Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the comic series Lumberjanes, nor the Avengers movie saga. (Additionally, I have never seen an Avengers movie, so I apologize for the inevitable inaccuracies.)
Dedicated to roanoke-cabin. Thanks for your constant encouragement!
She falls with a clatter onto her neighbors' trash cans, one shoe deciding it's had enough and dropping to the pavement.
"Shit," she mutters, gingerly picking herself up. It's always places like this, highly inconvenient places that could get her arrested. Someone out there in the universe probably hates her guts, but she figured that out long ago, so it's nothing new.
She glances over and sees old Mrs. Arlington staring at her, coffee cup frozen halfway to her mouth. She waves a little, cringing on the inside. That makes four times, then. She needs to stop ending up here.
She smiles apologetically to the lady, yanking her shoe back on. She'll make muffins later. Maybe a nice card. Sorry I keep landing in your yard after coming back from ancient times. Really don't mean to.
Mrs. Arlington's coffee is dripping slowly off the edge of the mug, held at a slight tilt. Mal pushes the gate open and takes off down the empty road, thinking that people really need to start paying more attention to their surroundings.
It's only when she's halfway to her house that she realizes that her hair is smoking faintly.
"Here's my theory," Jo begins, and that's all April needs to hear to throw a pillow at her head.
Mal groans, leaning back to rest her head on the wall. "Haven't we already had this conversation?"
"No, no, this is a different theory. Did anything weird or supernatural happen to you when you were a kid?"
Mal makes a face at April, who muffles a giggle with her hand. "Oh yeah. I forgot to tell you that I was dropped into radioactive waste when I was a baby. Jeez Jo, I don't know, okay? Can't we just call it a mystery and move on?"
"No," Jo says with a fervor rarely seen in her voice. "There has to be a reason, and I'm going to figure it out."
"Jo," April says. "We love you and all, but you need to stop obsessing over this. It's impossible."
"It's not," Jo says, voice close to a whine. "And come on, my friend is a freaking time traveler and I'm not supposed to obsess over it? You have actual magic powers, Mal."
Mal drums her fingers against the floor. "It's not actually that exciting. Lots of trying not to get arrested or accused of witchcraft."
"You know," April says, "you could change your hair a little."
Mal laughs, running a hand over her half-shaved head. "I like my hair. It's funny watching Middle Ages peasants pinch up their faces at the sight of it."
"This is not a normal conversation, stop treating it like a normal conversation!" Jo says, throwing her arms into the air, and April pats her head sympathetically.
She's traveled back dozens of times. She's witnessed historic events and she's been caught up in everyday situations. She baffles everyone she comes across, whether it's the hair, the clothes, the sarcasm, or a combination of the three.
She's traveled forward once, only once, but it's not an occasion she can forget. She was eleven, mild-mannered and knobbly-kneed and trying so hard to control her weird powers. She saw herself, about twenty years old and kissing a girl.
She mapped out every detail she could remember, later. She'd never met another version of herself before, and she hadn't even known it was possible.
She mimicked the clothing style that she was going to like. She let April pierce her ears, because it would look cool later. She shaved half her head, driving her mom wild, because it was just about the most awesome thing she'd ever seen.
And, yeah, she started to notice the girls at her school more than she ever had before. Noticed how their eyes lit up when they talked, noticed how they walked and laughed and responded. By the time she was twelve, she had made a Very Important Discovery.
Girls were hella cute.
She'd known that she would eventually, in some way, come to that conclusion, but it was still a little bit of a shock. After all, she'd never even thought about it before, but it seemed to be woven into fate, because eight years from now she would find herself standing under a tree, kissing a girl. With tongue. And hands.
She tries to be inconspicuous, keeping her head down and her feet together, shuffling forward like everyone else. She even combs her hair over until it lies mostly flat, although it's a pretty futile effort. Just keep walking, get out of their way, wait till it all blows over. That's her mantra, and sometimes it works, only most of the time it doesn't.
