FIC: A World Apart; James x Christine
FANDOM: Out of Time
WORD COUNT: 2,456
WARNINGS: Completely un-beta'ed, as this would give the impression that I am way more srs about this than I want to be. Just...have fun with it.
SUMMARY: The sun was disappearing and against it he saw her silhouetted, a vision, not an angel yet not quite human to him. She was something rather otherworldly that had fixed and broken his life in a cycle of time and space.
He first attempted Time Travel when he was 29 years old. Fresh off of his Ph.D in History from Cambridge, he wanted to go to the Elizabethan era to see a Shakespearian play. After that, Prague after the Velvet Revolution. He never really liked to stay for very long in one place; he loved history, but it also made him too contemplative. He was tired of being world weary.
He met her in 1926 in a speakeasy. He thought her thoroughly American at the time. She was fresh. She loved crowds. Her hair barely nipped at her shoulders and she drank way too much. He remembered approaching her inside the club because he was timid but enthralled. Tomorrow he would be gone anyway. The lack of familiarity that Time had afforded him made him bolder. Identity was a nuisance.
He discovered soon just how restless she was. After spending all night together in a dingy hotel room, she caught a peak of his modern garb in the only travel bag he carried with him. He tried to stammer out an excuse on the spot, but he didn’t have to. She touched the inside of his wrist and pulled the clothes into her lap.
“I’m from when you are…I think. Perhaps…yes,” she said nervously.
She was sitting on the edge of the bed looking up at him. Her eyes had glazed over and as she gripped the inside of his wrist he could feel his pulse heighten. She glanced up at him; that airy demeanor she had maintained all through the evening had begun to slip. For the first time, funnily enough, he realized he didn’t even know her name or who she was. But he felt he knew everything he needed to know.
Maybe identity mattered a little bit, he had thought.
She asked him to take her with him, wherever he went. Whatever he wanted to do, whatever he wanted to see. She would go. Her robe was slipping off her shoulder and she glanced upward at him, her eyes emitting all the strength and weakness of wanderlust, a poor lost soul dying for an adventure. He had never planned on having a travel companion, but she was beautiful and she was holding on to his wrist with such a fragile tenacity that he swayed forward into her. He knew she had a life story.
They left for Istanbul two hours later.
It was easy to lose track of time during constant travel. Was it Christmas, back in 2050? Maybe early June. It was why he couldn’t tell how many weeks it had been before she finally told him her name. They were in Mombasa in 2010 and as they sat in a café she told him her name was Christine. He loved her but he didn’t believe her. She had said it with that façade she toyed with, the light personality of someone who was discussing the weather or current events. But it wasn’t the point. Her name didn’t matter. She was antagonistic and thrilling. She was danger in how comfortably exhilarated he felt in her company. He knew nothing of her past and she knew nothing of his. She was a warm mark on the futility of his memory and he was the careful compliance to her frivolity of nature. They carried no baggage, no claims. It was just winter in Canada, a summer in Egypt. India was nice in May. The Great Wall of China was daunting in its physical beauty in that August of 1998. She always accused him of wallowing in historical fact while he told her that sometimes she needed to take adventure just a bit more seriously. Respect the culture, he had told her. She rolled her eyes and lightly thumped him on the back with a small, gentle fist. He kissed her scowl and they went to bed.
As he sat in the hotel bar, London 2012, he fiddled with the watch on his wrist. He didn’t know how many years it had been. At least a couple, he surmised. He only knew it had been 36 seasons. He had seen more snow in the time he’d been traveling than he had in the previous 29 years of his life.
The window behind him allowed the dwindling sun to shine on his neck. He gulped down his drink quickly; it slid down with the ease of temptation. He put his hand to his head and rubbed his temples.
The next Pick-Up was in half an hour. He had told her goodbye on the stairwell as she dashed to the room to pick up her things, worried she’d be late. They had acquired more luggage during the time past. They had started out with so little and now they carried more. Sometimes they felt the need to pick up relics along the way.
He had told her 2012 would be a nice change for them both. After the disaster that was New York in 1970, they decided to take an extended break in Scotland where they could figure things out. She was indecisive and drinking a lot, more than usual. Trying to get her to talk about her feelings was a slippery slope that always ended in the same fall of gravity. There was screaming—on the street, in a taxi, a hotel lobby, in a dusty carriage in 1912 Oxfordshire. But Scotland was supposed to be different. They stayed in Shepherd’s Cottage in Carbost; the trees were sparse and the snow on the ground was melting. He was washing up one night and he walked into the bedroom to see her curled up in a fetal position, sobbing. Her white nightgown infantilized her even more and it was the first time he truly realized that he didn’t know anything about the woman he loved the most in the world.
He didn’t know what to do. She had cried before, but never so soberly. Her spine rippled under her nightgown and her pale skin shimmered like darkened glass. Her back was towards him. Carefully, he gently pressed his weight down into the bed and snuck a tired hand around her small waist. He had expected her to reject him, but instead she curled into his hesitant embrace and turned off the lamp.
In the cold silence of the foreign space, she asked him, “Are we ever going home?”
The sad truth is that he didn’t know what that meant anymore. Home. Where was home for her? Where was it for him?
He pressed a kiss to her hair and whispered into her ear, “Only if you want to.”
Now, London in 2012 was a lot closer to present time for both of them. It was partially why he had suggested it. Maybe it would comfort her. But she wouldn’t even tell him if it did.
