the others, too. Mostly silly things, even the socks, which had dinosaurs drinking wine (for Sara) and clocks that looked like they were melting (for Zari). Ava followed Kurt and Blaine as they wove through the crowds, trying not to get lost.
And then suddenly, a gigantic monster dressed like a deer with wild eyes and a grimacing mouth came up to her and started trying to herd her towards a huge spruce tree with lights and a long line of over-active children...
And then Kurt and Blaine were there, steering her away from the crowd and towards the door.
"I've always been afraid of the Santaland furries, too," Kurt said. "Come on."
When she was finally in the back seat of the car, Ava felt like she could breathe again. "Sorry," she said. "I don't know what that was."
"Panic," Blaine said. "It's ok. You're safe now."
Ava nodded, and buckled her seatbelt, just like Zari had told her to.
"We'll find some other places to shop. Ones without the crowds," Kurt said.
"Do you ever make gifts for people?" Ava asked. "Or do you always go to..." She shuddered. "The mall?"
"I used to make my own cards," Kurt said. "But I've learned that glitter turns into microplastics that pollute the ocean, so I don't do that anymore."
"I gave everyone in my family a song once, when I was ten," Blaine said. "My brother told me that the faces that I was making were stupid."
"I used to knit for people," Ava said.
"There isn't really time to make something before Christmas, though, is there?" Blaine asked. "It's the day after tomorrow."
Ava sat back in her seat. "Some things don't take much time," she said.
"There's a yarn store on the other side of town," Kurt said. "Remember? On the way to Dalton?"
"I never really thought much about it," Blaine said. "But I think I remember it."
"We can go over there," Kurt said. "If you want?"
So they did. The skeins were all wrapped up in sticky paper, but they were soft in Ava's hands. And the colors were beautiful. She picked out several, plus some needles, and smiled.
"There's used clothing store near here, too," Kurt suggested. "They used to have interesting stuff. Ava, you probably need more clothes."
"But the Waverider should be back soon," Blaine pointed out.
Kurt shrugged. "But if it's not? I don't want to force Ava to wear Carole's clothes. They won't fit well."
So they stopped. And Ava found a dress, and some soft pants, and another blouse, and a sweater. And then there was a dress, a red dress that would swing loose while dancing...
"I think that one's too short for you," Kurt said. "Sorry. It's really cute."
Ava gave it a wistful look and started to hang it back up.
Blaine watched her, then elbowed Kurt.
"But it would fit Sara," Kurt said slowly. "Do you want it?"
Ava looked at it again and nodded.
"I think we have enough wrapping paper for it at home," Kurt said.
They went back to Kurt's family's house, and waited. Carole started mixing more cookies. Blaine talked to Burt about Burt's campaign. Kurt brought colored paper and ribbons and wrapped up the socks. And Ava sat in a chair and started knitting scarves. Scarves were simple, and fast, and gave her hands something to do.
"Those could almost be weapons," Kurt mused, watching the needles fly.
Ava nodded, and didn't tell him about the things that she had done with knitting needles in the past.
The sun set, and they sat down for dinner, and cleaned up, and sat quietly watching the television. And when it got late, they went to bed.
Sara and Zari still weren't back.
Ava spent Christmas Eve day knitting, one scarf after another. Kurt and Blaine headed out to visit Blaine's parents. They didn't talk much about it, though Kurt came home before Blaine went to the evening church service. Burt and Carole were nice to Ava while they were gone, but she didn't talk to them very much, except at meals.
She knitted scarves. And she waited.
She was still knitting when Blaine returned and the family exchanged late-night gifts. Sara and Zari still weren't back.
It was already Christmas when Ava went to her empty room, and tried to go to sleep.
She awoke to the smell of something cooking. Something sweet. She got out of bed, put on one of the dresses from the secondhand clothing store, and headed out to join the family.
"Blaine's making pancakes," Kurt said. "With powdered sugar. And whipped cream."
