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i just keep missing

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He’s fifteen when he comes to Jump City, fresh out of what he believes to be a permanent falling out. The rest of the world doesn’t think so, as this burglar asks why he’s alone. But then a star seems to fall out of the sky and he doesn’t have time to think about that anymore.

There’s a huge dent in the middle of the street and a girl that looks to be his age emerges, though despite her initial appearance, she definitely isn’t human. She hurls cars across the block with just a kick of her foot and throws her body into the glass windows of restaurants and clothing stores. She’s yelling in a harsh language that he can’t even begin to try to place despite his own fluency in many. Then suddenly a young teenage boy with green skin eagerly introduces himself, promising to lend help in whatever way he can. They can’t get her to stop destroying their surroundings, but they can keep her attention off of the civilians. Beast Boy is about to tell another guy in a hoodie to evacuate the area, but he gets involved in the brawl as well.

The girl gets her hands partially out of their restraints and starts shooting green bolts of energy wherever she can, trying to aim for the three boys surrounding her. She’s still screaming, and the other two guys are trying to call out strategies to subdue her, and Robin is trying to keep calm enough to make sense of it all. He’s running around, scrambling over upturned concrete sidewalks, dodging hot green blasts. He hears a different, female voice that suggests fighting isn’t the answer, and turns around to see a figure cloaked in deep blue.

So he approaches the alien girl. She’s just standing now, still in a defensive stance, but allowing him to come closer and closer as he pulls out a universal handcuff key. He takes in her appearance; she has long, deep red hair and smooth, orange skin. Her irises are green, as are her sclera. She glares at him fiercely, and Robin can recognize that kind of fear and desperation anywhere. He only takes his eyes off her to put the key into the restraints around her wrists, and as he looks back up at her he hears the click of the key and feels the heavy thud of her cuffs at their feet.

He thinks about how those keys really are universal and opens his mouth to speak words of reassurance when she yanks on his collar and kisses him. Both his hands fly up, but he can’t seem to bring himself to push her off. Their lips are dry and he feels his ears heat up and before he knows it it’s over, and she shoves him flat on his ass onto the pavement. In English, she essentially tells them to fuck off or die and for some reason he knows he can’t let her go.

After a long, long day they actually become a team, and even quicker than that she becomes his best friend. Then he pretends he doesn’t know what it means when he gets a little excited that she’s upset he has to take some random blonde to her junior prom. Then she almost gets married, off and away from Earth, and the stress from that trip alone is enough for this life and the next. Another time they’re stranded on some random planet, and as he’s thankful he can breathe here with no technology required, she’s walking off and away from him, huffing as she goes along. Here he remembers that his emotional shortcomings have consequences, and realizes that even though they’ve been best friends for a good amount of time, he’s still got so much more to learn from her. He tells her things that are true, and tells her just enough to not reveal too much; all is well again.

Later they’re in Tokyo and she ponders their hero identity. She asks him if they can ever be more, more than fighting crime day and night, if they have to be heroes all the time, if they have to spend every minute of the day being who people say they are. They kiss soon after, but even when they return to Jump they establish very little. Sometimes they kiss for comfort, sleep in the other’s room, and spend long nights talking while Robin fills out paperwork.

But in this life he still learns what love is. He teaches her why sometimes humans keep secrets to preserve themselves, and for the sake of others. While she doesn’t completely understand, she is patient as he tries to figure out how to tell her things, and is staunchly honest when he’s being a prick and taking it out on the team. Her love includes laughing at his ridiculous jokes and puns, even after he has to explain them to her because she takes them too literally. It’s learning about how touch can be a source of comfort and joy rather than pain and violation. Their love is feeling lighter together when they grab each other’s wrists and fly off the roof of the tower, feeling lighter as she tries to cook them meals from her k’norfka’s version of a cookbook, feeling lighter as he lets her take off his mask while he cries on his parents’ death anniversary.

They continue working alongside their team, fighting evil on Earth and occasionally taking trips back to Tameran. They grow old enough to be able to retire from fighting and let a new generation of heroes take over. They’re able to escape death countless times, instead meeting it while they’re sleeping in bed together. Raven finds them, because she just knows, and the air is thick with something beyond even her knowledge.