And, as if called, a hand latches onto her shoulder, spinning her around. She swears under her breath, staring into the face of a broad-shouldered man that is probably a cop.
She hates cops.
"What'd you just say to me?" His eyes narrow, and she winces. She has no idea when she is, but she gets the feeling that she should probably figure it out fast.
"Nothing," she says, hoping she sounds believable. "Do you need something?"
He stares at her, and she hunches her shoulders, knowing she probably looks and sounds completely alien.
"Yeah," he says, gaze unwavering. "I need you to come with me."
She's had more than her fair share of arrests, but they always make things a bit more complicated. She doesn't move places, just times, so she tries to stay in the same place so she'll end up back in her room, or at least on her street. She doesn't want to get carted across the city. Who knows where she'll find herself?
Still, she lets herself be led away, mind whirling. The streets aren't familiar, and she doesn't think she's been here before, but it's always difficult to tell. Judging by the sooty-faced people and giant factories, she's in or after the Industrial Revolution, but that's still pretty broad.
She's pulled into a small, dingy building and nearly thrown to the floor. Rubbing her back, she glares up at the policeman, who looks unconcerned.
"You ain't supposed to be working," he says, sounding like she's more of an annoyance than a hooligan. "Didn't you catch the new labor laws?"
"Oh," she says, thrown off. She could have sworn there were kids in the horde she joined, but now she's not so sure. "Sorry, I guess not."
He looks like he's pretty sure she's lying, and she doesn't blame him. She's pretty sure she does look confused though, so that'll be a point in her favor.
"Hmmph," he says. "You better not try that again. Tell your family that you ain't gonna try that again, no matter how poor you are."
"Yes, sir," she says, and it's true. She has no intention of coming here again, but her intentions don't really matter.
"You got bail?" he says, and she blinks.
"What are you, deaf? Do you got the money or don't you?"
She sifts through her pockets and finds a single crumpled dollar bill. She should've expected corruption. Even in modern times, it's everywhere. Maybe she'll start bringing money with her wherever she goes.
She holds it out to him and he grabs it. "You think that'll be enough? Don't make me laugh, worker girl."
Right. Okay. Worker girl. She can deal with that. She probably has only a few more minutes here, anyway.
"It's all I have," she says, showing her empty hands.
"Then you stay," he says, pulling her to her feet and to another door. "C'mere."
She's pushed through the door, and it's shut on her.
Okay. She's fine in here. It's just a few more minutes, and then she's gone.
She exhales slowly. She left in the middle of putting away groceries with her mom, who is very used to this and is probably patiently waiting for her to get back. Mal's mom is good about that. Maybe something about having to deal with a magic six-year-old makes you pretty chill to vaguely magic goings-on.
Either way, it's pretty hard to tell when she'll get back, and she knows that her mom won't be able to help but worry.
It's a relief when she feels the familiar warmth spreading across every inch of her body. She's going home, finally. Hopefully she'll be able to figure out where the heck she is when she gets there, but she'll cross that bridge when she gets to it.
As she disappears, the door opens slowly, and the last thing she sees before it all fades to gold is the police officer's startled face.
Everything swirls, all blurred together until there are no distinguishable shapes, nothing distinguishable at all. She tucks herself in, wrapping her arms tight around her legs like she's afraid that if she doesn't, they'll fall off into the vortex of swirling gold.
It's like every dumb time traveler movie she's ever seen, and it's beautiful, but all she's ever wanted is for it to be over quickly. Of course, it drags on forever, and she feels something that is probably sand whip against her face.
The gold is sucked from the landscape, and she stumbles. Sways. Tries to regain her balance. Everything is really freaking bright and she's in grass, which is pretty nice, and there are trees everywhere, which is okay, and she knows immediately that she's never been here before.
She leans against a tree, glancing around. It looks like she's in a park, but there's no sign that she can see, and the only pedestrians are two girls who are looking at her and gaping.
Mal waves awkwardly, which seems to be her go-to response for people who see her traveling. The younger girl waves back excitedly, and proceeds to drag over the older one.