He felt more challenged now. The intellectual side of his mind told him that it was time to settle somewhere—for awhile at least. For the first time, he began to reflect on the reason why he had decided being a “tourist” was a good choice in the first place. He had wanted to see history, which was what he had told himself. But looking back, he understood it in his heart to be a lie and he didn’t know what he running from. Was he running from the same nightmare she was? Did they see no future in their lives, so they decided to return to the past? They needed stability, but she was not a stationery soul. Meanwhile he had an urge to exercise his freedom, but with the hesitancy of a frightened animal.
He was remembering now. In Paris of 1968 he had proposed to her on the Eiffel Tower. It was a spur of the moment gesture and utterly cliché, but it felt right. She had said yes enthusiastically, but for reasons unclear to him, they never spoke of it after that. He had brought up their pending nuptials a couple of days later where they lied together on clean white linen, but she distractedly walked out on to the balcony of their stay room and began chattering about how exciting Parisian life was.
He looked at his watch again as he ordered another drink. 20 more minutes. The Pick-Up was due to arrive soon and he was lost in heady despair, slightly drunk while his fiancée was getting ready to depart without him. His heart thumped tenderly in his chest for a split second, his brain grew cloudy and surreal senses overpowered his rational nature. He slid some change on the table and walked out of the bar.
The Pick-Up Point was on the hotel roof, and the elevator was out of order. He felt slightly dizzy as the drink clashed with the turns of the spiral stairs that he dashed up. He couldn’t tell if time was moving slow or it was just him. Time usually moved faster than this and when he needed it, it failed him. Alas, he pushed open the roof door and scattered his eyes for her, trying to seek out her pink dress in the small crowd. Other tourists stood around, some couples, some singles. The sun was disappearing and against it he saw her silhouetted, a vision, not an angel yet not quite human to him. She was something rather otherworldly that had fixed and broken his life in a cycle of time and space. As he saw her in the near distance, it was suddenly 1926 again and her hair was bobbed and she was laughing. They were stumbling up to that dingy hotel room in a passionate frenzy and he had never felt so alive in the 29 years of his life. But then it was Istanbul and Mombasa and South Africa and Buenos Aires and their brief detour into Leninist Russia and Paris in 1968 and he grew soft. He told himself that he knew her. That he knew the most important parts of her. He knew how she liked her coffee and what she smelled like in the morning. He knew that she disliked sad stories and that her dream was to see a live Schubert, so they had gone to Austria. Trancelike, he walked over to her. His fingers rattled and perspiration dampened his hair. He always felt such a mess in the presence of her refinement. She was dappled by the sunlight yet tinged by the shadow of tall skyscrapers. She held two bags in one hand and her travel card in the other. Her lipstick was smudged.
“What are you doing here?” she asked quietly.
“I don’t actually know. I just, I had to see you…again,” he bumbled. She shuffled her feet impatiently.
“I leave in four minutes,” she said, not as a warning, but as a sorrowful statement.
“I know.” He took her hand that held her travel card and ran his rough finger tips against her palm. “I thought about asking you to stay…but I don’t think that’s what you want.”
She wasn’t looking at him. She was distant. The wind rustled her hair.
“I don’t really think it’s what either of us want,” she said defeatedly.
“I want it.”
“No, you don’t,” she said with soft firmness.
He swayed on his feet slightly. The alcohol was dimming. “Look, I know it’s been hard. Believe me I know…”
She began to cry. “Hey,” he murmured. She glanced towards him, and he softly cupped her face in his hands.
“It can be better. We can go to Paris. I’ll come with you right now. We can go wherever you want, whenever you want. It doesn’t matter to me,” he said frantically. “I just…what I need is you. All of you. I don’t care about anything else. I thought London would be good for us but it doesn’t matter. Just take me. I’ll go,” he begged.
She was staring straight into his eyes, their browns were swimming with unshed tears. She smiled softly as she put her hand on top of his where it rested under her jawline. “I know you would,” she affirmed gracefully. “And that’s why I have to go.”
His eyes were damp. He glanced at his feet as his hands fell from her face. Everything felt as though it was built on a hollow ground. He looked up back up at her softly smiling features. He knew.
“You’re not going really going to Paris, are you?”
She let out a gentle laugh and wiped her eyes. “No…I’m not.”
“You won’t even tell me where?”
She stopped for a second before she slid into his space and put a hand to his cheek. Her eyes were truth.
“I love you. Know that. Know that…we had our moment.”
He closed his eyes softly as an unbidden tear leaked down his cheek. She sucked in a breath.
“But I have to go now.”
He opened his eyes as a sob escaped his mouth. She swayed forward and her lips met his. She tasted like wine and salt as he took her bottom lip, bringing his hands up to her cheeks as he held her to his lifetime for just a moment longer.
She pulled away, her mouth a gap as she stuffed her cries down under her acceptance. They were just bodies of blood, blips in space, wrinkles in time at the infinitesimal level as their hearts pounded and their experiences shrank. Who they were and where they were going, he realized, never really mattered. But it did to him, and that was enough to keep him satisfied.
He put his hand to her waist. “Can you…can you at least tell me your real name?”
She smiled. “To you, I’m Christine. And it’s how you’ll remember me.”
She kissed his cheek before she walked away. His eyes couldn’t follow her. He sucked in his chest and let out a sigh. Identity didn’t really matter. Identity was a nuisance. Christine.
He closed his eyes as the tourists boarded the Pick-Up Point. His hand balled into a fist as his breathing patterns formed synchronized rhythms. He whispered to himself various saved truths. He loved her. It would be okay. They had their moment. Love is a moment. Her name is Christine.
He knew it would take him some time to accept himself, to gather their time and stick it into a box in the attic, only to be revisited nostalgically during special moments. The relics in the box would remind him of who he was. Remind him that she was right. It couldn’t be fixed. How could they move forward if they were always regressing?
You can’t keep onward when you dwell in the past.