Blue wakes up gasping for air. The excruciating pain is gone, though the ghost of the ache in the back of her teeth remains, and so does the hunger. The hunger that has kept her alive for all this time.
She’s in the dark, enclosed by something soft and moist that is slowly consuming her. Not even death lets you escape the roots that reach all of her kind. She tears it apart, the flesh of the cocoon, and struggles to get up, stumbling as she steps out of it, almost falling on top of another cocoon. There are hundreds around her, slowly returning to Garden, casualties being recycled, keeping the cycle going.
Blue is worried about a different cycle.
She steadies herself, or what’s left of her. It feels weird. She’s not sure if she has a body right now, if she will heal to have one again. The poison was too strong. It would’ve killed any of her kind faster than anyone could grab a pen to write a letter. Blue knew that. So when the nib connected to the paper and she painstakingly drew a new breath, everything clicked. She wasn’t fully one of her kind, never has been, not since the day she was compromised─ no, improved, saved.
It’s always been her, within her. The hunger, the longing─ was always for her. Blue was always meant to find her and to send the first letter. Blue was always meant to die, so that she could survive, so that they can survive.
It’s not done yet.
For once uncertain of the future, Blue takes another step and slips away through time. She travels towards the one thing that no change of times could ever erase, the constant pull that can draw her in even millennia apart.
Blue watches her from afar. Red doesn’t seem to notice or sense her, Blue is afraid of what could happen if she did. She’s trying to lay out clues, but she can’t interact with the environment very well. A blue hummingbird that turns gray just as Red passes by it, blue letters on a billboard that loses power as Red looks at it.
Nothing works. She knew it would take time, but it kills her to watch Red grieve, to not be able to comfort her, to watch her dodge Garden’s weapons at the last second, hoping she won’t give up, not yet.
Slowly, pouring all that’s left of her into it, she’s able to paint herself into a mural. Maybe Red is able to sense her again, or maybe she’s the one who lures her, but at last, Red sees her. She must understand, she has to.
Blue feels it when she touches her, feels as if she becomes a little more real, physical, because of it, and watches as Red disappears in front of her.
Blue’s been healing, she thinks. She wonders if the red in her is all that remains of herself. She wonders if it’s enough to let her blend in with who were once the enemy, and now are nothing that really matters. As she slips into the past to embed herself into another life that isn’t hers, she wonders if they are stuck in this cycle of always saving each other, if they are meant to exist only to keep the other alive but never to be together. Blue would spend an eternity saving Red if she had to, with the hope that one day they could at least exchange letters again being enough to fuel her.
Red looks fragile, hollow, but never afraid. Her eyes still have that fire Blue has longed to be burned by. She also feels different, more familiar, with bluer veins. Blue struggles to stick to her plan, to not just grab Red and run, but she can’t ruin their only chance. She’s still a professional, so she waits as much as she has to. She wonders if she changed too much, if Red won’t recognize her anymore after this is done. She wonders if Red has changed too, if she’d still want her, this, but when Red answers, “Garden doesn’t deserve us. Neither does the Agency.” Blue’s anxieties melt away.
She throws Red into the cell to stop herself from pulling her in instead.
She slides the letter in ─ she didn’t need to write it, but how could she resist it? ─ and walks away.
Their reencounter is not what neither of them hoped for, but it couldn’t be more familiar. They run. No more chasing each other, but being chased instead.
They carve time for themselves in between all the running. When their lips meet, when they are alone together, Red becomes utterly Blue’s as much as Blue becomes Red’s. Blue whispers over her skin and roots and flowers bloom in the emptiness where weapons used to occupy beneath her skin. Red touches her and sets Blue alight, feels her own blood inside Blue's veins being brought to life.