"You appeared out of thin air," the younger girl informs Mal, who smiles, more than a little puzzled.
"Yeah," she says, "I'm magic."
"Don't be rude, Ripley," the older girl mumbles, and then, directed to Mal, "Sorry about that."
"No problem," Mal says, because it really is cute. What's the point of powers if you can't tell little girls that you're magic?
"You appeared!" Ripley repeats, voice growing steadily more insistent. "Molly, you saw her appear. You saw her."
The older one, Molly, bites her lip. "Just a trick," she says, almost too quietly to be heard, and then, louder, "Ripley, come on. Jen expected us back in thirty minutes."
"It wasn't a trick," Ripley says, digging her feet into the ground. "Was it?" She's asking Mal, whose heart speeds up. What does she say to that?
"It wasn't a trick," Mal agrees, and Molly seems resigned at this point. She stops trying to drag Ripley away, at any rate.
"Are you a magician or something?" Molly's eyes are wary, and Mal can't blame her. People don't appear out of nowhere. They just don't.
"No," Mal says. "Look, I don't really know what's going on any better than you do. I'm a time traveler, and I'm trying to get home is all. Where are we?"
"A time traveler!" Ripley looks ecstatic. This is hands-down Mal's favorite thing about having weird powers. "Cool!"
Molly shakes her head doubtfully. "Ludington Park, just outside of Independence, which is a city in Oregon. Is that helpful?"
Mal nods. She's heard of Ludington Park. It isn't too far away from her neighborhood. Ripley is bouncing up and down, excitement shining through her face.
"Where were you just now?" Ripley asks, and Molly starts to say something before apparently thinking better of it.
"By my best guess, I was in the Industrial Revolution," Mal says, and Molly looks up sharply.
"Oh!" Ripley says. "We're learning about that in school!"
"Fun," Mal says. "Okay, I should probably start heading home. Nice talking to you, though."
"Yeah!" Ripley says. "Wow, a real time-traveler. Molly, you should totally ask her something! You're always reading those big books about history."
A dull flush starts to creep up Molly's neck. "You heard her, Ripley. She needs to get home." To Mal, she adds, "Thanks. Sorry for bothering you."
"It's okay," Mal says. "I like it. Hey, if you do want to ask me something, I'm probably not the expert, but I've been in a lot of time periods. Maybe I could provide some useful information." She probably can't, seeing as she doesn't even know when she is half the time, but it's probably good for a time-traveler to have at least one historian friend.
Plus, Molly's really cute.
"I'll keep you in mind," Molly mutters, sounding like she'd dearly like to get out of there. "Ripley, Jen's probably getting worried. We should go."
Ripley looks disappointed, but allows Molly to drag her away. "Bye, time traveler!" she calls over her shoulder.
Mal can't help but smile. It almost makes getting arrested worth it.
Ripley skips over a crack in the sidewalk, landing neatly on the other side. "Was it really polluted there? Ms. Alderman says it was super polluted."
Mal racks her brains. "Pretty polluted, yeah. Some factories and stuff. There was like, coal dust in the air or something. It was hard to breathe."
Molly's stayed fairly quiet ever since Ripley found out that they were heading the same direction as Mal. Ripley was thrilled, of course, prepared to bombard Mal with questions, but Mal can't for the life of her figure out what Molly's thinking.
"Cool," Ripley says. "What did you do there?"
"I got arrested," Mal admits.
Ripley's eyes pop. "Why?"
Mal shrugs one shoulder. "I don't really know. Some police officer thought I wasn't following some new child labor law or something? I was just trying to blend in."
Molly mumbles something under her breath, and Mal frowns.
"What was that?" she asks, and Molly ducks her head, flushed.
"Er," Molly says, "I was asking if you were in 1938."
Mal tilts her head back, considering. "I wouldn't know," she says, "but it is possible."
