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Acid and Honey

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Anna Loring looks like an angel. This is Ray’s actual first thought the first time he sees her and the laughter in her eyes and the smile on her lips.

She’s genuine. She’s beautiful.

She’s everything.

That last bit isn’t one of his first thoughts when he sees her, because he’s not that overemotional, not a proponent of love at first sight. Love at first sight seems kind of boring to him anyway. Falling in love is a nice thing, a thing that should happen gradually, a thing that should be savored.

But he does think, after the first time he talks to Anna, rambles to her about his work and also Arthurian lore and somehow doesn’t drive her away even though he’s not even sure she knows how rich he is, that he could fall in love with her pretty easily.

She even asks him questions about the things he talks about, doesn’t just zone out or nod politely until he notices how bored she is, even though after a while he does realize, with a pang of guilt, that he’s been talking about his own stuff for a long time, and he asks her, with stilted words but genuine interest, “So, what about you? What do you do? Or like? Seriously, I want to know everything.”

She smiles, and she has the absolute prettiest smile in the actual universe, and she talks to him about the M.A. she’s working towards in Psychology, and her love of old movies, and the fact that she’s a singer too, and when he asks her if she’d like to get lunch the next day, she grins and says, “It’s a date.”

All in all, it’s really successful, for a spur-of-the-moment coffee not-date with a woman he met at a used bookshop in Keystone.

Ray hits it off with a lot of people, or at least he can, for a while, because he’s nice, and rich, but Anna’s special. He can tell.

On their first real date, she mentions that she Googled him, and she didn’t know he was the CEO of Palmer Technologies. He asks her if it intimidates her, if he should’ve told her, even if he thought she already knew, since, well, lots of people around here know who he is.

She chuckles. “Don’t give yourself so much credit,” she says. “You’re not that important.”

Ray wonders if he should feel hurt at her words, if that was an insult, but he brushes it off and laughs instead, because she’s amused, she’s laughing too. “You’re right.”

She smiles. “But you must be really smart to have a company so young. I mean, I could already tell you were smart, but…anyway. I like smart guys.”

He beams. “Well, that is something that I am.”

She reaches across the table and takes his hand, and he swears he feels it go pleasantly numb with something like static electricity. “I don’t have a great track record with men, Ray. But I think this could be the start of something really, really…nice.”

He feels like he’s floating, like he’s crawled up onto cloud nine and is cuddled up with Anna there. He lets out a nervous laugh, because their conversation has been seventy percent laughter, and says, “Me too.”

Ray’s been broken up with five times since he was sixteen, is what his brother calls a serial monogamist because he falls too hard and fast, but this doesn’t feel like falling. It just feels like hope. Like a million possibilities.

Anna squeezes his hand, and kisses him after he walks her home.

+

Ray and Anna, what a cute power couple, always laughing, dancing, singing.

They’re so perfect for each other. I’m so glad Ray found someone, you know how much of a handful he can be.

Don’t ever let her go. You won’t find another girl like her.

Anna has the patience of a saint to deal with that boy.

Do you see the way he looks at her? Like she’s the only person in the world. I hope a man looks at me like that one day…

Hey, have you seen Ray lately? He hasn’t been to Trivia Night in forever. We’re suffering without him.

He says it’s date night.

It’s always fucking date night.

C’mon, Palmer, you had a great time last time we went out! I haven’t seen you in forever.

It’s just that…I don’t know, last time I ended up getting home so late, and I was kinda drunk, and Anna got…mad.

Man, you’re so whipped. I don’t know why I even try anymore.

Y’know, the other day I walked in on Dr. Palmer exercising in his office because I had to get those papers to him—

You sure you didn’t just wanna see him shirtless?

Shut up! But anyway, he was shirtless…

You have the weirdest boss, Stacy.

No, but that’s not the weird part! He had all these cuts and bruises on his arms, and he had this huge bruise on his stomach.

…Maybe it was an exercise mishap? He’s clumsy sometimes, right?

Yeah. Probably. It’s just, he’s been acting off lately. Shut up, he’s weird, not crazy. But he panics when he loses track of time and stays late, and his girlfriend’s always calling him, and he never goes out with anyone anymore, and he has those bruises sometimes, and the other day he flinched when I tried to fix his tie.

So, what, you’re saying your boss’s girlfriend is…

I know it’s ridiculous, but…the bruises I saw kind of looked like the kind you get when, like…you put your arms up to protect your face. Like he got something broken on him. That’s fucked up, right?

Yeah, but…there’s nothing you can do about it, Stacy, and…you’re probably wrong, right? There’s gotta be a million other explanations. I mean, the guy’s six foot four and built like a superhero.

You’re right.

She’s so sweet to him, and so pretty…can you think of a more attractive power couple? When those two have kids, they’re gonna take over the world.

They’re so cute together.

So devoted to each other.

They balance each other out.

They’re perfect for each other.

+

Ray is working on his suit in the lab, because he loves working on the suit, and also it may have broken a tiny bit the other day when they were fighting that idiot Xither, whose name sounds like a terrible instrument, and Ray is not the kind of person who makes fun of names, usually, but Xither broke his suit and Ray’s so not cool with that. Though now that he’s fixing it, he thinks he can improve the gauntlet that broke so that it won’t break anymore, which means Xither actually did him a favor.

Ha, what a dummy.

A dummy who was a pretty accomplished thief as well as a time traveler and caused a couple of annoying aberrations that they managed to fix pretty easily, but a dummy nonetheless.

They’d finally caught him in Victorian England, and he’s in the brig now, getting transferred back to the 22nd century jail he’d somehow managed to escape from. Len was surprised by that, actually, insisting that the man was not smart enough to escape jail, and what the hell kind of jails did they have in the 22nd century?

Xither was a piece of cake to stop, though, overall, even though he kept trying to get into their heads by pointing out things they already knew about each other.

Like, oooh, Sara was an assassin! Len and Mick did pretty awful things back in the day! No kidding. Those are things anyone with some basic intel could know, and Ray’s not sure where Xither got the intel, but he does have a theory, and it’s actually pretty sweet.

It’s that it’s a genuine possibility that by the time Xither lives in, they’re actually known to history, and that’s why Xither had any information on them at all.

Really, it seems like he’s mostly just been trying to mess with them. Well, actually, he’s definitely trying to mess with them. He even said so.

An assassin, some criminals, a couple of nerds who don’t really know what they’re doing with their powers, some woman who doesn’t even belong here, a failed Time Master…come on. Why wouldn’t I mess with you?

In the end, the man’s just a bully.

When Ray thinks that, he feels an uncomfortable pang in his stomach, because he was trying not to, but now his stupid brain has gone and remembered what Xither said when Ray was locking him in the brig, after Ray told him that.