 


 

This time around he is a duke in the nineteenth century because time bounces from place to place of its own accord, and he is entirely unimpressed by the mothers that throw their daughters at him in hopes that he will court them. Richard is attending a ball his mentor has organized. He watches others make small talk and the candles from the chandelier drip wax onto their gowns and coats. He doesn’t think much of anyone in the room until a group of young women walk in. One catches his attention; she has a periwinkle dress and white gloves that go past her elbows, both garments serving to emphasize her beautiful, deep complexion. Her hair is red-brown and half of it gently falls over her back in long, loose curls, swaying as she greets those around her. The other half is pinned atop her head and her eyes are shining and green, reminding him of the rainforests near the equator. He meets those eyes from across the room and it’s like he took a horse’s hoof to the head. All of a sudden the flames from the candles are somehow too bright, almost glowing green too, and he moves to take a seat. Eventually the night comes to an end without him hearing her voice.

Days pass, and he sees her every now and then at similar events. She dances with various potential suitors as her mother observes them, though she never dances with the same man twice. Maybe this realization is what compels him to approach her on this night. She’s sitting down, presumably with her sister, when he asks her to dance. With a sly smile and no words, she takes his hand, and leads him toward the open floor.

“To what do I owe the honor of dancing with Your Grace–” She stops herself mid-sentence, noticing his face falling at the mention of his title. He’s embarrassed, usually he can keep a poker face for much longer.

“My apologies, I—”

She cuts him off to rephrase her initial question. “My mother says you do not usually court women, despite the incessant expectations of others. But we are here now. Should I be flattered, even impressed?”

Her candor has him a little shocked. Though other women are straightforward in their interest, they have not asked so directly about his intentions thus far. “Perhaps I am learning how to give in.”

Koriand’r (he’s learned her name from the town gossip) looks at him curiously, exquisite green eyes narrowing, but says nothing.

Before they know it, the song is already over, and Richard begrudgingly lets go of her hand. He follows her away from the dancefloor, away from the music.

They continue to make conversation in another room. Richard is aware that attendees can still see them, and definitely aware that accounts of their little moment will spread rapidly through the grapevine. Talking to Koriand’r comes easily, despite his own initial aloofness. Her eyes nearly close shut when she smiles, smiles for real, and her laugh is so vibrant it reminds him to stop taking himself so seriously. He requests she call him Richard, and if anything he turns up the charm for her. She responds well, flirting alongside his clever banter. When she brings her hair in front of her shoulders the smell of English lavender wafts over to him. She plays with his fingers and he can feel the warmth through her gloves.

She sighs, looking down at the fingers of his right hand in her palms. “There’s a man named Lord Wilson begging for my hand in marriage. My sister is attempting to arrange some sort of agreement between our families, as if she is the man of the house. When he comes around, a chill goes up my back that I cannot ignore. And he’s miserable in the face, too.” She meets Richard’s gaze and gives him an ambivalent smile.

He holds her hand in sympathy, not sure what to say. The silence grows surprisingly comfortable, and they watch the people in the next room dance. Eventually her mother comes to collect her, and their night ends once more.

They run into each other the following week, at a public garden. Koriand’r takes his arm and they begin to walk laps around the rose yard. She makes the small talk short, and leads them to sit on a nearby bench.

“I have a proposition for you, though I am going to be forthright. Lord Wilson will not leave me be, and my sister has made him a deal I cannot refuse,” she pauses, “lest I have a current suitor.”

Richard maintains eye contact. He understands what she is asking of him.

She notices this, and continues. “It would not be real, you do not have to marry me. But I need to give Lord Wilson the impression I am unavailable, until his attempts at courting me cease. If I am with someone of your stature, I will have more options other than Lord Wilson to choose from. Do not forget, you will be unavailable as well, and young women will stop competing for your attention for the time being. Rumors regarding us are already beginning to arise, hence my asking you. And,” her eyebrows raise as she leans toward him, “you are not such a pain to make conversation with.”

Richard blinks. He crosses his arms and tells her he needs time to think about it.

She seems to accept this, and he teases her about likely being her only suitor to reject her, and she reminds him that he is not her suitor, yet, nor did he exactly reject her.

In his bed, Richard contemplates her plan. He swears, if he were anyone else, he would have approached her and courted her genuinely the first time he saw her. If he were anyone else, he would have agreed to her plan on the spot. He would drop anything to come to her aid, if he were anyone else.

Though in this life, he is a duke and holds a grudge. He curses his father yet again. In this existence, his father disowned Richard at the age of four due to his supposed inadequacy. He refused any form of contact or communication and told many Richard died at birth, along with his mother. Richard was taken in by his mentor, and he only saw his father again on his deathbed. His father begged and pleaded, as his only son, to produce an heir in order to carry their name, their blood. As his father lay dying, Richard vowed to kill their bloodline with him, as he had no intention to marry, no intention to bring children into this world. He would much rather die himself than fulfill any of his father’s wishes.