It smelled delicious.
Ava ate slowly, hoping that there would still be pancakes when Sara arrived. Or at least whipped cream. She watched Blaine wipe a bit off of the edge of Kurt's mouth, and turned away, embarrassed.
After breakfast, Sam came by, and they opened the presents. Ava had finished the scarves. All seven of them. Kurt was amused by the colors she had chosen: red and blue for Blaine; green and blue and grey for Kurt. And there were silly socks, and some kinds of technology that Ava didn't recognize, and a board game.
"Monopoly based on Lima?" Burt gave Kurt a skeptical look. "What, someone thinks real estate is on its way up now?"
"One of the nursing homes was selling them," Kurt shrugged.
"You ready to put us in a nursing home already?" Burt teased him. "We aren't even retired yet."
"It was a fund-raiser," Kurt said. "Some of the residents were there and everything."
"They were pretty adorable," Blaine added.
Burt hmmphed, but opened the box and looked at the pieces.
And then the gifts were all unwrapped. All the gifts except for the ones for Sara and Zari.
Ava helped cook the turkey and squash and stuffing and some kind of odd-looking dish with colored gelatin and marshmallows. It took hours. And then they sat down and ate, and it was evening. Sam thanked them for the company and headed home.
Sara and Zari still weren't back.
Ava looked at the still-wrapped presents as everyone said goodnight.
"They'll be back," Kurt told her. "Don't worry."
But Ava did worry. It was the fourth night since they had disappeared.
Yes. Ava was most definitely counting.
Breakfast the next morning was oatmeal. Heart-healthy, Burt said. Ava looked at it and didn't know how it could possibly heal a heart, but it was warm and filling, and there were raisins and brown sugar and chunks of apple to put on it.
After breakfast, Carole passed around a sheet of paper for ideas for a trip to the market. Ava looked curiously at it.
"You don't bake your own bread?" she asked.
The others all shook their heads.
"May I?" Ava asked. "I've always done baking on the day after Christmas."
Kurt and Blaine offered to help, with a comment about how they could maybe start an artisanal bakery if they never managed to get jobs on stage.
Yeast. Water. Butter. Salt. Flour. Each of the cooks had their own bowl, and their own pile of dough to knead. That was the best part, mixing in the flour, pressing down, folding the dough back up, turning it, pressing down again, until the dough was as soft and smooth as an earlobe, or the long line of skin below it...
"After we're done caressing it, we let it rise," Kurt said. "Right?"
"For an hour or two," Ava agreed.
They washed the flour off their hands and stared at the bowls.
Kurt looked at Blaine. "Weren't you supposed to explain 160 years of history to Ava?" he reminded Blaine.
"Right." Blaine looked embarrassed. "I almost forgot."
There was a lot of history to go over. Blaine grabbed some sheets of paper and started writing out a timeline. A civil war, new states and new amendments and factories and wars and depression and more wars...
It took hours. They stopped to punch down the bread and shape it into loaves. Kurt's parents headed out to buy groceries. The bread finished rising, and they put it into the oven to bake. And then there was more history.
"When do you think Sara and Zari went to?" Ava suddenly asked.
Blaine shook his head. "I have no idea," he said. "Kurt?"
Kurt looked up from the magazine he was reading. "Zari didn't say."
"Do you think..." Ava stopped and chewed on her lip. "You know how Sara wouldn't let either of you travel to any time in the 20th century?"
"Because we could be erased from the timeline," Blaine finished. "Yes. We remember." He and Kurt shared a look that probably should have been private.
"Do you think... Could anything have happened to them?" Ava asked.
Kurt and Blaine shook their heads, perfectly synchronized.
"Because Zari's from the future?" Ava asked. "I know that much. She knows all kinds of science things that you don't. But Sara's from now, isn't she?" She looked carefully at the two men. "She knows the same music that you do."