“Maybe I am just a bully, but it doesn’t mean I can’t hurt you. You know, when I was trying to dig up some information on you all, just to see what I was up against, you understand, I found something very, very interesting about you, Ray. Something that I’d bet no one else knows.”

Ray’s just confused at that, because he knows he’s interesting, but he can’t really think about anything that would be interesting to a jerk. He was kidnapped by Darhk, that one time, but everyone knows that. He’s sort of dead—everyone knows that too.

“I thought it’d be smartest to do some digging on you, see. You seem so cheerful, so sweet. I bet your team doesn’t even know you have a dark side.”

“A dark side?” Ray repeats. “I don’t…” Well, he has nightmares, and panic attacks occasionally, and meltdowns every once in a while, and, okay, maybe he has a few issues, but so does everyone. And he’s sure his dark side is nothing compared to everyone else’s.

“Or, rather, a dark past.”

“What? Of course they know I have a dark past! We all have dark pasts! It’s one of the things that, y’know, unites us!”

“What about Anna?”

The words leave Ray frozen. “What?”

“Anna.”

“Anna…they know about Anna, of course they do…” Ray says, trying to keep his voice steady.

“But do they know what she was like?”

Ray feels anger and something dangerously like panic simmering under his skin, and he steps forward, even though he’s less stupid than he was once upon a time, and knows he’s not going to accidentally break Xither out by letting his anger get the best of him. He’s not even an angry person, and Anna’s an old wound. He’s over Anna. As long as he doesn’t think about her too much—her hands on his skin, in his hair, her lips on his, her nails digging into his arms, his back, her eyes lit up with passion, her face soft with affection, her words honey-sweet and soothing or sharp and poisonous, burning like acid—he’s fine. She’s still part of him, of course she is, the memories, the guilt, and he still wants to make her proud, but she’s gone, she’s been gone for a long time, now, and all that’s really left are the feelings, the memories, the scars…

But do they know what she was like?

She was perfect for him, he wants to say, but instead he asks, “How would you know?”

There’s something shaky in his voice that he hates, as if there’s something to hide, as if there’s something to know that he doesn’t want anyone to know, which there’s not. He just keeps the memories of her close to his chest, is all. To cherish them.

“I have my ways,” Xither says smugly. “And when your teammates find out, well…I’m sure they’ll be less than impressed with how weak you are. I’m sure you don’t remember how you put my team in jail, Palmer, but I’m just thrilled I’ll be able to break your team in retaliation.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ray says numbly, because Anna can’t break the team apart. She’s not even here anymore. And there’s no way Xither could’ve found out about Anna’s dark side.

Besides, if his team found out—and they won’t, they won’t—they wouldn’t leave him. They wouldn’t think he was weak. Ray’s not weak. Not anymore. Not useless. Not anymore. Anna spurred him to be less useless, to show her that he could be someone stronger than he was.

She loved him. She helped him. She died, and he didn’t, and no matter what, he loved her and she loved him and they were perfect for each other, because she stayed right until the bitter end and it was his fault. She had to leave him and it was his fault.

Everything was always his fault.

“Anna was perfect,” Ray tells Xither. “And no one will believe you if you say anything different.”

Xither snorts. “I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

Ray draws himself up to his full height and knows that with Anna, the good meant so much more than the bad, and anyway: “I don’t believe you.”

He storms out of the brig.

Xither’s laughter follows him.

+

Anna is perfect. She’s so perfect that she doesn’t even mind that Ray isn’t. That Ray’s social skills are terrible and he can never sleep through the night and he gets way too wrapped up in his work.

And well, obviously no one’s perfect, Ray might be exaggerating a little—Anna laughs too loud in the movie theater and can’t cook and has a bit of a temper and procrastinates way too much—but she’s close enough. She stays with him. She always stays with him. Even when she gets so mad she ends up staying at a hotel, she comes back, and she promises she always will. She loves him for him, not for his money. Sure, she likes that he’s rich, but she actually buys him flowers when she feels like being romantic, like he couldn’t buy her an entire field, and tells him that even if he weren’t rich, even if he lost it all, she’d stay. She’d stay with him because she cares so much. Because she’s willing to be with him despite all his flaws.

Ray’s so, so lucky, and there’s no way he’s letting her go. They have so much fun together, going on vacation, going on picnics, going to movies, to plays, to concerts, and she’s always very patient with him when he gets overwhelmed.

(Mostly.

Sometimes it annoys her, but Ray understands. He annoys himself sometimes too, and he knows it’s embarrassing when he starts getting agitated in public.)

She acts as a buffer when it comes to socializing, tells him not to worry too much about it because she knows what she’s doing, he just has to trust her, helps him be more useful as a CEO and not just an inventor, and in return he does everything he can to make her happy. To make her proud of him. To make her smile and kiss him and say she can’t believe he did it, but he’s full of surprises.

His heart and soul are hers. He feels good with her.

She helps him be useful, because at least there’s one person in the world who wants him, who loves him more than anything, who supports him. Most people just want to be around him for his money, to manipulate him, and he always falls for it because he can’t quite wrap his head around the idea—if someone is nice to him, they’re nice to him—but Anna always knows. She protects him.

All she asks in return is for him to be attentive. To be a good boyfriend. To be devoted to her.

It’s not a sacrifice.

Anna sticks around. His other friends don’t, they just drift away when he gets too busy with work, with her. “Fair weather friends,” she says. “People like you always make them. But it’s okay! I’ll be with you through everything, as long as you’re good to me.”

“Always, Anna. Always.”

It takes Ray what seems like a million years to choose the perfect engagement ring, because it has to be perfect for Anna. He can’t risk her being unhappy with something so important. Sometimes his gifts aren’t very thoughtful, and he has to think of what she likes before what he likes.

But in the end it’s pretty easy, because Anna looks up engagement rings on one of his laptops when he’s not home, and leaves a page open to the one he assumes she wants, because he can take a hint.

He’s a little frustrated that it’s not going to be a surprise—that none of this is going to be a surprise—but she’s just being helpful.

And the engagement is still beautiful, or mostly beautiful: he gets down on one knee, and he might stumble a little over his Anna Loring, you are perfect for me. Will you marry me?, but she says yes, her eyes shining with happy tears, and the kiss that they share afterwards reassures Ray that for once, he’s done something perfectly.

+

They’re having a good day. It’s just after a really bad day, so Anna’s being extra nice, and Ray’s enjoying it, since they get to go to his favorite restaurant even though Anna doesn’t like it. They’re chatting idly about the Cheers reruns they watched the other night, since neither of them could sleep. Ray got to pick the channel. Anna usually prefers crime procedurals to sitcoms. She didn’t roll her eyes or complain or anything, though, just snuggled into him and kissed the blossoming bruise on his cheek.