Unfortunately, Richard does not remember any past lives, and his conviction is stronger than his desire. He returns to Koriand’r, officially rejecting her request. For once, she seems to be at a loss for words. She collects herself and thanks him for considering it at all, then bids him farewell.

The same night he is restless, not able to sleep until the sunlight peeks through his curtains. Flashes of sparkling green plague his dreams and he becomes sick with regret.

He leaves for China the following month, though his mentor keeps him updated about Koriand’r, even if he never inquires. He learns that she has married, and thankfully not to Lord Wilson. Richard hopes she is in love and more than happy with whoever this man is, and on nights where he is particularly pensive, he swears objects in the corner of his eye shift viridescent and haunt his fantasies.

 


 

Next time, he is unavailable again. He is at his own wedding, and she is someone’s plus one.

Here, her hair is red-violet and cut short and choppy, just ending past her ears. He doesn’t recognize her completely, but he picks out her laugh from across the room, despite the loud music and drunken cackling from his guests. They make eye contact, and, oh, Garth is in front of him, introducing her as his date. Garth says they’re good friends, and Barbara mentions they’ve met before, without Dick. He shakes Kory’s hand as she congratulates them and gushes over how gorgeously decorated the venue is. The touch of her hand sends a spark through his body and instantly he has the urge to wipe his shoulder of dried candle wax and step over pavement crumbling under his feet. He keeps his composure as she chats with Barbara about something related to her job as a computer science engineer. Dick doesn’t remember seeing her sitting in the pews, but he was most likely too nervous reciting his vows to bother looking at anyone other than Barbara.

All throughout the reception, he steals a glimpse of her every now and then, confused as to why he seems to be somewhat taken with her.

That night he lies next to Barbara, listening to the soft sounds of her breathing in her sleep. He knows he loves her deeply and sincerely, and he’s never encountered candle drip or broken streets before. He doesn’t give layers of red-violet hair another thought, but he can’t help wondering if something more ancient and intense than he can imagine runs within him.

 


 

Dick is seventeen years old, this time, when she comes up to his lunch table. He does not remember her here. She’s standing with one of his best friends, Wally. He introduces her to Dick, saying that her name is Kory and that a counselor asked Wally to show her around because she’s new and their class schedules are the same.

Through his sunglasses he can see how shiny and bright her red hair is, and watches it flounce around in a ponytail as she nods along to what Wally is saying. Then she looks at Dick and— it’s like she can see his eyes even though he knows she can’t through the shades, and he’s struck. He gets a whiff of lavender and gawks at her sweet, toothy grin. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Wally cross his arms and smirk. The tips of Dick’s ears become unbearably hot and he’s not admitting it isn’t from the warm weather. She doesn’t seem to notice, sits next to Dick, and asks if she knows him from somewhere.

His voice falters at first, and he doesn’t fully face her. “Um, I don’t think so, no, sorry.”

“Hm. That’s too bad,” (Dick’s mind shortcircuits because what the fuck does that mean) “Wally said afterschool we could get something to eat. Would you like to join us?”

Dick looks over to Wally, making sure he wasn’t trying to take her on a date. Wally gives him the “all clear” and Dick nods yes.

They eat pizza down the street as Kory recounts her day and Wally offers her advice about certain teachers. She talks about her old city, asks if they’ve been keeping up with Dawson’s Creek because season two is about to come out, and takes interest in Wally’s hobby of tinkering with the wiring of various electrical devices. It takes Dick about an hour to remember he’s capable of speech, but when he does, it all works out. His jokes always land with her and he can tell she’s not laughing just to be polite.

Her phone makes a little beeping noise. She picks it up, then puts it down, the Little Twin Stars charm hanging off of it rattling against the table. “Oh shit, it’s almost six o’clock. I need to be home soon to help with dinner. Would one of you mind giving me a ride home? If it’s inconvenient, no worries, I don’t mind taking public transport.”

Dick is about to offer when Wally beats him to it. Wally asks where she lives and his eyes light up at her response. He explains where she lives is actually in the direction of where Dick lives, and suggests that he take her home instead. He can barely contain his snickering while Dick stares at him, unamused.

Kory turns to Dick and his face relaxes. “Yeah, of course I can take you home, let’s go.”

They say bye to Wally as Wally is hurriedly pressing the buttons of his phone. Dick has no doubts that he’s about to call their other friends about what he’s just set up. He tries not to think about it as he opens the passenger door for Kory.

She voices her appreciation as soon as he buckles in. He tells her it’s no problem and questions if she walked to school.

Kory is looking out the window and responds nonchalantly. “Yeah, my sister gets the car and she doesn’t let me catch a ride. She’s a menace. I just keep forgetting to set up the appointment to get my permit.”