"Because," Molly says all in a rush, like the words are tripping to leave her mouth, "1938 was when a new child labor law was enacted across America to make the minimum working age sixteen, and if it was a new law, that's probably what it was. It was the first law that would have prevented you from working, at least during school hours, and you could have gotten caught because of that. So, yeah. 1938."
Mal must look surprised, because Ripley says in a conspiratorial whisper, "Told you she reads giant history books all the time."
"Yeah," Mal finds herself saying. "Yeah, I think it was 1938. That's smart. I never actually know when I am, and it's such a pain to try to guess what I should be doing."
Molly nods and looks down quickly, and for a moment there's silence save for the shuffling of feet.
Then Ripley says, "You guys know that you have to be friends now, right?"
Molly laughs, sounding a little nervous, and Mal shoots her a confident smile.
"Sounds good to me," Mal says, and Molly's resulting grin is answer enough.
"I have the phone number of a super cute girl," Mal says into the receiver. She's lying on her bed, attempting to smooth out the covers with her feet.
April whoops loudly, and Mal laughs, instinctively covering her blush with one hand.
"From what time period?" April asks.
"I'm rolling my eyes so hard right now," Mal informs her, "and I'll have you know that she's from this one." When she closes her eyes she can still see Molly's red, red face and the crisply folded square of notebook paper. She's going to remember that moment forever, she decides. Even if it was just a friendly thing.
"You go, girl," April says, sounding nothing short of delighted. "Did you woo her with your tales of daring? Dramatically retell your many, many arrests?"
Mal rolls her eyes again, but doesn't say so. "Kind of. She's a massive history nerd. And cute. Did I mention cute? She's so, so cute."
"You mentioned cute," April says. "Tell me her name already! I must meet her. Jo and I have to hold a conference."
"You better not," Mal mutters. "And her name's Molly."
"Cute," April says appreciatively. "And it goes with yours really well. Mally is going to be the next big thing."
"Aw, jeez!" Mal shouts, hoping she doesn't sound like she wrote that very word in the margins of her English notes, because she absolutely did not, no way. "Chill with the ship names, April."
"I'm so happy for you," April says, tone suddenly completely serious.
"Thanks," Mal says. She bites her lip, looking down at her socks. Molly's shining eyes sweep through her head again, and she smiles through her blush.
"So," Molly says, "where have you been? Er, when have you been?"
Mal leans against the bed. "All over, really. Always in this general area, and it's always really hard to tell, but I think I've been in the mid-1800's a few times, and everywhere in the 1900's, and I've been caught up in what I think was the Revolutionary War, all the battles look the same to me, honestly, and I've been even earlier than that, before Christopher Columbus came and slaughtered all those Native Americans."
"Just America?" Molly asks, and Mal nods, flexing her finger together.
"I always end up around here," she says. "I don't travel through space and time."
"Right," Molly says, showing one of her smiles that always makes Mal feel like she's just been let in on a great secret. "Anybody can travel through space. You have to be special."
"You know me," Mal says, and Molly doesn't, not really, and Mal doesn't know her either. But in that moment, laughing and talking, they feel like old friends.
"Is Ripley your sister?" Mal asks when the laughter dies down.
"Nope," Molly says. "I'm an only child. I was just babysitting. Ripley's really sweet, and I love watching her for an afternoon or so."
"You mentioned someone named Jen," Mal says, hoping she doesn't sound like she's desperately grasping at any knowledge she can gain about Molly. "Who is she?"
"Oh yeah. It's actually pretty complicated. Jen and her family have been friends with Ripley's family for as long as anyone can remember, so Jen usually babysits Ripley and Ripley's many, many siblings, but she had some function thing to go to so I took over." Molly takes a breath, smiling. "See, I told you it's complicated."
Mal laughs. "Sounds like it." This is what she wants, she decides. She wants to hang out with Molly and joke around with Molly and see Molly smile more.
She is infinitely glad for Ripley's cheerful personality and fascination with time travelers. She is infinitely glad that her house happened to be in the same direction as wherever Molly and Ripley were headed. She can't imagine an alternate universe where something went slightly different and she never got to sit here, laughing, with Molly.