They’re walking through their favorite park when the pretty flowers, the blue sky, her hand in his, drip away into a dark night, only illuminated by street lamps.

There are bones sticking out of his leg, bloody and sharp and he can see the skin starting to rot away, leaving nothing but bones, and that’s enough to make his breath hitch with agony and his eyes spill over with tears, but it’s not everything, it’s not even close to everything, because he hears Anna scream.

Anna’s so strong. She usually doesn’t scream, she shouldn’t be screaming, Ray has to help her, he has to help her, she’s pushed up against the wall by one of the men invading his city, their city, and Ray has to help her, this is the most important thing he’s ever done, but there’s fireworks in his vision because he can’t move without pain and he tries to drag himself over to her but it happens so fast, it happens so fast and then she’s there on the ground next to him, face streaked with tears and make-up, and her eyes are open wide and they’re blank, and Ray can’t stop crying, can’t stop saying her name, trying to get her to be with him again, because she said she’d never leave, and now she’s gone and it’s all on him.

Because all he did was watch. All he could do was watch. He was too weak to save her.

Never again, never, never, never—

Anna, Anna, Anna, please…

“Ray? Raymond!”

Someone’s shaking him awake and Ray shrieks in surprised fear, bolting upright in his bed, drenched with cold sweat, heart beating far too fast, breath caught in his chest, Anna’s name on his lips, I promise I’ll be better, I promise, Anna, please don’t go, I didn’t mean to—

Nate manages to reel back before Ray knocks their heads together.

“You were having a nightmare,” he explains, face lined with worry.

“Oh,” Ray says in response, eyes watering, heart hurting, breath still coming in and out too fast. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry, dude,” Nate says, sitting on the foot of Ray’s bed. “It just looked pretty bad. Wanna talk about it?”

Ray shrugs, looking down at his lap. He tries to be honest. “No.”

Nate sighs. “Okay, look, I’m too tired to argue with you right now, but if you want to talk, you know where to find me.”

But Ray can’t. He can’t talk about what he’s seen. He definitely can’t talk about Anna. Their relationship was way too complicated for anyone to understand, and he keeps thinking about what Xither (who doesn’t know how she was, can’t know how she was) said about how the others would think he was weak, because he was weak, too weak to protect her, but they know that.

(Too weak to stand up for himself.

Don’t think about it.

He was just agreeable.

Always be agreeable, and they’ll like you.)

He gives Nate a shaky smile, and Nate gives him a sad smile back and squeezes his knee. “Night, Ray.”

“Night,” he whispers, and watches Nate leave.

(He’s used to people leaving by now.

He wishes he could reach out, ask Nate to stay, but he doesn’t.

He knows he’s clingy, and he doesn’t want to be too clingy. Doesn’t want to drive Nate, who is one of his best friends now, away.

He might’ve been clingy with Anna, but she was a special case.

Not many people would be quite so patient.

Ray hates it when people lose their patience with him.)

+

Xither isn’t a tech genius, but he’s from the 22nd century, and anyone from the 22nd century is a tech genius in the 21st.

He chooses Ray Palmer to dig some dirt up on because no one is that cheerful. No one is that happy-go-lucky. Especially after what he’s been through.

Xither knows he’s going to end up in jail--no big deal, he’s used to the place--but he would like to have some kind of last hurrah before heading back.

Shattering Palmer’s Little Mr. Perfect image seems like just the thing.

Xither knows he’ll find something. The first thing he does is sift through security camera footage of the living room of the ostentatious apartment the man lived in with his fiancée. He doesn’t expect to find anything as quickly as he does, but lo and behold, it only takes a few minutes to find something that is sure to change everything about Palmer’s relationship with his team.

Maybe even ruin it.

Xither’s doing a public service, really. The Legends ought to know who exactly they’re working with. Ought to know the whole story.

Will it change history? Maybe, maybe not. Probably not. He mostly just thinks the footage is rather funny, and he’s a nice guy—he wants to share the joke.

Unfortunately, the Legends are more competent than he expected them to be so early in their adventures. This means that, though he manages to fit the video chip containing the footage into the holographic projector on the bridge while the AI is down, that is all he is able to do before getting caught and dragged to the brig.

That is, of course, deeply disappointing, as it means he can’t be there to watch the recording, but at least the chip is in there.

That’s enough, as Xither’s sure that the Legends will be far too curious about what he might have wanted to show them to simply throw it away, which means, if all goes well, the footage will not go unwatched.

And maybe its effect won’t be so catastrophic as to change history, but it’ll certainly be enough to humiliate Ray Palmer, so Xither thinks it’s worth it.

If all goes well.

Xither decides, as he is transferred back to prison, that it will.

For his own peace of mind.

(He never finds out, but—he’s right. Sort of.)

+

“Captain,” Gideon says with mild indignation, “My holographic projector has been tampered with. There is a video chip that should not be there.”

Her words draw most of the others in from their places in the kitchen (time jumps make people hungry), excepting Ray, who Nate has informed them is “tired and needs his sleep”, because Nate’s appointed himself Ray’s unofficial guard dog, which…okay. Sure. Ray gets into plenty of trouble, maybe he needs one.

“Huh, that must’ve been what Xither was doing in here when we found him,” Jax says, crouching down in what’s probably an attempt to remove the chip. “Is it dangerous?”

“My sensors detect no danger. I believe that the chip will do nothing but play the video and then be essentially useless.”

“Why the hell…?”

“I do not know what his goal was.”

Jax rolls his eyes. “Why are all our bad guys total losers lately anyway?”

“Well, it’s better than their being legitimate threats,” Martin points out, and for once Jax concedes his point.

“You learning how to always look on the bright side from Raymond, Professor?” Len drawls, smirking.

Martin shrugs with great dignity. “Not always—only when it’s appropriate.”

“Maybe we can just play the video and be done with it,” Nate suggests. “I mean, if it’s just gonna fry after.”

“You’re curious, aren’t you?” Sara asks dryly.

“Aren’t you?”

Sara shrugs, and turns on the holographic projector.

It looks like security footage from a few years ago, if the timestamp on the bottom of the recording is correct, showing off what looks like the living room, or something to that effect, of a truly, ridiculously extravagant apartment. There’s a huge TV, a couch that Sara’s sure is made from something so expensive she’s never heard of it, a grand piano, a couple of enormous windows, an unnecessary fireplace…it looks like the kind of place Len and Mick would happily rob.