Dick matches her energy and hums, choosing his next words carefully. “Well, you live on my way to and from school… So I could give you a ride in the morning and on the way back, if you’d like.”

She turns away from the window, her usual exuberance having come back. “Really? I don’t want to put you out.” At Dick’s reassurance, she gives in. “Ok then, thank you. Dick, I have a feeling we will be very good friends.”

Her hands are clasped over her crossed legs and even without looking at her, Dick can feel the happiness coming off of her in waves. He breathes out and can feel all the tension leave his body. He wonders, again, what she means by that.

They sit in agreeable silence as they approach her house. He pulls into her driveway after she says it’s ok. She opens the door and has a leg out of the car when he places his hand on hers. Dick feels something like electricity shoot through his arm and by the look on Kory’s face, she might feel it too. He glances at her face and when he notices she’s just observing him, he realizes he’s supposed to have said something by now.

“Uh—” he swiftly takes his hand off of hers and back onto the shifter. “Let me give you my number so I know when to pick you up.”

“Right, here,” Kory says as she hands him her cellphone. He enters his number as a new contact, Little Twin Stars bumping his knuckles as he thumbs the buttons. Dick gives her cellphone back.

She starts thanking him when he interrupts her.

“Wait, you know, Kory,” he doesn’t know at which point between here and the pizza place he became a flustered mess, “Don’t hesitate to ask for a lift somewhere. Really, even if it’s not to school… Public transport is kind of shoddy around here and especially at night, it’s not always the safest so, yeah. I’m sure you can handle yourself but… Don’t hesitate. I mean it.”

“Ok, I won’t hesitate. Thank you for offering, and for today.” Kory is beaming at him now, and Dick thinks maybe she makes being flustered kind of acceptable. She gets out of the car and before shutting the door, she tells him, “I’m really excited to see you tomorrow, Dick.”

Dick blushes like crazy and thanks someone out there that she’s already turned around so she can’t see the look on his face. He pulls out of her driveway and waits until she makes it through the door. Kory turns back once she’s in the house and gives him a wave. He nods and begins to make his way home.

Getting food afterschool becomes a biweekly event, usually on Mondays and Fridays. Dick takes Kory regularly to and from school. She soon becomes their good friend, and the three of them often spend time catching movies and taking night drives.

In time, they do become very good friends. Phone calls become more frequent and are often through the night. It’s far easier staying up for Kory than his school assignments. He dreams occasionally of them hovering in the sky and holding hands, and comes to conclude that crushes are more liberating than he initially imagined them to be.

One night, long after Wally has left their company for some date, Kory turns to face Dick. They’re sitting in his car, parked in some turnout near a cliff in the woods. They’re far away enough from the city that all the buildings’ lights are tiny blips. They go to these viewpoints often. Kory likes it, something about the serenity of being surrounded by nature and being able to see the stars a bit better.

Dick feels like something is about to happen; he starts wringing his hands in his lap. He knows all of the nervous energy in the car is him. He turns on his car stereo in an attempt to offset his nerves but then I Swear by All 4 One is blaring and— fucking Wally, Wally said he left him a surprise for Kory and him and why didn’t he fucking—

“Dick, I like you.” Classic Kory, he thinks, always straight to the point. He turns the volume down enough just to cover the sound of his own breathing. “I’m not telling you because I’m expecting a relationship, I’m just telling you because I want you to know. You’re so sweet, and selfless, and I think you’re very funny.”

“Even funnier than Wally?” He asks, still looking toward the city.

She laughs and it fills the car. “Yes, even funnier than Wally. See what I mean? But really, I love spending time with you, and I’m saying this because I hope we continue to spend time together after we graduate. I think our friendship is very strong and I know we would almost do anything for each other.”

His hands tap the steering wheel nervously. He can talk to her so easily until he feels like he needs to talk about his own feelings regarding her. “Yeah, um, I think so too. I’m really… glad that I met you at the beginning of the year.”

“We’ve made a lot of good memories together so far, huh?”

“Yeah, and I,” he begs himself to just say it, “I like you a lot too, actually. But I don’t think we should go out, not like that. I don’t— I’m not good when it comes to feelings,” and he swallows, “so I don’t know, I don’t want to fuck up our friendship like that. So I know you weren’t expecting anything from me, but I just wanted to say that to be clear.”

She nods, still facing him. “I know. I respect that, and appreciate that you’re making things clear so we’re on the same page, even if you don’t think you can carry that into our hypothetical relationship. Even if I wish you would give yourself the chance someday.”