Kurt looked at Blaine, then at Ava. "I don't think you have to worry about Sara," he said. "Sara can take care of herself."
"But if you two could be erased, why couldn't she?" Ava pressed.
"Because Zari and Sara are both from another universe," Blaine burst out. "Sara can't be erased. Because in this world, there's never been a Sara Lance. Not until now."
Kurt's glance was a masterpiece of chastisement.
Blaine looked sheepish. "I wasn't supposed to tell you that."
Ava frowned. "Why not?" she demanded. "She didn't want me to know that she was going to go back?"
"Sara can't go back," Blaine said. "Not even if she wanted to. But she doesn't want to."
"Why?" Ava asked.
"Because in Sara's world, her soulmate is gone. Forever. But this world is different. Some people from Sara's world - like Sara - were never born. And some never died. Some were just waiting..."
Blaine was interrupted by a knock on the door. Kurt went to answer it.
Ava was about to continue arguing when she heard the voices.
"We missed Christmas." It was Zari's voice. "Sorry."
"But we're here now."
Sara. Sara was back.
"So let me get this straight," Blaine said to Sara. "You went back in time so you could take over Fox News?" Both he and Kurt were leaning against the Hummels' kitchen counter, like a pair of disapproving parents.
"Not take it over. Not yet, anyway," Sara replied. She stood in the middle of the kitchen, arms folded, hips cocked, all in black, looking like she could take over the entire world as soon as she decided to. At least, that's what Ava thought.
Five days. Ava hadn't seen her in five days. Ava's heart thudded in her chest and her hands were clammy and the world felt like it was tilting in some odd direction. Kurt looked at Ava out of the corner of his eyes as he listened to Sara and Zari, like he knew exactly what was going on.
But Zari was busy explaining something from where she sat on the edge of the kitchen table, and from the look on Blaine's face, this was some kind of major break-through. "There were a bunch of business spin-offs that happened several years ago. News Corp - all the newspapers that were part of that big Fox News-related empire - they all became one company. The broadcasting businesses, like Fox, became another." Zari waved a gingerbread man to illustrate her point. "We went back before the split to make sure that now, at the beginning of 2020, we would be able to take over Fox News."
"What did you do?" Kurt looked skeptical. "What kind of scandal could possibly take down the people who get to decide what is scandalous?"
"It wasn't a scandal," Sara said. "It was hacking. Hacking legal documents."
Ava had no idea what that meant. But it sounded like the kind of heroic thing that Sara could do.
But Kurt looked at Zari, not at Sara. "Nice work."
"I didn't do it," Zari said. "It was all Sara's friend's work."
"Sara's friend?" Blaine looked as confused as Ava felt.
"Wait, you have secret friends that we don't know about?" Kurt raised an eyebrow at Sara. "From where?"
Sara gave Zari a threatening look. Zari raised her hands in surrender and shook her head as if to say I was with you the entire time, don't blame me for this mess.
"Look, Sara, everyone here knows that you come from another universe, even Ava," Blaine said. "So if you've got a mystery friend in this universe, you're going to need to do a little more explaining."
"Ok. Fine." Sara sighed. "Yes. I do come from another universe. There's never been a Sara Lance in this one. But some of the same people, at least, exist in both of them."
"Like James Buchanan?" Blaine asked.
"Yes, but not just historical figures. There are people that I knew in my old universe who also exist in this one." Sara shrugged.
Blaine and Kurt shared an unreadable look.
"In my universe, I knew a lot of people who had skills that could help us," Sara continued. "Journalists. Inventors. Thieves. Researchers." She looked at Zari, then back at the others. "And I also knew a hacker. Her name was Felicity Smoak, and in my universe, she could get access to anything that was on a computer. Government files. Financial records. Legal documents." Sara almost smiled. Remembering? "In this universe, she hadn't met the right person to nudge her into that kind of work. So we went back to 2012 and got her started."
...The right person? Ava frowned. Meaning who? Meaning Sara?