…After disabling the security cameras, which were apparently really, really close-up and high definition, since this recording, blown up like it is, makes it pretty easy to see everything, from the gaudy golden detail on the windowpanes to the displeased face of the woman sitting on the couch.

She’s pretty, with brown hair, light eyes, and delicate features, and she’s dressed in very nice clothes, like she’s planning to go out somewhere, or was planning to go out somewhere.

Sara thinks she recognizes her, but can’t quite figure out why.

Martin does, though. “Anna?”

Sara raises her eyebrows. “Anna? Ray’s fiancée, Anna?” The one he mentions once in a blue moon? That Anna?

“I believe so,” Martin says, frowning at the projector just as, in the recording, the door opens and shuts.

Ray is grinning when he enters the ridiculous apartment, but the grin falters when he sees Anna sitting on the couch, looking at him with eyes that are blazing with barely contained fury.

There's an explosion coming.

She stands up with the grace of a lioness, and stalks towards Ray. "Forget something?"

Ray's eyes are wide and he's not smiling anymore. "I..." he starts, but he doesn't say anything after that, opting to fidget with his tie instead. He looks scared, Sara thinks uncomfortably, and not 'shit, my girlfriend's about to lay into me' scared—more like 'shit, I set her off and now I'm fucked, I desperately want to leave but I don’t feel like I can’ scared.

Turn this off, she wants to say. It's personal.

She doesn't say a damn thing.

"The anniversary dinner you were so excited about!" Anna snarls. "Our reservation was an hour ago!"

Ray's eyes go wide. "Oh, no," he says weakly. "Oh, Anna, I'm so sorry. I'll make it up to—”

He doesn't get to finish the sentence before the palm of Anna's hand connects with his face, hard.

Nate gasps, and both Martin and Jax start.

On the screen, Ray goes completely quiet, blinking rapidly in what’s clearly an attempt to keep from crying.

"Forgetting isn't okay! Especially not about me! You have to put in your part! I'm not the only one in this relationship! You know what, maybe I should get a hotel room for the night, since you don’t seem to notice when I’m not around,” Anna hisses, and Ray’s reaction is straight-up panicked as he starts to cry in earnest, shaking his head desperately.

"No, no, I promise I'll be better, don't leave me alone, Anna."

Anna raises an eyebrow, crossing her arms over her chest as she pretends to think it over. "You promise? You promise lots of things, Ray."

"No, I really, really promise. We'll reschedule! Just please don't leave, I don't wanna sleep alone, please, Anna, I love you, I didn't mean it, I just got so distracted—”

Anna slaps him again, and Ray stops, putting his hand to his cheek, wounded. "Don't make excuses," she says, fisting a hand in his hair and pulling hard, jerking his head down so he's eye level with her even though she must be a good five inches shorter.

And eye level or not, he’s looking anywhere but at her. "Don't be a baby," Anna scolds. "Look me in the eye." She pulls on his hair again, and he grits his teeth in pain and, with a lot of effort, looks right at Anna. "Don't. Make. Excuses," she says, enunciating clearly. "I know you're stupid about these things, but you should really understand that by now. You always do this, Ray. You try to make excuses, and it frustrates me, and I end up doing this." She lets go of his hair, and he breathes a sigh of relief as he straightens his neck.

He rubs at it as he mumbles, "That's an excuse too."

You go, Ray, Sara thinks fiercely, tense with rage. Call the bitch out.

On the footage, Anna's face goes from soft to hard in seconds, and Ray's eyes widen in panic.

"What'd you say to me?"

"Nothing, nothing," Ray babbles, stumbling over his words. "I didn't mean to, I'm sorry, it just came out, it just seems a little hypocritical, sometimes, just a tiny bit, when you, you tell me not to make excuses but then you use stuff like that as an excuse to hurt me."

"Are you calling me manipulative?" Anna asks in a low, dangerous voice.

He is, obviously, but he shakes his head and says, with feeling, "No, no, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that, I'm sorry, Anna, I know I screwed up."

Anna knocks him upside the head with a closed fist, this time, right on the temple, and Ray closes his watering eyes and rubs at his head.

"You're useless," Anna snaps. "All you do is fuck up. No wonder I'm the only one who'll put up with you."

Still holding his hand to his head, Ray tries for a weak smile. "Patience of a saint," he says.

Anna softens at that and brings her hand up to his red face, something like regret flickering in her eyes when Ray flinches. "I'm sorry, darling," she whispers, and Ray relaxes completely, as if he knows the worst is over, as if he doesn’t care that she hit him five seconds ago, just because he knows she’s not going to hit him again. She wraps her arms around him, and he hugs back hard. "I'm sorry I do this, you just frustrate me, and sometimes I feel like this is the only way I can get through to you."

Ray rests his chin on Anna's head. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, darling,” Anna whispers. "It's okay. I forgive you. It's not your fault you're like this."

Ray doesn't respond, just reluctantly lets her break the hug and lead him to the couch, sitting him down next to her. He leans his head on her shoulder, and—

The security footage shorts out and leaves them all staring. Sara wants to break something, but Mick, who wanders over to the kitchen and puts his fist through a cabinet, beats her to it.

She scans everyone's faces. Len's hands are fists and his teeth are grinding hard. Martin looks shocked and worried, and Jax's eyes are full of wrenching compassion and restrained anger. Nate looks devastated, eyes shining. Amaya's arms are around her stomach like she feels sick. Rip is just staring with his mouth half open and his eyes wide.

"We should not have watched that," Nate says numbly. "Shit. We should not have seen that."

No one responds, though he's right.

"That was a bad moment," someone—Ray, fuck, Ray, how did Sara not notice him, how did nobody notice him, aren’t they supposed to be more observant than this?says weakly from his place at the doorway, stumbling over his words as everyone looks at him in panic. "She usually didn't hit me, and I knew she was going to stay, even when she went to a hotel, it just upset me for a little while, and she always felt really bad about it."

"And then she was nice to you for a few days, so nice you forgot how awful she could be, and then it all started over, the little digs, the yelling, and then she'd hit you and then she'd feel so bad again, and you knew she loved you and you didn't want her to leave, so it just went on and on..." Leonard drawls, voice dripping with malice. "Cut the crap, Raymond. Everyone knows the cycle."

"She was perfect for me," Ray says in a pleading voice. "She was."

"She hit you!" Nate finally bursts out, full of righteous indignation.

That’s when Ray snaps, stomping his foot and yelling, “She stuck around! That's more than I can say for anyone else!"

Silence washes over the room, and Ray's eyes are desperate and Sara wants to say, I know. Sara wants to say, It's fine. Sara wants to say something to fix this, but she doesn't. Instead she bites out, "Then I'm glad she died, or you would never have left."