Dick looks at her, and she’s giving him a little smirk. He laughs at himself and she joins in because yeah, she’s called him out, again. When they settle, he smiles. Despite his initial nerves, this is why he likes Kory so much. It’s easy with her, even though she’s able to see right through him every single time. Things feel like they’re low stakes but they still mean so much to him, to both of them. Though, “someday” nags at the back of his mind.

He’s about to ask her if she needs to be getting home when she speaks softly. “Dick, I know you can’t be in a relationship with me, but can I ask you something?”

Dick puts the key in the ignition and tells Kory of course.

“Can I kiss you, just tonight?”

He’s so taken aback his foot jerks on the parking brake pedal. The car lurches back and he can hear her yelp as he immediately reengages it. He looks at her again, definitely blushing while she is definitely chuckling at him, and nods.

Dick puts an elbow on the center console, shifting his body toward her. Kory mirrors his actions and puts a hand against her cheek. He feels himself automatically lean into the palm of her hand and her fingers curl against his jaw. She brings his face to hers and he feels so, so warm, and he can’t believe her pretty lips are on his. His eyes close as he sighs into the kiss. She’s gentle and sweet, and her fingers are firm on his face. Kory pulls away slowly, keeping eye contact as they draw back from each other. Dick’s vision feels like it’s going in and out even though they’re in the dark; as he moves away he feels a little unsteady. He’s not sure how a single kiss could make him feel so dizzy. Kory lets go of his face with a pleased smile. He realizes he’s been gripping the sleeve of her jacket this entire time, and lets go, hand retreating to his lap.

“Um, that was really nice.” Dick’s head feels like it’s a million degrees. He hears Kory murmur in agreement.

That night, after he drives her home, he goes straight to his room. He peels off his clothes and immediately heads to bed. He curls up in his sheets, trying to decide if he did the right thing.

The next morning, he’s on the phone with Kory just like usual and everything seems fine. It’s simple once again, and after he explains what happened between them to Wally, he stops teasing.

That part feels like shit, but what feels shittier is when she starts dating Roy Harper a couple of months later. He knows he doesn’t have the right to express jealousy, no matter how much of it he feels. He also expected it. Kory is absolutely gorgeous, wears pretty outfits, and has the most radiant personality. She’s almost always gleeful, but still firm about what she wants, and isn’t afraid to be confident in herself. People swarm her like moths to a light. They all graduate and Kory and Roy continue dating well into their college years. Dick spends an embarrassing amount of his first year in college trying to press Wally for details about them and comparing the photos of Kory and him with the photos Kory has shown him of Roy and her.

Dick and Kory still keep in touch, and when they come home for their winter breaks they hang out and it’s still easy. She still tosses him those wide, charming grins and he still gets clammy hands from time to time. They stay close enough that some of the people Kory later goes out with get jealous, and she leaves them every time but Dick never makes a move.

He gets invited to her wedding in their late thirties and she’s still as beautiful as she was when they were teenagers. Dick never keeps a relationship for longer than a year, and leaves this life with enough regret to bite him in the ass another day.

 


 

Along some other timeline Richard stands outside of her door, posture stiff, body on high alert. He’s been appointed to the overnight shift to guard the bedroom of the princess as she sleeps. This has been one of his primary duties for almost a year now, and it’s especially important considering the recent threats about ransom and kidnapping. It’s possible it’s all hearsay, but any remark about her life is one to take seriously.

Princess Koriand’r made the first move several moons ago, gingerly cracking open her heavy bedroom door and whispering “excuse me.” Richard almost didn’t register she was speaking to him. She ushered him into her bedroom and asked him to lend an ear without judgement. Pent up stress poured out of her each night she did this, and each night she profusely thanked him. She was worried about her role in the castle, worried about her people, worried her sister hated her, amongst many other things. Some nights she asks to be held, so he sits in her bed and tucks her blankets tighter around her. He’s already concerned about the implications that come from what he’s doing when he offers his advice and company.

She pulls him in her room for the fourth time this week. At this point, these “visits” are becoming more and more frequent, and he worries about what this means. On this night, she doesn’t want to be held, but she does want to talk. He knows that she is to be married a few moons from now, arranged by her parents in order to guarantee their allyship against a third kingdom that is a great threat to them.

Princess Koriand’r is sitting against the headboard of her bed frame, knees to her chest. Her shoulders shake and although she is perfectly capable of lifting a blanket on her own, he wraps it around her and makes sure it stays put. He picks up a chair, carefully placing it next to her bed so as to not make a sound. She looks him in the eyes before speaking. Despite how worried and timid she appears at this moment, her voice is clear and unwavering.