"So you've owned Fox News since 2012?" Blaine asked. The height of his eyebrows punctuated the skepticism in his voice.
"No," Sara said. "It took time to set up all the legalities. Felicity's really good at what she does, but this kind of work needs to be slow, if it's going to succeed."
"And that's why we were gone so long," Zari added. "We had to check in on the status of the changes now, at the end of 2019."
"On Christmas?" Blaine looked skeptical.
"We missed our time target," Zari said. "We thought we were going to the evening of December 22, so we could get back here late that night."
"But we arrived at Felicity's place on Christmas Eve," Sara said. "And then one thing led to another, and we couldn't get everything done until this morning."
One thing led to another. Ava's heart stopped. Sara lost her soulmate in her old universe. But some of the same people lived in this one...
Oh. No wonder Sara had been gone for so long.
"When we got to a good stopping point this morning, when everything was open again, we couldn't go back to December 22," Zari explained. "We had already lived Christmas, 2019. Today was the first time that we hadn't already been to."
"So now we need to take all of you back to the Waverider, jump to sometime after New Year's Day, and meet up with Felicity again," Sara finished. "Are you ready to go?"
"Wait. No." Kurt shook his head. "We've been here for days. We all have things spread all over the house. We need time to get things together, and pack. And we have bread still in the oven. We can't just leave."
"And Kurt's dad will kill us if we leave without telling him," Blaine added.
"I'm more worried about it killing him," Kurt said. "But yes. I'm not leaving until my parents get back from their grocery shopping."
"Ok. Fine." Sara shook her head and walked to the kitchen door, waving her hands in frustration. "Do your things. But bad things will happen if we're still here on New Year's Eve."
Ava stood in the guest bedroom, staring at the pile of possessions that she had acquired in the past few days. Her new clothes. The wrapped packages for Zari and Sara: smaller ones with the scarves, and a larger one with the red dress. A few gingerbread cookies, the ones with the blue and red dresses, wrapped in waxed paper and set aside so nobody else would eat them before Sara and Zari got back.
She glanced up at the sound of a knock on the door. "Here," Kurt said, holding out a rectangular object with wheels on the bottom. "It's a suitcase you can use for your things."
"Are you ok?" Kurt asked. "You were so worried about Sara and Zari getting back, but you've been quiet since they got here."
Kurt looked skeptical, but dropped it. "We can do another Christmas on the Waverider," he said. "I bet Gideon would enjoy that."
Ava was saved from answering by the loud buzzing alarm from the oven. "The bread is done," she said, and went back to the kitchen.
"Look, I'm just saying that you shouldn't drive right now." Burt (and Carole) had returned while Ava was taking the bread out of the oven. "Have you looked outside?"
"I realize that it's snowing, Dad," Kurt replied. "But you don't understand what might happen if we don't go."
"Dinosaurs," Zari said.
"Not necessarily dinosaurs," Sara corrected. "But, well, yeah. It basically breaks time."
"Well, if you drive in a storm like this, you might break the car. And yourselves." Burt walked over to the couch and turned on the television. "So you might as well settle in until the storm is over."
Kurt walked around to the back of the couch to see the screen better, and Ava switched her attention to the television. A woman in a heavy coat was standing in the middle of a town square, with snow flying all around her.
"Ooo, the Weather Channel?" Blaine came down the stairs with his suitcase, looked at the television, and sat on the couch beside Burt. "How long is the storm going to last?" He shrugged at Kurt's expression. "I looked out the window. It's snowing pretty hard out there."
"See?" Burt said. "Anderson gets it. No driving until the roads are better."
"We've got until the 30th," Blaine pointed out. "That's four more days from now."
Kurt looked at Sara. "You're the one who's worried about getting out of here."
Sara sighed. "Fine." But she didn't look happy about it.
The snow was heavy and wet. After an hour of watching people standing in front of maps, Blaine got bored and suggested going for a walk. Sara and Zari immediately jumped to their feet.