Everyone looks at her in horror, and the shock in Ray’s eyes is giving way to hurt anger, and great, Sara fucked up even more. She bets she's not the only one who isn't quite as sorry that Anna's gone as they were before, but maybe that's speaking a little too ill of the dead, even if the dead probably abused her boyfriend for years.

"You can't say that," Ray says, voice strangled.

“You’re right,” Sara says tightly. “Sorry.”

“We loved each other,” Ray says softly, voice pleading. “We really did. And I know it looks bad, but it wasn’t usually like that. She just got mad sometimes. But she was always there for me, she was the only person who loved me for me and not my money.”

“Oh, did she tell you that?” Leonard sneers.

“Well…yeah, but she was always right. She wanted me even when no one else did, and that was…it was enough to ignore the bad moments.”

“Oh, Raymond…” Martin says, voice dripping with sympathy, and Ray recoils.

“Don’t say that like you feel bad for me! We were happy together!” At the dubious looks everyone gives him, his face crumples and he shakes his head. “You don’t get it.”

He leaves the room. No one calls after him.

No one knows what to say.

“What do we do?” Nate finally asks the room at large.

“We can’t do anything,” Sara says after a beat. “She’s gone, he’s over her.”

“Okay, yeah, maybe he is,” Nate says. “…But he just saw that! No one would be okay after watching themselves star in a domestic abuse PSA without the hotline number at the end!”

“Besides, how much do we know about Raymond anyway?” Leonard points out, crossing his arms.

Jax bristles. “This doesn’t change anything! He’s Ray! We just know something new about him now! Big deal!”

“It doesn’t seem like a small deal,” Amaya says, backing Leonard up for once.

Sara shakes her head. “Come on. Jax is right. Turns out this was part of Ray’s life, but what does it change? Why are we acting like we even expected him to tell us this in the first place?”

“Cool your jets,” Leonard says dryly. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with not telling us. I’m just wondering exactly how much damage he’s hiding.”

“And if it could be detrimental to the team,” Amaya adds on.

Leonard shoots her a glare. “No. That is not a thing that I was wondering.”

“I just wish he didn’t defend her like that,” Nate mutters, and Sara shrugs.

“He’s not the kind of guy who speaks ill of the dead.”

Mick grunts in agreement. “Still fucked up.”

Jax sighs, and agrees. “Still fucked up.”

“I just always assumed he and Anna had a charmed relationship,” Martin admits. “He became the Atom because of her, after all.”

Mick shrugs. “He couldn’t save her, and he says he loved her. That’s enough for someone like Haircut.”

It’s true.

“We shouldn’t be talking about this,” Nate announces. “Like, we really shouldn’t be. It’s his life. Nothing’s changed.”

He sounds like he’s trying to convince himself. He convinces nobody. Sara still says, with finality, “You’re right.”

The team scatters, and Sara sits down in her chair and sighs heavily, because Nate’s not right. Something’s changed.

Maybe it’s just that they have to face it, she has to face it: everyone here is fucked up.

Really fucked up.

And no one’s sure what to do about it, or if they should do anything about it, except—

Ray’s past isn’t going to compromise the team’s well-being, but pretending that what they just saw hasn’t shaken them all up, and that everything’s fine and dandy? That will.

God, and there’s the resurgence of that feeling Sara’s always getting that they would probably be a better team if they actually communicated with each other.

Sara covers her face and groans. Fuck. She hates not knowing what to do.

+

Ray is locked in his room, arms around his knees and body safely tucked into the far edge of his bed where it meets the wall. He feels like he’s been here for days, but it’s probably only been about one. Everyone’s been knocking on his door, trying to get him to talk to them, telling him they’re worried. Even Len and Mick have knocked and said look, if you need to talk…

Nate’s beside himself with worry, Ray can hear the anxiety clear in his voice as he says no one’s judging you.

Everyone says that.

But Ray knows things are different now, and he’s not good with change, and he doesn’t know exactly how they’re going to be different now, can’t predict it, so he’s locked in his room and he’s not coming out, even if he wants to, even if he wants someone to just—hug him, or tell him it’s going to be okay, or be with him. Because he’s not sure if it’s going to be okay, and he doesn’t want to talk about it or think about it.

Anna could always comfort him when he was like this, even if she was the reason he was like this, but he doesn’t want her right now. He wants Kendra.

She was good and kind and she could always make him feel better when he was sad or freaked out. She’d lie down next to him and let him wrap himself around her like a starfish, and when she upset him she said sorry and meant it, and when he upset her she talked to him about it and helped him understand why and she never, never hit him and she didn’t ask too many questions either and…

He wishes Kendra were here now, because it was good with Kendra. She came after the guilt about being able to love someone who wasn’t Anna faded, and when he was with her, he didn’t even think of Anna that much, just held on tight to Kendra, who was everything, and it seemed like it could really work out, for a while, after being left in the fifties, but then it didn’t and his heart broke again, even before she left him for Carter, because he knew that in the real world, he wouldn’t be enough for her.

He still wishes Kendra were here now, and that nobody knew about Anna.

Ray is thumping the back of his head against the wall, just a motion to keep him grounded even if he doesn't feel grounded at all, more like he's floating in space. Really the reason he comes back from the dark place he’s gone in his head at all is Gideon, when her polite voice says, "Dr. Palmer, as I am partially responsible for the well-being of those on this ship, I would appreciate if you would be so kind as to cease hitting your head and perhaps redirect your self-stimulating behaviors to something less likely to cause yourself harm."

Ray blinks and says, "Okay."

He's a very agreeable person, and Gideon's measured voice is asking something pretty simple from him.

Still making his way through outer space, he goes to his little work desk and takes up the smaller blaster he's been building as an emergency replacement for the ones on his actual suit if they get screwed up in the field, replacing a couple of gears that are making it clunkier than it needs to be.

His hands shake as he handles his smallest screwdriver, and eventually it's so bad that he can't do anything, throwing his work down on his desk in disgust.

He's tired, he guesses. He doesn't like sleeping. He has nightmares, especially when he sleeps alone. He's had nightmares since forever, since he was a little kid. He used to crawl into bed with his parents until they told him he was too big, and then he'd sleep with Sydney until Sydney went to boarding school pretty much permanently and came back with nothing but contempt for Ray.

By the time Ray had no one to sleep with, he was fourteen, and he just got used to it, worked himself until he passed out and it took too much energy to have nightmares.

Anna used to sing him back to sleep when he had nightmares, which happened less and less with her in his bed, someone in his bed, finally. She had a beautiful voice, had studied at Juilliard and then taught at Tisch and then at the Starling City Conservatory, beloved by all her students.