It's hard to think that something as awful and complicated as time travel could help her meet someone as amazing as Molly.
Mal arrives at the movie theater with shaky hands and sweat prickling her back. The lines are so hazy at the moment, she honestly can't tell if this is a date or just a friendly outing.
Calm down, a voice scolds her. It sounds kind of like Jo. Even if it isn't a date, it'll be fun to spend time with Molly. You've been wanting to see this movie since it came out. You're going to have a great time.
Mal spots a flash of blonde hair in the crowd and smiles, raising an arm in greeting. Molly sees her and jogs over.
Just don't let her know how much you want it to be a date, the Jo-voice finishes, and Mal twists her arms behind her back. That's going to be the hard part, she can already tell.
"Hey, Mal!" Molly says, slightly out of breath. "Ready to go in?"
Mal nods, unable to speak. Her entire world, at this moment, is Molly. Molly, with her messy braid and shining eyes and desire to see the new Avengers movie.
Molly grabs her hand and Mal just about implodes. Is she doing this on purpose? She hopes her hand isn't too sweaty, but she doesn't dare pull away to wipe it on her pants.
This is a date. It has to be.
When Molly asks why Mal is smiling so hard, Mal says that she's excited for the movie.
"I thought her character could have gotten a much better arc," Molly says, swirling her milkshake with her straw. "I bet a lot of girls and women identified with her, but she barely did anything on-screen and then died in the first battle. It's ridiculous and pointless."
The fluorescent lighting is angled weirdly, casting a sort of halo around Molly's head. Mal focuses on the counter, picking at the plastic with one fingernail.
"Yeah," she says. She could listen to Molly talk about this all night. "It wasn't even a good death. She didn't get a heroic sacrifice, it didn't further the plot. It was just stupid."
"I know, right!" Molly exclaims, then flushes and lowers her voice as the people in the booth beside them shoot her a pointed look. "She's too good of a fighter to get taken down by a lucky shot."
"Three years of vigorous training," Mal says. The milkshake lies abandoned, melty and half-full. "Tossed away like they were nothing."
Molly nods, and they lapse into silence. Mal doesn't know how they ended up in this diner. She didn't even know their town had 80's diners, but Molly said she knew a good place and neither of them wanted to end the date there (if it even was a date) so here they are, sharing a milkshake under the buzzing lights of Seafarin' Karen's Seafood, which apparently serves a lot more than seafood.
"What time is it?" Molly leans forward to check the clock partially obscured by the biggest coffee machine Mal's ever seen. "Oh jeez. It's late."
"Do you have to go?" Mal asks. Her mom's pretty cool about curfew, especially since it's Saturday.
Molly nods. "My parents will be mad enough as it is. I had a great time, though. We should do it again."
"Yeah!" Mal says, probably a little too enthusiastically. "I mean, can I walk you home?"
"How proper of you," Molly says, but she's smiling. "All right."
Mal swings her legs over the cracked-leather stool and lands on her feet. "Lead the way, m'lady."
"Don't mind if I do," Molly says, pushing the door open. "I mean, certainly, my gallant adventurer."
The warm air hits Mal like a blast, and she smiles up to the star-strewn sky. She loves summer, loves the warmth and the adventures and the long, lazy days.
It's quiet outside, the only noise coming from countless invisible crickets. They don't dare break the tranquility, so they walk, hand in hand, down the sidewalk. It's peaceful and nice, just enjoying each other's company, and Mal finds herself wishing that it didn't have to end, that the walk could stretch on forever.
You've got it bad, the Jo-voice informs her, like she didn't already know that.
"Have you ever been someplace with no light pollution?" Molly asks, gazing at the sky. "All the stars, hundreds and hundreds of them, shining so brightly and beautifully."
"Oh yeah," Mal says. "The fifteen hundreds suck for a lot of reasons, but that isn't one of them."
Molly smiles. "I keep forgetting that you're a time traveler. Is that weird?"