“Guard Richard, do you ever wish for more?”

He almost falls out of the chair. Her words sweep him up and take him somewhere else, where the melodies of her laugh echo in his head and reverberate through his body. He smells English lavender, but most of all he can hear her voice ringing, inquiring “do you ever think we can be more than heroes?” It pounds against the most intimate parts of his mind, demanding entry, and taking up space. He feels unyielding pressure on his jaw that isn’t from his helmet, and something knocking against his knuckles. When the ringing stops, he realizes how sweaty his hands are and how heavy his head feels in his helmet. He can feel his legs shaking even though he’s sitting in a chair, and his heart is clenched tight. His body is itching under his suit, and he realizes who she is, who they are together.

She notices, and moves to catch him if needed. He shakes his head as if to say her effort is unnecessary. She doesn’t look convinced, but stays silent.

“Your Highness, what do you mean?”

She looks nervous, opening and closing her mouth a couple times before speaking. “Aren’t you tired of being a guard? Of the same thing every single day? I appreciate your work every day and night, as well as the other guards’ efforts, but surely more exists than this.” Koriand’r gazes out her open window, searching the night sky. “I am aware of my royal duties, and am willing to satisfy them so that my people experience peace rather than war and strife… But I am left to speculate. I wish I could act of my own accord, and make decisions based on my own emotions rather than ones I do not have, or beliefs I do not partake in. It feels like I am lying to myself. Surely there is more than my parents’ and my people’s expectations of my actions.”

Of course Princess Koriand’r, Kory, is so worried about all of these things. She’s been concerned by others’ wellbeings, others’ expectations, her own autonomy before. She has always been deeply invested in others’ emotions as well as her own. Richard remembers. He knows they’ve been impeded by his own defect many times in other lives, but he wonders who is cruel enough to believe she deserves to be married to someone she has never known and live a long life of deception. His heart shatters seeing her so unsure of herself, so tormented.

Richard feels his eyes sting as they water. He’s thankful she’s no longer looking at him. Other nights, he responds to her. They have a dialogue about her feelings, and she seems to internalize his words. But this time, the subject of her concerns has left his throat parched and his voice withered. He takes off one gauntlet and lays his hand on top of hers. She lets out a single cry and he clutches her hand tighter. Her hand is so smooth, unlike his, calloused from a long life of tough labor and combat training, all in order to support and protect her. She holds her head in her other hand.

Tears are streaming down her face and despite this, she’s smiling and staring down at their hands, still gripping each other. “Guard Richard, do you think we could ever be more?

Immediately, it’s a silly question. The answer is not in this moment, no, and not for as long as she is who she is here. But he thinks further, remembering how he almost passed out a moment ago. He’s about to respond when he hears footsteps clunking down the stairs near her room. Squeezing her hand one last time, he shoves the gauntlet back on and quietly resumes his post outside her door.

——

(The night after, she opens her door and the guard standing by it looks at her with surprise on his face. This guard is larger than Guard Richard, and by the looks of what she can see under his helmet, his skin is darker. She remembers the paleness of his hand as it held hers.

“Where is Guard Richard?”

“Your Highness, Grayson was deployed this afternoon.”

It’s like her gut drops to her feet. She is hit with nausea, remembering that a battalion was sent out in order to stave off another kingdom’s advances. “But he was not originally assigned to go?”

“No, Your Highness. However, much of the draft had been taken out by illness. As such, a small number of royal guards volunteered to accompany them.”

“How is— the battalion expected to fare? Be frank.” Her voice is steely, though her legs are shaking, and she is not sure how much longer she will be able to stand. He volunteered? How could he volunteer?

“Princess, it is not looking well. Grayson is one of our finest guards, but the soldiers are outnumbered eight to one.”

She gulps and nods silently, shutting the door. She pokes her head out again, and requests tearfully that he not come in, no matter how much noise he hears. Though confused, he agrees.

Princess Koriand’r demolishes her room, lamenting their fate. She tosses her wooden desk out of the window, kicks the posts of her bed frame until they snap, furiously crying all the while. Ripping the silk bonnet off of her head, she spills the melted wax of the candles from her room onto the tapestry woven for her before throwing the candelabrum itself at the wall. She pulls out all of the clothes from her dresser, her frustration ripping some of them to shreds and kicking the dresser again and again until she realizes her foot is throbbing and the area under her big toe has split open. She thrashes against her bed, not caring about where the broken wood ends up, and wipes her tears and her snot into her sheets. She slumps into her chair, his chair, and cries, her anguished wails bouncing off of stone walls and hitting her back in the head. She prays for something different, something more)

 


 

Perhaps due to all the lives in which they never get to be, Dick is born somewhat aware of her existence in this one. As in, he is certain something is missing, though he’s not entirely sure what it is.