She used to sing him "You Are My Sunshine", the Johnny Cash version, and he'd never really listened to the lyrics, he'd just felt them, and it had been his, but when he looked it up later, it made his hands sweat and his breath come too fast and he still doesn't know why.

In all my dreams, dear, you seem to leave me, so when I awake my poor heart pains, so when you come back, and make me happy, I'll forgive you, dear, I'll take all the blame...

She'd called it his song, and that verse—I’ll forgive you, dear, I’ll take all the blame—had always felt like a suggestion to him, one he always took, and maybe that wasn’t a good thing.

Last time he heard that song in its entirety, it had been 1959 and Johnny Cash hadn't been singing it and he'd been with Kendra and when that verse came along, it had made him feel very cold.

His nightmares had been about Anna, that night, but not her death.

He’d been alone and then she’d come into his room and she’d smiled and said terrible things in a sweet voice and every breath she took sucked the oxygen out of the room until he couldn’t breathe, and when he’d woken up to Kendra’s alarmed voice, he’d flinched away from her touch, and the next time Kendra had been angry at him, he’d kept his distance, because she was even stronger than Anna.

It had taken him a while to push Anna away again, her ghost still in his heart and the wiring in his brain but out of his mind, out of his memory.

It’s so much easier to not think of her, these days, but when he does think about her, he sticks to the good things and her death, because she’s still dead and it was still his fault and it makes it so much harder to admit, makes it impossible to admit, that maybe, maybe she wasn’t perfect.

(Maybe she was abusive.)

He just can’t go there.

So he always focuses on the good parts and decides that the bad parts, the ones that have settled in his soul, don’t exist, and then he lets her ghost disappear—don’t think of her, she’s a wonderful memory, she’s the reason you do what you do, she was perfect, don’t think about her too hard, move on, or at least move away.

He loved her more than he’s loved anyone, ever, or maybe just in a different way than he’s loved anyone.

She was everything, even though sometimes he still wishes things had been different, just like he used to wish things were different back then.

That things were simpler.

That there was no need to consider her dark side, because she didn’t have one.

And Anna was right: she was the only one for him.

Felicity left for someone better.

Kendra left for someone better.

There will always be someone better. There probably even was a better man for Anna, but she loved Ray enough to not look for that someone, loved him enough to see past his flaws, except now she is a flaw, and that’s a terrible thing to think, but he can’t stop thinking about the terrible things.

Her dark side.

He was doing so well before, ignoring the imperfect parts, telling himself that it didn’t hurt that much anyway, that maybe it did at the time, a little, but it doesn’t anymore, so it doesn’t count.

Never speak ill of the dead.

Never think ill of the dead.

There’s always a silver lining.

Anna was enough. Anna stayed. Anna made him feel safe, except for how she was the only person who could really, really scare him, because she had complete control over him and he thought it was supposed to be like that, but eventually he figured out it wasn’t and now he’s wondering if maybe the reason he doesn’t want to think about her is because Ray would rather have his perfect long lost love than reality.

Because he watched that footage and he saw, for the first time, something bad.

Something really bad.

Something he couldn’t excuse, or at least something he can’t excuse anymore.

Maybe it was seeing it up close, way after the fact, and having to remember that that was a scene that played out at that apartment what feels like a million times, but not being able to very quickly stomp down the flicker of memory trying to point out that yes, that happened.

It happened, it was part of their relationship, and their relationship is part of him, and so maybe that is part of him too.

And she wasn’t there to talk him out of thinking that way. No one was.

Even when the Pilgrim made it so that they had to bring her onto the ship, he was still intoxicated by her, because she was nice at that moment and he always forgot that she could be mean.

Or at the very least he always let that knowledge slip away, even when he hurt from something she’d said or done, even when he flinched away from a touch because he didn’t want to get hit, even when his hands started sweating when he smelled her perfume, even when the thought of making her angry made him nearly numb with terror, even when he had nothing on his mind but getting her to stay, even when he never knew how she was going to be today, even when he actually felt happy once she was done taking out her anger on him because he knew she’d feel bad and be the dream of a person he knew she actually was, at least for a while.

Those little rocky moments really weren’t important to him, not at all, not then, because she was there and she was the only person who would ever love him and she was perfect.

She was perfect, with her beautiful face and her beautiful voice and her loving smile and the way she held him and the way she indulged him and the way she helped him when he didn’t know what to do and the way she said she loved him. The way she said she’d love him forever as long as he treated her well. She said there was no one else for her, even if he wasn’t good enough for her, and he was too in love to consider that strange.

Without her, he was nothing.

Without her, he is nothing.

But he’s not nothing, and those rocky moments are starting to feel a little more important than he’s ever let them feel before, because he’s not nothing.

He’s not nothing, or at least he doesn’t think he is. He’s a Legend.

Sure, he’s never enough, but that’s different from being nothing, and he doesn’t know what to do about it, about Anna being wrong, because she never was before, and there’s part of him that still knows it.

(He’s pretty incompetent, in the end. More useless than not. Clingy and desperate. Stupid, never mind that he’s a genius, because he has terrible social skills, because he’s too childish, because he’s too impulsive, because he’s wrong in the head.

And when she said no one who wasn’t her would ever love him enough to stay, she wasn’t wrong.)

He didn’t ever want to think that she wasn’t good for him, but now he keeps wondering if maybe he’s been in denial or something, and if maybe he should do something about that, but he’s not sure, because it hasn’t been that long since everyone saw the footage anyway, and maybe he’s blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Maybe nothing’s changed. Maybe he’s right, and they were perfect for each other.

Ray lives in epiphanies and existential crises, and he’s trying to figure out if this is just a transient emotional eureka moment or if it’s a thing that’s not going to pass quite so easily, if it’s a thing he should actually face.

If it’s a thing at all.

He doesn’t know.

Then again, it might be out of his hands. He might not have a choice but to face it, considering what the others saw. On the Waverider, everyone ignores their problems, but not always each other’s problems, and what they saw was pretty damning, and Ray doesn’t know how to talk about it or how to handle anyone else, and he really is afraid that they think he’s weak now, that they’re not going to want him around anymore, that they’re going to be weird around him forever.

Something’s changed. He knows something’s changed. If he’d seen that happen to any one of his teammates, he’d think something’s changed.

He doesn’t want to deal with that.

But he’s on a timeship with them, and he’s going to have to eventually leave his room, and he’s going to have to talk about it, probably, and he’s not sure how to actually communicate with everyone else without dying of awkwardness, but—

There’s someone on this ship who always knows what to do, and very, very suddenly, Ray wants to talk about this with someone, anyone, and she’s the first person his mind goes to, and...