"No," Mal says. "I mean, yeah, okay, it's kind of weird. But magic isn't always so up in your face, you know? It's easy to forget."
"You talk about magic so casually," Molly says. "It's not fantasy to you. It's your entire life."
"Yeah," Mal says. She's always felt a little uncomfortable labeling it as magic, even though that's what it is. Maybe she just thought that she can pretend that it's not super weird, that there's a little bit of logic behind it.
"This is my street," Molly says, and they turn up it, dragging their feet against the asphalt.
It's going to end, Mal thinks. I don't want it to end.
And then, as if heeding her request, a familiar warmth starts to grow in the pit of her stomach.
"Shit," she says, and Molly turns, startled.
"What-?" she starts to say, and Mal opens her mouth to explain, but everything is blurry and tinged with gold, and then the ground falls out from under their feet.
They land on grass- soft and green, lit by the faint glow of the moon. Mal pops to her feet immediately, offering Molly a hand, but Molly stays, a slow realization spreading across her face.
"I'm so sorry," Mal blurts. She screwed up, she screwed up. "I didn't know- you were holding my hand- I swear, I usually have more warning, I was gonna tell you-."
Molly cuts her off. "Mal-."
Mal keeps talking. Her cheeks burn with shame. "I didn't mean to bring you here, and now we might be in danger, and-."
"Mal," Molly says, louder this time. "It's okay. Really. I know it was an accident, and this is probably the most interesting thing that's ever going to happen to me, so stop apologizing for it."
Mal draws a heavy breath, releasing it slowly. It's okay. Molly's okay, they're gonna be fine.
She drops down next to Molly. The landscape is unfamiliar, dotted with weird plants and geography. There isn't a building in sight, which is weird. Nothing but an endless horizon, stretching on forever.
"Have you been here before?" Molly asks, and her voice has taken on a tone that's almost businesslike.
"No," Mal says. "I tend to not get repeats. Weird plants, though."
Molly leans in, brushing the feeler of one of the plants. "I have no idea what this is. Jen used to teach me everything she could about plants, but we never touched on this."
"Molly, I think we're really far back," Mal says, glancing around. There's a pavilion not far, with towering columns, which strikes Mal as kind of odd. They're not in Ancient Greece, at least not if this travel followed the normal rules, and it was ages before that kind of style came to these parts of America.
Molly sees the pavilion too, and seems equally confused. She chews on her lower lip, which is kind of massively adorable but really not what Mal should be focusing on.
"Let's see," Molly says. "I don't recognize the plants or the columns. This is weird, Mal."
Before Mal has time to say that yeah, it's weird, they're all weird, my life is one big ball of weirdness, Molly is pushing her way through the plants to get to the pavilion. Mal shrugs and follows her, batting the big leaves out of her way.
Molly sinks onto the stone, fingers pressing hard against it. "Huh. The floor's made of stone, but it looks like it was made using lime mortars, which were predominantly used in medieval times. The columns, however, are made of Roman cement, which was invented in Ancient Rome . . . the time periods don't add up at all."
Mal blinks. She's never been able to tell that much about a time period in the first few minutes. Not for the first time, she finds herself glad that Molly came along for the ride.
Molly catches Mal's eye and ducks her head, flushed. "Sorry," she mumbles. "I'm rambling. Bottom line is, I'm confused."
"Welcome to the club," Mal says, settling down next to Molly. "And hey, don't apologize. It's great that you know all this. I could not be more ignorant about the time periods I visit. It's a miracle I haven't been killed yet."
Molly smiles, a deep blush spreading across her cheeks. "I guess I just really like history."
"That's really cool," Mal says. "Useful too, especially in a situation like this."
"I guess," Molly says. Her fingers run over the cracks in the stone. Mal watches them, mesmerized. "I've never really- I mean, I love that you think it's cool. Not- not a lot of people do."
"What?" Mal snaps her head up, outraged. "Molly, it's super cool. You've got a passion, and you know so much about it. Who wouldn't think that's amazing?"
