He shouldn’t have done it.
Len knows he shouldn’t have, and feels almost bad about it, almost, and he doesn’t feel bad about anything anymore. Hasn’t for years, ever since he started helping Dad out at age five and got his ass kicked for asking about why stealing wasn’t wrong like they said on the TV.
He doesn’t really regret doing it, but that doesn’t change that he shouldn’t have done it.
He shouldn’t have stolen his grandfather’s books, to start with. They weren’t his to have: his grandfather would never have given it to him. Not the grandfather he spent most of his time with when he could, his father’s father, the kindly old man with the ice cream truck and the sad eyes and the deluded hope that his angry son would be content with his father and his wife and so spare his son, but the other one.
He called him grandfather, but he was Len’s mother’s uncle, since her father was long dead; the tall, stern Rav Eleazar, who smiled rarely and did not approve of Len’s mother but insisted on teaching her son Hebrew and the little scraps of Jewish faith he could fit into the one week a year he spent in Central. The one who Len worked so very hard to please, learning Hebrew even on his own time in the library. The one who, when Len read out a whole prayer by himself for the first time and beamed from the sheer pride of it, laughed softly and said, “You remind me of her.”
“Her?” Len asks.
“The Golem of the trenches,” Rav Eleazar said, and his gaze was distant and soft. “I met her in the Great War, where she stood tall among the men, with stars on her brow and truth on her tongue. She fought with honor and with love for all mankind, and walked freely through No Man’s Land where bullets could not touch her.”
It took some time for Len to put it together, the rumors and the stories and the legends, before –
“You met Wonder Woman?” he marveled. “For real?”
“Oh, yes,” Rav Eleazar says. “She is one of our own, you know – a long-wandering Jew taught her mother the tricks of it and stood by her as she formed her out of clay, wrote the shem of God in her mouth and on her brow, and now she is the guardian of mankind.”
“You met Wonder Woman! The superhero! She's a legend! Tell me about her!”
And Rav Eleazer did.
But he told his tales too well, to a growing thief like Len, because Len couldn’t help but want to know more.
So Len stole his grandfather’s oldest diary.
The one with the stories of his time in the war.
The one with the secrets.
He meant to give it back, he really did, but his mother died a few months later and his grandfather never again returned to Central.
So he carried it with him.
Carried it when his father beat him for questioning his judgment about a job.
Carried it when that job went south and his father hung it all on him.
Carried it through the trial, which no one came to watch.
Carried it to juvie, where no one stood by his side.
Carried it to the hospital, a stab wound bleeding in his side from a shiv no one was there to defend him from.
Carried it through his stay there, with indifferent nurses and doctors barely even looking at him.
Carried it back to juvie, teeth gritted and eyes burning red with hate and hurt and loneliness, to be beaten again and again and again, for the color of his skin and the tenor of his faith and even just because, until he just couldn’t take it anymore
And he pulled out that book and he went to work.
The juvie catered to both of the Gem Cities, but it was located in a far off suburb of Keystone, where the streets had all but faded to rural fields and there weren’t enough people to complain and keep the juvie out, so it was Keystone soil Len went for, thick and strong, warm between his fingers and filled with life already.
He built himself a man, big and tall and strong, with a back strong enough to take the hurts of the world.
He shaped fingers to be clever and quick, shoulders to help support him, strong legs to brace himself against any onrushing force.
For his brain, he put a scrap of lettuce from lunch, to represent growth, and stolen lighter, to represent destruction.
For his heart, Len worried at his own lip until it bled, and he spat that blood into the mud that he mixes with the last few tears he has within him.
Defend me and be by my side, he wishes, with all of his cold little heart. Be mine always.
And he carves the name of God, the shem, into his man's rib, where it will be safe, and puts the name of truth upon his brow.
And then Len sits back, fury spent, energy gone, nothing left, and closes his eyes.
Please work, he thinks.
He won’t be able to take another disappointment.
If his grandfather lied, if his grandfather’s stories were no more than stories –
It would break his heart.
A warm hand touches his elbow and Len sighs, an exhale of breath. He’d hope to escape notice long enough to complete his task, but apparently that wasn’t to be.
“Hey, kid,” a gruff voice he doesn’t recognize. “You okay?”
Len opens his eyes.
His man of clay looks back at him, open concern in his gaze.
It’s been so long since Len has seen anyone look at him kindly, look at him with concern, that he’s almost forgotten how looks.
“Hi,” Len whispers, unaccountably shy, and smiles, just a little.
And his man of clay smiles back.
Len can’t bring himself to regret that much. Michael, Len called him, named him, and the system recognized him as Michael “Mick” Rory when he followed Len back in – a boy with no family, no home, a pyromaniac whose family burned in a freak accident that he blames himself for.
Len has no idea if Mick Rory actually existed before his Mick walked back into juvie with him, and honestly, he’s too scared to look.
That’s not what he regrets.
What he regrets –
What he regrets is never having damn well explained any of this to Mick.