Maybe the wanting to talk about it is one of those impulses he should get over.

When it was happening, he never talked to anyone about it.

When it ended, he didn’t talk to anyone about it either, holding the reality of Anna close to his chest, completely unable to accept that the reality wasn’t always great.

He still isn’t sure he’s ever going to be able to do that, because Anna really was perfect for him, and if she wasn’t, if he just thinks that because it’s what she always told him, then…what can he do about it?

She’s gone, and he doesn’t know how to handle all the things he’s feeling, and Ray asks Gideon where Sara is, and Gideon tells him, and he ducks through the halls, keeping an eye out for anyone else, afraid of pity or anger or disgust, not ready to face them.

He can’t be scared anymore, though, and the truth is that he doesn’t actually think they’re going to leave him. He just doesn’t anymore, because he’s changed.

Anna’s closer than she’s been in so much time, and it just makes it more and more obvious that he’s changed, but the feelings he’s having scare him and make him think that maybe, maybe he’s actually that same scared, cowed young man that he saw in the video.

Because they were perfect together, and he’d convinced himself of that, and now he’s not sure if it’s true anymore and it’s making his entire world feel tilted and wrong, and her ghost feels more malevolent than it ever has.

He’s at the door to the library, and his Captain is there, pacing, and he doesn’t know what to do anymore and needs someone to tell him.

Or maybe he just needs to talk, and he doesn’t know who else to talk to, even though they’ve all offered, because Sara was the one who said then I’m glad she’s dead, and those words have been ringing in Ray’s ears since he first heard them, and he knows he’ll have to talk to everyone, but at least he can choose who he talks to first.

Sara knows he’s there, he can see it in the way her shoulders tense, and a part of him wants to just walk away, go back to his room and crawl under the covers and never come out, but the impulsive part takes over, so instead of walking away, he speaks.

+

“I was relieved,” Ray blurts out from where he’s been hovering at the door, and Sara looks up in surprise. She knew he was there, but she honestly thought he’d wander away. It’s only been a couple of days, and she’s not sure how willing he is to talk to her. She thought he’d talk to Nate first.

She lets out a long breath. “What are you talking about?”

“When…” Ray’s eyes are shining and his breaths are shuddering. “When…”

“You don’t have to tell me about it,” Sara says, and she knows she shouldn’t coddle him, knows she shouldn’t give him an easy out, but she does anyway, because her heart hurts too much to push.

It doesn’t matter anyway, because Ray is stronger than she thinks he is, and he says, “No. I want to tell you about it. I need to tell someone about it and I think you’ll understand and you won’t, you won’t…judge, right?”

Sara frowns. “Of course not, Ray.” She slowly walks towards him, more hesitant than she wants to be. “When were you relieved?”

“When Anna died,” Ray says, nearly whispering.

“Oh,” Sara says numbly. She should’ve figured that one out earlier.

Ray’s face crumples, and Sara realizes that that’s not the reaction he wanted, that to him it probably looks like horror, not sympathy. “No!” she says, too loud. She lowers her voice when he flinches and then looks frustrated by it. “It’s okay, Ray.”

“It was the worst feeling,” he says, words spilling out like they’ve been held inside too, too long. “There was the guilt and the grief and the guilt, again, and there was relief and that was the worst part. I really did love her, and she didn’t hurt me that much, not like with Len and his dad, but.” He takes a shaky breath and says, in a whisper this time, one so quiet Sara would have to strain to hear if she weren’t so used to the quiet, “…I was at her funeral service and everyone was talking about her and giving their condolences and suddenly there was a part of me that thought, well, at least she’ll never hurt me again.”

Sara struggles to find words, opens and closes her mouth more than once, kind of hates herself for it because she has to say something. Has to make it better. This is her team. “That’s not…that’s not evil, Ray. That’s human.” (Sara knows all about the difference between evil and human.) “You might’ve loved her, but she was…a lot. And without her, you were…”

“Free,” he breathes out in a broken voice, an admission of guilt and a plea for understanding at the same time, eyes alive with fear and confusion, like he’s understanding something for the first time and really doesn’t want to.

Sara nods. “Free. It’s an emotion, Ray, you can’t stop yourself from feeling it. Trust me, I’ve tried to stop myself from feeling emotions, and it does not work.”

Ray closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, and a tear slips down his cheek, and then another, when he opens his eyes.

Sara wants to wipe them away, but her hands stay clenched into fists at her sides even though she’s not actually angry. She just doesn’t want to see him flinch away from her again.

Sara hates it when people she cares about are afraid of her.

“I still miss her sometimes,” Ray admits. “Having her. Knowing she was there for me and she’d always come back. But not enough. Sara, the truth is I never thought about breaking the rules to bring her back. I didn’t even think of it. I don’t want her to be dead. I don’t. I just…don’t want her back either.”

“You don’t have to,” Sara says. “You don’t. Just because you loved her doesn’t mean you owe her the rest of your life. It doesn’t mean you have to feel what…what you think you’re supposed to. What you think she wanted. You never owed her anything, Ray. And it’s not wrong to admit that she…wasn’t perfect.” That she was a bitch.

Ray looks away, shaking his head. “I don’t know if I can. Part of me keeps telling me that, but there’s a bigger part that doesn’t know how.”

“How long has it been since she died?” Sara asks. Sometimes it takes a long time.

"You know how sometimes it's like...you were one person the other day and now you're another and you're not sure when it happened? Like at some point you had a completely different life and it was a million years ago and it feels like a million years ago except sometimes something happens and you remember and it feels like it was yesterday, like it's still that moment where it's not your life anymore and you don't know what to do about it even though it wasn't even that great? And then you wonder when it stopped feeling like that all the time, when you actually started living again, and you're like 'when did I change, did I really change, how did I even manage to move on'? Because you also realize you're not over it, that there's still some of that other life in you but you kind of just...tried to push it away and forget all the things it did to you?" Ray asks, words disjointed and stumbling, like he's confusing himself.

Well, duh, Sara doesn't say. I literally died.

That's not an answer, Sara also doesn't say.

She can't get any words out because she gets it, in a visceral way.

Sometimes it's like it was just yesterday that she was an assassin.

Just yesterday that she died.

Just yesterday that her heart started beating again.

Just yesterday that she still had dorky bangs and thought her father was totally lame.

Just yesterday that all of those things were everything that made her, her, when she was only memories of a life that wasn't hers anymore, not knowing how to move on.

But now it's always just sometimes, never always, not anymore. Those feelings, those memories of yesterday or even now, they come as a surprise lately, because she's changed, because all of those things had to happen to make her who she is now, but who she is now is—different.