Molly shrugs halfheartedly. "Um- my parents, my teachers . . ." she trails off, reddening deeper. It occurs to Mal that she probably didn't mean to mention it at all.
"Molly," Mal leans forward and places a hand on Molly's knee before she can talk herself out of it. "It's amazing. Don't ever let anyone tell you different."
"Thanks," Molly says, but her voice is so quiet that she's almost mouthing the word. "I guess my parents don't much like anything I do,"
Mal can't believe that anyone wouldn't like Molly. It's impossible not to like Molly. "Don't worry about them, okay? You can make your own decisions. I love that you love history, and I bet Ripley and Jen do too. You have allies, Molly."
"I have friends," Molly says, and she's smiling again, thank goodness. "I have the best friends in the world."
"Wait 'till you meet April and Jo," Mal says. "They'll love you."
"I look forward to it," Molly says. With a start, Mal realizes that her hand is still on Molly's knee. Face reddening, she removes it quickly.
Molly's attention is elsewhere, though. She's gazing up at the sky. "The stars are beautiful," she says.
Mal glances up automatically. They are, and there are more of them than Mal's ever seen. They cluster together, and it's hard to imagine that they're actually millions of light years apart.
"Yeah," she says. "Hey, we were just talking about stars, weren't we?"
"We were," Molly says. "Maybe your powers recognized a desire to see more stars and took us to a place where we could see more stars."
Mal laughs. "You're talking about my power like it's a sentient being," she says.
"It could be. Do you know for sure that it's not?"
Mal leans against one crumbly column. "I guess not. I don't know anything, really."
"That's okay," Molly whispers, and they're holding hands again, and Mal doesn't know who instigated it, only that she never wants to let go.
Mal stands up, pulling Molly to her feet. "May I have this dance?"
Molly laughs. There are galaxies in her eyes, shining bright. "There's no music."
"We can make our own," Mal says, and okay, that's a little cheesy, but it works.
Hand in hand, they dance through the ancient pavilion, sheltered by a dome of stars.
Mal wakes to the smell of rain, fresh and sharp in the air, and a sort of snuffling noise.
"Molly?" she asks sleepily, rolling over. The stone is hard and cold, biting into her back. God, they were here all night. Never has Mal stayed in a time period overnight.
She sits up, blinking sleep from her eyes. Her mom is probably worried sick.
All thoughts of that are immediately driven from her head, however, as she comes face to face with slitted amber eyes.
She scrambles backward. A dinosaur. A freaking dinosaur. It can't be much bigger than she is, and it looks more curious than hungry, but still. It's a dinosaur.
"Molly!" The word comes out like a hiss. She shakes Molly's shoulders, careful not to turn her back to the rex. "Do you know anything about dinosaurs?"
Molly stirs. "Huh- Mal?" she asks sleepily, eyes opening slowly. "Were we here all night?"
"Molly, dinosaurs," Mal whispers, and suddenly Molly's awake and wide-eyed.
"What?" she says. "No. Impossible. This structure was clearly built by a human!"
"I don't know!" Mal says. "But there is a dinosaur and we should have been running for our lives about ten minutes ago!"
"This makes no sense!" Molly says, running a hand through her disheveled hair. "Meeting a time traveler in the park is fine, being spirited off to some weird Wonderland is a-okay, but I refuse to accept this! I draw the line at dinosaurs, Mal!"
"We need to run," Mal insists, yanking Molly to her feet, and they do, tearing through the plants and grasping each other's' hands the whole way.
Eventually they stop, when Mal feels like her lungs have ignited somewhere along the way, and they collapse behind a bush, panting hard.
"I- I think we lost it," Mal gasps, clutching her sides.
"That pavilion cannot exist at the same time as dinosaurs," Molly says. "It just- it can't."
"Well it does," Mal says. "Jeez, I don't know, okay? I've never understood how any of this works. I've wanted to, sure, but there's no use. It's just all a mystery, and if I don't accept that, I'm going to drive myself crazy. I can't think about it anymore. I can't."