"Anyone else?" Blaine asked, wrapping his scarf around his face.
Kurt shook his head. "I'll just wear my new scarf in here and avoid the potential frostbite," he said.
"Those are nice." Sara looked at Blaine's scarf, then went searching for her boots. "Where did you get them?"
Kurt looked up from his book and raised his eyebrow at Ava. He mouthed something like want to give them their presents now? at her.
Ava took the hint. "Wait a moment," she said to Sara and Zari, and went into the guest room to pull the packages from her suitcase. Two wrapped scarves. Ava looked at the third package, the one with the dress, and decided to leave it behind.
"Wow," Zari said as she opened hers. "This is nice. Where did you get these?"
"Ava made them," Kurt answered.
Sara looked over at her. "You knit?" she asked.
Ava blushed and avoided looking into Sara's eyes, though not before she noticed how dark Sara's lashes were today. "Yes," she replied.
Ava didn't look up again until she heard the door open and close.
A half hour later, Zari stuck her head inside. "Kurt! Ava! We need you!"
Kurt and Ava shared a surprised look, and quickly grabbed boots and coats and hats. But when they got outside...
Flumpf. A snowball barely missed hitting Kurt in the shoulder.
"Hey!" Kurt yelled, and reached for a handful of snow.
Another snowball came, flying over a wall of snow on the other side of the yard. Ava caught a glimpse of Blaine's red and blue scarf, and then the blue and black scarf that Ava had made for Sara. She barely had a chance to duck before two more snowballs came at her.
But that was enough time for Ava to get her bearings. She bent down, scooped snow, shaped a ball, and launched it. One, then another and another, advancing on the fort with each throw.
"Shit." That was Blaine's voice, and then he made a run for it, trying to escape from the right side of the fort. But Kurt caught up to him, grabbed him by the scarf, and pulled him off balance.
Ava ignored the pile of arms and legs where Kurt had landed on top of Blaine, and leaped over the wall. Sara was still crouched, and then suddenly she wasn't, and Ava's leg was knocked out from under her. But Ava grabbed Sara as she fell, and they rolled over, legs tangled together, faces close. Ava stared down at Sara for a moment, breathing hard.
And then she released Sara and got to her feet. Sara lay on the ground, laughing.
"Nice moves," Sara said. "I won't try to ambush you again."
Ava stretched her hand down and helped Sara to her feet. "I grew up in an orphanage," she said. "I know about snowball fights."
Instead of responding, Sara grabbed Ava's arm and pulled her to the other side of the fort. "Watch out!" she yelled at Blaine and Kurt, who had switched from wrestling to kissing.
They sat up and looked behind Sara. Ava turned in time to see one of the branches of an old oak tree fall. Down the street, there were other branches collapsing under the weight of the snow.
"We should probably go inside." Kurt sounded a bit breathless as he scrambled to his feet.
The inside of the house was dark.
"Power went out," Burt explained as he handed out flashlights. "Keep these handy. It'll get dark early."
"We were going to eat leftover turkey anyway," Carole said. "We can have sandwiches on Ava's bread."
"You made bread." Sara looked impressed. "You've been busy while we were gone."
Ava shrugged. "The people at the orphanage always said that idle hands do the devil's work," she replied.
Sara looked as if she wanted to reply to that, but just smiled and turned away.
They ate sandwiches in candlelight. When they were done, Burt found a compressible lantern in one of the closets, carried it to the living room, and declared it time to play Monopoly. The house was starting to get cold, so Carole found some extra blankets while Kurt and Blaine set up the board: dice, tokens, cards, houses, paper money. Burt and Blaine tried to explain the rules to Zari and Ava, but the political commentary made it difficult to follow them. Kurt just grabbed the token that looked like a top hat and sat back, looking smug. Sara examined several of the pieces, and then chose the race car. And then everyone else picked their pieces, and they started to play.