He should’ve done it from the start, he knows that, but he was scared. That’s explanation, not excuse; he played dumb when Mick asked him what he recalled about Mick’s past, pointed to the story the institutions gave them, avoided any reliance on proof, let Mick learn it and re-learn it until even he thought that was his real past, until he woke up at night dreaming of faces of sisters and brothers he never had.
Or maybe he did; what does Len know of golems? Maybe those dreams are of faces of other golems – Prague, Vilna, Themiscyra – far away.
Maybe Len’s been keeping that from him, too.
Fuck, Len’s fucked this one right up.
And now it’s too late.
Now Mick knows.
It was the fire that had revealed everything.
Len crafted Mick with a lighter in the center of his brain, a pulsing, beating core that thrummed with a remembrance of its love of fire, and it manifested as pyromania. Len was able to help Mick manage it well enough most of the time, but then - the job in Shreveport.
The whole room went up in a rush of flame.
Len scarcely escaped.
Mick, trapped by his love of fire, did not, and the flames consumed him.
But Mick is no mortal man, and fire cannot kill him. He is a golem, made of clay, and you know what fire does to clay?
It hardens it.
Len goes and finds those that turned the warehouse into a trap and kills them, only crumbling after the deed is done, falling to his knees and bowing his head in sorrow and regret.
That is how Mick finds him. His skin is glossy from the heat of the flames, but his face is cold.
"You knew," he says. It is not a question.
"Yes," Len whispers.
"Tell me everything."
Len tells him all of it.
Not just the beginning, born of pain and desperation and a terrible fear that no one would ever love him, but the rest of it, the sickening pangs of guilt, the growth of love, the wrench of knowing that he should speak but finding he cannot, the understanding that he betrayed Mick every day with his silence -
Mick listens, his face closed, his body uninviting.
When Len finishes, cracked open and empty, Mick says nothing.
There is nothing but silence.
Finally, Len can take it no more. "Mick," he says - more a plea than anything else - but finds his well of words has run dry. "Mick -"
"I need to think about this," Mick says, and his voice is flat and unfeeling.
Len nods, numbly. That makes sense. That's reasonable. Mick can think as long as he likes, as long as -
Len bows his head, the little spark of hope that had been kindling in his chest abruptly extinguished.
It's only just that this be the result. It doesn't mean he likes it, it doesn't mean it isn't ripping him apart, gutting him, but he understands it.
It is fair.
It is awful, terrible, all-destroying, but it's fair.
Len brought this on himself.
On them both.
After a while, Len leaves, too.
The next year goes by in a terrible blur. Len runs heists, same as always, going through the motions with a dull heart and an empty mind. He gets money and dumps it into bank accounts and turns around and keeps going. He has to keep going.
He knows if he stops, he will fall apart.
He goes - and goes - and goes -
It's all nothing without Mick.
Len worries about him.
Oh, he knows it's ridiculous. He knows Mick is all but invulnerable - bullets, knives, blunt force, fire, water, it's all the same to him. But he has one vulnerability - that mark of truth on his forehead, right between the eyes where it can be mistaken for the wrinkles of stress.
If anyone changes a single stoke of that mark - erases truth and makes it death, a mere letter apart in the original Hebrew - then that's it.
Dust to dust, ash to ash - clay to clay.
Len wakes up in a cold sweat on a regular basis to images of Mick, his beautiful Mick, dissolving into clay. He'd always known of this risk, but somehow it had not terrified him quite so much, in such a bone-deep manner, as it did now, with Mick gone who-knows-where. Gone where Len cannot protect him.
Even finding a superhero wasn't really enough to break Len's apathy. Oh, it's nice; it's a challenge. Len spends the whole time thinking wistfully of how he would enjoy this, if he remembered how to enjoy things without Mick.
His heart is gone.
He adds the heat gun to the pile of gifts for Mick that he has no opportunity to give.
He starts planning the next heist - either Keystone or Coast City, since it's all the same for him right now - when there's a knock on his door.
Len's heart throbs for the first time in a year. Anticipation.
He knows that knock.
Len wants to dash over to the door, but his body is seized up. He walks to the door, slowly and surely, and opens it.
He looks good.
"Mick," Len whispers.
"Len," Mick says, and smiles.
Len suddenly needs to sit down.
Mick catches him as he falls, luckily, and guides him to the couch.
"What the fuck," Len says groggily.
"Sorry," Mick says. "My fault. I didn't realize - you never said - about the distance. You should've said."
"Distance? What about it?" Len asks.
Mick rolls his eyes, but he's smiling. "Of course you didn't know; that's why you didn't tell me. I should've known. Len, to make a golem, you have to put your heart and soul into the making or it doesn't work."
Mick taps his chest. "My heart beats with your heartbeat. When I go away from you, your heart is gone as well. But I'm back, now."
Everything is in color. Len hadn't noticed how dull it was the last year, how everything was dull, how even his lovely, sparkling Lisa seemed flat and uninteresting, though he loved her just as much as ever.
"I think I know what you mean," Len says. "But you don't have to stay just because of that."
"I don't have to stay," Mick agrees, and there's a stabbing feeling in Len's chest. "I want to."
The feeling fades, replaced by a steadily growing glow of irrepressible joy.