Molly is quiet for a moment. Mal feels the weight of their hands settling together, interlocking like puzzle pieces, but she doesn't look down.
"I'm sorry," Molly whispers. "If- if I die here, if I get mauled by a dinosaur, I'm glad I'm with you."
Mal swallows. Her throat is dry, and she realizes how long it's been since she's eaten or drank anything. "You're not going to die," she says. "Neither of us is." The words hang, hollow, in the air.
There are tears pricking at Molly's eyes, and Mal inhales sharply.
"Don't cry," she says, voice close to a whisper. "Don't- hey." She reaches up, wiping away the tears with the pad of her thumb. "It's okay."
"It's okay," Molly agrees with a watery sort of laugh. "It's okay, it's okay."
Mal wraps her arms around her, feeling Molly shake, almost imperceptibly. She closes her eyes, and holds Molly tight as the warmth comes and swallows them up in a rush of gold.
A thin coating of dust covers the photographs, as if protecting them from wandering eyes. Mal is careful not to disturb it as she picks each one up and sets it in its box. She holds each one for a long time, examining it.
She and Molly are in almost every one. Holding hands, kissing, just sitting and laughing together, enjoying each other's company. There's a great one of them at a pride parade, marching behind April and Jo, with Ripley bouncing behind them.
There are artifacts too, weathered by time. Twin acceptance letters to the University of California-Berkeley, laminated by an enthusiastic Mal once she figured out that they could go to college together. A stapled booklet of letters they sent to each other during that endlessly long summer they spent in different countries when they were sixteen. A fat history book, most pages darkened by coffee spills, that they used to pore over. Little coins and trinkets that Mal brought back from different time periods.
It's like a time capsule, really, evidence of nearly six years of dating. Mal's personal favorite is the glossy photo of them arm-in-arm, fourteen years old and having met only recently. She'll have to show that one to Molly.
As if called, Molly's voice drifts up the stairs. "You almost done up there?"
Mal seals the last box. "Yeah. I'm coming."
Molly's waiting, basket in hands, at the door. She laughs when she sees Mal, who reflexively reaches up to make sure she doesn't have a cobweb in her hair.
"Someone had to get you out of that dusty old attic," she says, offering an arm that Mal gladly takes. "Put those boxes down. I don't even want to think about the move for the next hour, capiche?"
Mal smiles teasingly. "Visiting the post office," she says, voice low. "Actually buying a mop. Taking on the disaster of the closet."
"Stop!" Molly shrieks. She bats at Mal's chest, laughing. "Be good, or no brownies."
"Brownies?" Mal gazes at the basket with interest.
"Ripley made them," Molly says, "and it took her ages because she kept eating the batter. So you'd better be good."
"I'll be an angel," Mal promises, and with that, they set out.
Their destination becomes obvious when the big sign comes into view, and Mal can't help but laugh. "Ludington Park? Really?"
"Hey," Molly says. "This is kind of a big spot for us, remember?"
"Of course I do," Mal says, mock-offended. "Hey, is that the tree?"
Molly sets down the basket and starts unfolding the blanket. "Yup. This is the exact spot that you appeared out of nowhere six years ago, scaring the living daylights out of me, I might add."
Mal leans against the tree, smiling. "Six years . . . wow, that was so long ago."
"Seems like yesterday," Molly says. "Maybe it was. I swear the timeline gets all screwy whenever I'm even around you."
"Probably," Mal says. "Now, have I been good enough to get a brownie?"
A mischievous smile plays across Molly's lips. "Come and get it."
Adulthood is for idiots, anyway, Mal thinks as she lunges at Molly and they playfully grapple for a few minutes. Molly wins, like always (she is so freaking badass that Mal really doesn't mind) and they end up kissing, like always, with Mal pinned against the tree.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spots her eleven-year-old self gaping at them, and she smiles into Molly's lips.
AN: I hate history and Wikipedia is my friend.