Carole was a surprisingly brutal player, gleefully taking money from everyone in turn. Burt was the first to go broke, and went to get a plate of cookies while everyone else continued. Zari was the next one to give up, muttering something about how the rules would be different with electronic banking anyway. Kurt and Blaine snuggled under a blanket together, occasionally nudging each other and giggling. At some point, Blaine did something that made Kurt's eyes widen, and then suddenly both of them started making very unwise financial decisions until they both dropped out, excused themselves, and went upstairs. Ava didn't last much longer; she was deliberately frugal, which put her at the mercy of Sara and Carole when they decided to team up on her.
And then Ava sat back and watched Sara and Carole face off, eyes narrowed, rolling dice and moving pieces and adding hotels until every roll was expensive for both of them.
And finally, Sara handed over her last pile of money. Carole collected it with a smile, then folded up the board.
Burt came into the living room with his arms full of pillows and other bedding. "The couch folds out into another bed," he said. "And there's room for more than one person in the guest bedroom. I'll let you ladies figure out who wants to go where. But here are some blankets and sheets and sleeping bags for you to divide up however you want."
And then Burt and Carole headed for their room.
Ava and Sara and Zari looked at the bedding.
"I'll pull out the couch," Sara finally said.
Zari shivered. "It's going to be cold tonight," she predicted. "The heat hasn't been on since mid-afternoon."
Sara nodded. "This is one of those nights where it would be nice to have a fireplace. Or a wood stove. Or maybe a really friendly dog."
Zari made a face. "I'm allergic to dogs." She looked at Ava. "You came from a time without central heating. And you grew up in an orphanage. What did you do on cold nights like this?"
Ava shrugged. "The girls in the orphanage would share a bed," she said. "A smaller one than the one in the guest room."
Sara paused and stood up, the couch only half-opened. "You would be willing to have us in there with you?" she asked.
"Sure," Ava said. "The bed is too big for one person, anyway."
Sara and Zari shared a look, then nodded.
There were some old sweatpants and shirts in the room, brought down by Kurt before the Monopoly game had started. Sara and Zari took turns changing, and then carried the pile of pillows and blankets into the guest room and spread them out.
Then they stood and stared at the bed.
"I'll go in the middle," Ava finally said. "I've done this before."
Sara looked carefully at her, and then nodded. "After you, then."
They lay on their backs, crowded together so that their shoulders were touching. "We were smaller when we were girls," Ava apologized.
"This is fine," Sara said. "It'll be warmer than it would be on the couch or the floor." And with that, she rolled onto her side, back against Ava's arm. It seemed like it was only moments before Ava could hear Sara's breathing settle into the slow rhythm of sleep.
Zari murmured something about it being a long day, rolled the other way, and fell asleep as well.
Which left Ava, lying on her back between them. Yes. She had done this before. But now, in a bed, with Sara's body close beside her, she remembered her last night in the orphanage. Another girl close beside her, huddled in her arms against the cold. The breath on Ava's cheek. And then the lips. Against her cheek. And then against her lips. The slow stroking of hands, along backs and arms. And then the cold morning light, and a goodbye.
Sara's back rose and fell against Ava's arm. Ava flexed her fingers, and kept them to herself.
The house rumbled back to life sometime in the middle of the night. Ava jerked awake, and felt Zari twitch beside her. There was a light outside the door.
"Power's back on," Zari whispered. "The house will get warmer soon." She stretched. "I need to pee. And as fond as I am of both of you, I think that the couch will be more comfortable." She picked up her pillow, lifted a blanket off of the bed, and padded out of the room.
Sara shifted slightly, murmured something, and burrowed her face back into the pillow.
Ava watched her for a moment, then rolled onto her side, spooned around Sara's back. She fell asleep breathing the scent of Sara's shampoo.
I want to make this risotto, except maybe with the traditional arborio rice. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/sunflower-seed-risotto-with-squash-and-mushrooms