On this day he is twenty-six, and visiting his uncle at the retirement home he’s been recently placed in. He would have saved his uncle the trouble and offered his own apartment for him to stay in, but the city is too loud and too fast for his uncle’s liking.

His uncle is rattling off about some tale Dick has already heard to the other elderly person he’s playing cards with when Dick’s mouth gets unbearably dry. He excuses himself to search for a vending machine. He leaves the leisure room and spots a vending machine at the end of the hall, next to a screen door that he assumes leads to the home’s community garden. Standing in front of it, he looks for change and thinks of what drink to get when he hears a “psst!” nearby. He checks his left, nothing, then his right, and his change drops to the floor, clanging and ringing against the tile.

Kory is sitting in a wicker chair outside, waving at him through the screen. Dick picks up what change he can and makes his way out to sit across from her. She’s drinking lemonade, and has a small frame loom on her lap along with various colors of yarn. He takes in her appearance. Her magenta hair is still very intense and falls just past her shoulders in tight coils. Her skin is on the thinner side. She has wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, and he figures it’s because she never could stop smiling. And she’s giving him one now, eyebrows raised, an aura of satisfaction and cheer coming off of her in waves and bleeding into his shock. Dick celebrates to himself, yes, yes, fucking yes this is who he’s been looking for. All their previous experiences come flooding back to him, and he is absolutely paralyzed. He’s afraid to move, if he goes to touch her or even speak, what if his eyes are deceiving him, what if she’s gone because of him again. Tears rush to his eyes as several of the emotions and encounters from former lives overwhelm him and he can barely think—

“I had a feeling you were here. I missed you,” she says softly, crossing her legs and resting her cheek against her knuckles.

“You remember too?” he manages to ask, immediately feeling silly at such an unnecessary question.

“I’ve remembered for seventy-six years now, Dick.” She gives him a smile, and he wonders how her eyes manage to be so full of sorrow while looking at him so fondly.

He rubs his eyes, patting them with the sleeve of his jacket. He hates crying in front of others, but he can’t hold back any longer. His body racks with sobs and he apologizes over and over, regrets spilling out of his mouth uncontrollably. Because he’s the one who keeps fucking up, keeps pushing her away, keeps letting his own fear impede them.

Kory rests the frame loom against the side of the chair and brings out a weaving, around a foot in both directions. She holds it up against her torso so he can see it clearly. Reds, yellows, and greens in various tones and hues swirl in and out of each other. There’s no discernable or immediate image, only seemingly chaotic movement as the colors form blobs and lines and surround and interrupt each other. She tells him ever since her mother taught her how to weave, she’s been using these colors. She thinks it’s fitting that she weaves in this life, considering she was born with the perfect memory of what they’ve been through.

Dick keeps crying, calming down as he continues examining Kory’s art. He commends her work and apologizes again for being such a mess. She cracks a joke, asking why he couldn’t pick other colors for his uniform, because damn near every person thinks her work is related to traffic lights. He laughs and tells her he loves her so, so much. Then he takes her hand and presses his lips to her knuckles while she wipes the wetness off of his cheeks.

He curses someone out there because how come the one time they both remember and manage to find each other, they’re born fucking fifty years apart.

 


 

In the next several, seemingly countless, iterations, Dick remembers every time.

There’s one time he’s at a bar, in the long line for the gender neutral, single stall bathroom. As he’s finally about to enter it, the light from the room illuminates the area in front of it. He’s staring at the mirror and in its reflection he sees a flare of wine colored hair. He promptly exits the bathroom, forgetting about his original business, and with his exit goes the light. He loses the hair and loses her, despite his efforts to seek her out in the crowd.

Some other continuum he’s not from Earth, and he’s sitting in a medical building waiting for his friend to receive care. There’s a broadcasting system in the lobby; the galaxy-wide news is on. A picture of a young woman with vivid orange skin, gleaming green eyes, and poofy, cherry colored hair pops up on the screen. His eyes widen, because it’s her, and he’s trying to make out the script underneath the picture, but his abilities to read this particular language are limited at best. He can make out fugitive, dangerous, alias, and is about to decipher the location where she was last seen when someone changes the channel. He groans while his friend’s name is called.

Another time he actually does run into her and he invites her to a local concert, though she does not remember him. He also manages to spill soda on her skirt and accidentally break her nose in the pit. He doesn’t get a call back.