She's had longer than just yesterday to change, and she doesn't think she has nothing but the past anymore, and sometimes, yeah, she forgets that the life she lived before still means something, still makes her someone who has killed, someone who has loved and lost and still remembers that sometimes, someone who lived that life.

She nods.

"It's like that, with her," Ray says. "Like she was another life. Like my life ended when she died, and I started over, and now I'm...here and I forget how important she was. Is. Because when she died I did."

And Sara looks into Ray's big, earnest eyes and sees:

It was just yesterday that he was holding Anna and already forgetting just how cruel she could be.

Just yesterday that he was screaming as he watched her neck snap.

Just yesterday that he was lying in bed with the knowledge that she really wasn't coming back this time and wondering where do I go from here.

Just yesterday that he thought, during her funeral service, at least she'll never hurt me again, and realized that something in him had broken, without knowing that maybe it needed to break.

“And…and it’s because she was my life, Sara. She was everything because she didn’t let me have anyone else and I didn’t know I even wanted anyone else because she told me I didn’t and I always believed her, and then she was gone and everything I had and everything I was…that was gone too, and I thought I’d never move on, I thought I wasn’t…allowed. And when I started to, when I…when I kissed another woman for the first time, when I felt something for another woman for the first time, I didn’t understand how that could happen because I didn’t know I could be a person without her. I was so lonely but I knew who I was because I knew who she said I was so I didn’t even try to make friends, I just tried to keep them, I just tried to force everything and…it was like I was born again. I had to relearn how…”

“…How to be you,” Sara finishes when he trails off. “Just you.”

“But, I mean, at the same time, she still started my new life. All I ever wanted was for her to stay and be proud of me and know I’m not useless, and that’s why I made the suit, to show her I’m not useless, that I really can protect the people I love and be something, even without her.” Ray takes a deep, shaky breath, and shrugs helplessly. “But I’m just…me, and I still wonder if she was right. That I’ll never mean anything without her, because she was the only person I meant something to in the first place, and she’s still right about so many things and…” He cuts himself off and takes another breath, looks down, and says, in a pained mumble, “She’s still everything that makes me special.”

Sara shakes her head and says, fiercely, “No. She was wrong. You’re wrong. You’re not just her. Your life and your work isn’t just about her. You care, Ray, and I know you don’t do everything you do just because of her. She might’ve been the reason you finally did it, yeah, but she wasn’t the whole story, was she? Did you really only make the suit to prove something to her?”

Ray looks at her like he’s not sure of the answer, but knows it isn’t yes.

“Or did you make it so that you could protect people, including strangers, so they’d never have to go through what you did? Did you make it because you wanted to help?”

“I mean…it was…it was that too, I guess…”

“You protect the people you love, Ray. You protect everybody. I’ve never met anyone in the world who loves as much as you, or who cares as much as you. Fuck the timeline, fuck fate, fuck everyone who’s ever said you were useless without your suit or without her or whatever, everyone who’s ever thought they could just leave you behind, including me. You’re not useless. You’re not weak. You mean something to all the people you’ve helped, and there’s a lot of them. You mean something to me and to all of your friends and teammates, and we can’t promise we’ll be able to stay forever, but we will try. We won’t abandon you.”

Ray looks torn, like he’s not sure whether to believe her, and Sara steps closer and, more tentatively than she usually would, brings her hands up to cup his cheeks, using her thumbs to wipe away the tears still slowly leaking out of his eyes. He doesn’t flinch away. “We’ll try,” Sara says again. “Because we want to. Because we like you. Because you’re our teammate. And you don’t have to be anything but yourself to be special to us. You don’t have to prove yourself, because you’re enough. Take my word for it, as your Captain. I am so proud that I can say you’re part of my crew.”

Sara moves her hands down to Ray’s shoulders, and he relaxes into her touch. “You’ve gotten really good at rousing speeches, Sara,” Ray says hoarsely.

Sara snorts and shakes her head. “No, Ray, that…that was just the emotionally exhausting truth. Ask anyone here and they’ll tell you the same thing. They all want you around for you. I know they’re all acting weird, but it’s not because we think less of you. They’re just worried. They just care. Even though you’re not okay.”

“I try so hard to be okay,” Ray says.

“I know. But sometimes it’s hard. And that’s fine.”

“It’s…it’s actually…I’ve been…everyone’s been saying that, y’know? Through the door. That they’re just worried. And I’ve been starting to believe them, that they actually want me to be okay for real, that they’re willing to stick around even though I’m not perfect, that they really are here to talk, that they really were angry for me and not at me when they saw that footage and it’s not just…obligation, and…and that we’re on a timeship together.”

Sara smiles. “You’re right. And you’re not perfect. That’s fine. That’s great, actually, because if you were, you wouldn’t fit in at all, and, Ray…you fit in.”

At the words, a shaky smile starts to blossom on Ray’s face, and it feels like winter’s turning to spring. “I think I might believe you.”

Sara grins back, because his happiness, his unwavering positivity, has always been just a little bit contagious, and the ship’s felt sterile without it. “Good.”

Ray’s smile grows, and it feels like home.

Sara’s not surprised when he throws his arms around her in a hug, mostly because he always broadcasts his motions, and she doesn’t mind either. She lets him, and hugs back just as tightly.

“Thanks, Sara,” Ray says, voice half-muffled by her hair. “I’m glad you exist.”

Sara huffs out a relieved laugh, because she’s getting the feeling that things are going to be just fine. Ray may be damaged, but so’s everyone, and after this conversation, she’s thinking that he definitely has the ability to heal.

All of them do.

Time’s already begun the job, and Sara’s been thinking: maybe they’ve reached the point where they should really, actively start trying to be more than dysfunctional.

The whole mess has definitely shown her that maybe they don’t know each other that well, and that that’s kind of a problem. She hates admitting it, but she’s spent too much of her time thinking of Ray as a goofy, clingy overgrown child, and hasn’t always considered that there might be more to him, or wondered why he is how he is. Even though she always knew about Anna and how she died.

She thinks they never really consider there might be more to each other until they’re slapped in the face with the evidence, until far more damage than necessary has been done, and, honestly? That should really change.

They’re a team. They’re a family.

They need to stop underestimating each other. Surprising each other. They need to stop politely ignoring everything even remotely uncomfortable that they notice about each other.

And she still has the uncomfortable feeling that the fact that an enemy thought something like this could tear the team apart might be a problem.

Especially since Sara thinks that they can actually help each other if they just try.

So, yeah, it sucks that something like this had to happen for Sara to start thinking about team-building, but she’s going to take a page from Ray Palmer’s book and look at the positive.

Something’s changed.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Sara takes a deep breath and says, “I’m glad we exist too, Ray. I really, really am.”