Sometimes they have to go separate ways, one climbing upstream while the other dives downstream to mislead their chasers. They get to write letters when that happens; they have a different flavor now. For Red, they come in the form of a cool breeze that catches in her hair on a hot summer morning, in the lick of a blue tongue of a happy lion-like dog, in a small blue bird that pecks on her cheek but does not mark her enough to hurt. There is even more blue in the world than Red had once realized. Other times they have to mess with some agent’s mission, but not because they care about the war anymore, but simply to buy time. They sink another Atlantis, too, just for the fun of it. Awful place that is.
They’ve always been the best in their fields, but working together is an entirely different, better thing. No one stands a chance.
Red wouldn’t mind if that was now their life; to be forever on the run, as long as they always come back to each other.
Slowly, their time together becomes longer than their time apart. Red doesn’t want to let her guard down, but sometimes they get the luxury of wandering. Blue takes her to different cities and villages in time, small and seemingly mundane places. There’s a shine in Blue’s eyes when she talks about the stories she lived in those places, that takes Red to what feels like many lifetimes ago, to the ghost of a bee sting on her palm, to the words, “I want to meet you in every place I have loved,” so she shows Blue her own places too.
There is something blooming, growing, spreading roots beneath her skin, wrapping around her ribs, sinking in her beating heart ─ she thinks Blue feels it too. It’s overpowering, almost, and maybe this is what all the books have been talking about all along. Red doesn’t fight it, she wants more and more of it, to be thoroughly consumed by it. Maybe this is what it feels like to be falling in love.
Red stands with water up to her ankles, staring into the horizon where the deep blue of the sea meets the soft blue of the sky. She names her in her mind, the color, whatever she sees that has it ─ she can do it freely and fearlessly now. She ended up in Strand 42 C21, where people fucked up and have to stay inside all day, something about the air and a disease. Red doesn’t really care about it, she’s not here to fix it anyway, but now that she took care of what was targeting her, she’s alone in this giant beach, bored, missing Blue, waiting for when they can meet again.
Small fish swim around her, coming and going as they please. A shiny cyan one approaches her and she smiles when it tickles her skin. Only one sentence imprints in her mind, “It is time, my love.”
Red finds it upstream, in a far away thread. A small village in a peaceful valley, a cabin with an open door, burning hot tea set on a small table by the window. The sky on the west is a deep red where the sun sets, and on the east it’s a dark blue, white lights already dotting it.
Red’s heart is quick in her chest. She’s nervous, she realizes, not totally sure why. This reencounter feels different, more important. She wants to search the place for her, but she takes a seat instead. She places a small bag on the side, heavy with Neptune’s diamonds, love letters weaved into its covalent bonds (she took a quick detour before arriving). She pours the tea on both of the cups, stirs hers gently, breathes it in.
She looks out of the window to find a familiar figure approaching.
Blue closes the door behind her. She’s holding a small fluffy thing that Red realizes is a sleeping dog. She gently sets it on a pillow on the floor and it stretches over it, not waking up. Red’s heart swells. It’s still weird how organic her insides have become, how alive she feels when Blue is around.
“I got it last week.” Blue says, petting its tiny head before getting up. “It likes to run outside and fall asleep wherever it gets tired.” She takes the seat across from Red. “I was waiting for you to decide what we should call it.”
“Did it work?” Red asks, impatient.
Blue smiles, takes a sip of her tea, then finally stares at her.
“I’ve embedded myself,” she nods, “and soon you’ll be too.”
Red lets out a deep breathe, feels light for perhaps the first time in her existence. Her cheeks hurt from the extent of her smile.
They’ll grow to be so enmeshed with the reality of this thread that getting rid of any of them would risk both sides and the war itself. They are not completely safe, just yet, but the more they stay here, the more useless this thread will become for both the Agency and Garden. Eventually, this thread will become theirs and they’ll be able to travel through it as they please. For now, though, they put down their roots.
She wants to throw the tea to the side and take Blue in her arms and never let go again. Instead, she reaches for her hand across the table and interlaces their fingers, then takes a sip of her tea and basks in both kinds of warmth. They have all the time in the world.
“You still haven’t told me your real name.”