Then, in a different life he’s thirty-four and making a sandwich when he gets an insatiable urge to use the entirety of the bottle of mustard he just purchased. He smacks his head on the table because fuck, why can’t he find her? He’s so damn lost.

 


 

One more time, he’s twenty-two and wakes up in a cold sweat at nine in the morning, a few hours before his first class of the day. He gets out of bed, fixing himself a glass of water while he recalls the green bolts of energy whizzing past his dream self, nearly scorching his skin. He’s been dreaming of yarn raining from dark starry skies, alien technology, and a broken nose; he’s been having dreams where he can smell candle wax and herbal perfume. He’s had these dreams before, but they’ve never been this vivid and this frequent. These dreams have been occupying his mind for the past month, making him restless with lost sleep and constant exhilaration. He hopes this means he’ll see her in this life, get to talk to her, get to be with her this time. He finishes getting ready for the day as he texts his friends where he’ll be if they want to hang out before their first class. He was lucky enough this time to befriend some familiar faces. They don’t remember, but he certainly does.

An hour later, he’s sitting on a set of stairs near his next lecture with his friends. It doesn’t feel like a peculiar day, but he feels particularly aware of the cold stone beneath him and the bulkiness of the brick wall behind his back. He’s making circles on his knees, feeling the texture of the denim weave, when he spots her. She’s by herself, earphones in, a book under her arm. Her fuschia hair is burning holes in the atmosphere and bouncing along behind her as she strolls along the walkway in front of an adjacent building. She’s bobbing her head and the air around her reads bold and bright as his eyes zero in on her.

Dick jumps onto his feet, blurting “it’s—”

“Kory? Yeah, what about her?” Victor asks. He gives a quizzical glance to their other friends, wondering what’s gotten into Dick. Rachel seems nonplussed and Garfield shrugs. “Uh… She just transferred this semester. I hear she’s from Temeria, no, Tom—”

“Tamaran!” Dick gathers his stuff together. “I’m going to say hello to her.”

Victor sarcastically agrees, then realizes Dick is serious. He reminds Dick he’s never introduced himself to her before, and Dick says, absolutely self-assured, something is telling him he doesn’t need to.

Dick rambles to his friends about how this is it, he needs to stop wasting time, this life will be different, he won’t play it safe, he’ll be upfront, he’s tired of living with regret, he’s learned his lesson. They all shoot him the same skeptical stare as he straightens his clothes and puts on his backpack.

He excitedly makes his way over to her, stepping directly in front of her and stopping her from walking any further. Her humming comes to an abrupt end as her eyes shoot open in surprise. She drops her belongings and gasps, immediately pulling him into a tight embrace.

“Dick,” she whispers, “Dick.

He hugs her tighter, arms around her waist, burying his face into her shoulder and breathing in the familiar scent of her hair. He feels her body relax and melt into his, and it feels like they’re both exactly where they’re supposed to be. He can hear her sniffle and she pulls away, still holding his elbows. Her eyes are watery, half-lidded, and she’s grinning, full of joy. He can feel his own face reflecting a similar expression.

Her hands move to his face, feeling each feature as if she can’t believe he’s touchable and right in front of him. She tells him as such and he can do nothing but sheepishly smile at her.

He’s about to speak when she kisses him. His face feels so hot, heartbeat so loud it’s all he can hear, almost numbing each of his senses until her palms press a little harder on his jaw and he remembers to move. He shifts his hands to her lower back and draws her closer again. The touch of her body and the pressure of her hands feel like belonging, like home. Her lips are soft and pliable against his own, and most notably they’re familiar. He keeps breathing her in,

(and several yards away, his friends are still staring, and Garfield asks if anyone else is feeling déjà vu. Victor scratches the back of his head and Rachel squints harder at the couple)

and then she straightens up and away from him, smiling all the while. They finally let go of each other because they’re still in public, she reminds them.

He picks up her book for her and offers to walk her wherever she needs to go. She dangles a keychain with a car key fob attached and invites him over to her apartment instead. Or maybe they could go for a drive, she suggests. He lets her know either is fine and they make their way to her car as he sends an email to his professor claiming to be out sick for the day. She peers over at his phone, teasing him about being lovesick. He snorts, but doesn’t deny anything. She takes his hand, and he doesn’t bother to bite back his exuberant expression.

She settles in the driver’s seat as he puts his bag in the backseat. Once his seatbelt is on, she leans over and kisses his cheek, her face unbelievably warm.

“We have a lot of catching up to do,” he says eagerly as they pull out of the lot.

“Yes,” she agrees, “I can’t wait to hear about all of what you’ve been up to.”