"I've learned a lot," Mick says. "About golems, about humanity, about life, but most of all, I learned that I don't want to be apart from you."
He gives Mick the heat gun – he gives Mick all the gifts he saved for him, anything he thought Mick might like – and they go together on a heist, then on a supervillain spree, because they’re back together, and no one can stop them.
They even go travelling in time, but it doesn’t suit them, and they try to pull out of it. Len has a strict code, so they have to finish the mission first, but they want out. They want out.
Out doesn't come the way they would have wished.
“The Oculus explosion will kill even you,” Len hisses to Mick’s ear. “This isn’t a fire. This is a nuke!”
“I know,” Mick says, and his face is beauteous in its calm. “But that’s my duty, in the end. I’m here to protect you. I will do it.”
“You will not,” Len says, and takes his place.
Sara carries Mick away, surprised by how light he is for his strength. She does not know that he is clay, and Len does not tell her. Mick's secret will die with him.
Len braces himself, and wishes Mick well.
A glowing gold rope wraps around his arms.
“What,” Len says, a second before he’s quite literally lassoed into a glowing portal that appears right by his side.
He stumbles out onto a beach, surrounded by a lot of women.
Very tall, very scary women.
“Um,” Len says. “Hi?”
“Welcome,” one of them says, stepping forward.
Len’s never met her before, but he knows her on sight.
“Holy crap, you’re Wonder Woman,” Len blurts out.
She smiles. “Call me Diana,” she says. “After all, you are my brother-in-law.”
Len opens his mouth, then closes it, then opens it, then closes it again. He feebly gestures his lack of understanding.
“Mick is a golem,” Diana clarifies. “As am I; and so he is my brother. And you have married him, which makes us kin.”
Len tries to say something and fails.
“He speaks very highly of you,” she says.
“Well, Mick’s the best,” Len finally says. “None better.”
There are approving smiles all around him, which is a surprise – Len never makes a good impression on anyone – until Len realizes he’s still wrapped in Diana’s famous lasso of truth.
Mick is the best.
“Unfortunately, I cannot find him right now,” Diana says apologetically. “Will you stay here until I can?”
“Sure,” Len says, a little dazed.
He was expecting a few weeks.
It’s a whole year.
Not that it’s bad – Len doesn’t mind being on an island entirely composed of women, even if his movements are somewhat limited for religious reasons. He finds enough to keep him busy, though they do make him give back everything he steals. They don’t mind that he steals, mind you – they seem to think of it as a very clever game, and that he’s remarkably good at it – but they like the way they’ve distributed things and he doesn’t get to rearrange that at will.
Actually, he ends up becoming rather good friends with Hippolyta, who created Diana all those years ago out of clay with the help of some wandering sailor, and who is the only person who understands why Len’s vitality dims and his world goes grey the longer he’s away from Mick. Diana carries her heart with her; Mick has Len’s own.
“He knows you live,” Hippolyta assures Len. “He knows, deep inside, though perhaps not consciously – do not worry. You will be reunited, in time.”
Len waits, and waits, and waits, even when he sees cracks in the timeline – helpfully laid out in the every-shifting tapestry of Arachne hung up next to but not inside the temple of Athena for obvious reasons – and worries about Mick.
Even when he collapses as his thread is plucked out of its line in the tapestry, and wakes a few weeks later with a new set of memories and a newly intensified hatred of brainwashing.
At least he can assure himself that he only shot Mick through the heart, which would not have killed him, and at any rate, that future was averted.
Still. That was awful.
“I really need to find him,” he says to Hippolyta, Diana having gone out on mission. “I really need to find him. He’s suffering.”
“You’re suffering, too,” she says. “Soon.”
“I’d really appreciate a timeline,” Len grouses. “You’re literally centuries old. Your ‘soon’ and my ‘soon’ are not the same ‘soon’.”
Luckily, it turns out to be closer to Len's 'soon' than Hippolyta's.
In fact, it turns out to be during a massive universe-crossing invasion.
Diana makes an appearance.
“Ohmigodohmigodohmigod,” Cisco hyperventilates. “It’s Wonder Woman.”
Barry is vibrating with excitement, quite literally. Iris is just making squeaking noises and waving her hands frantically. Caitlin is frozen in place and attempting to communicate her excitement through blinks.
Even Oliver Queen, master of the unimpressed face, has stars in his eyes. “It’s an honor, ma’am,” he says, shaking her hand. “I mean – that is –”
“Diana is fine,” she says, and smiles, and Oliver looks like he needs to sit down.
Len gets that. He’s amused, watching; he’s not expecting to be recognized, what with the armor he’s currently wearing while the resupply lines go and grab his gear from Thermyscia. He’d been training when the call came, and at any rate, you can’t wear a leather jacket or a parka in a Mediterranean island.
Not even if you have a theme.
But his heart is beating strong and the world is in vivid color once more.
The Legends have arrived.
Sara is out first, flanked by Ray and Firestorm.
“Oh my god, it’s Wonder Woman,” Firestorm says. “I mean. Wow. I idolized you growing up. We did. Both of us. I mean – wow, this is embarrassing.”
“Think nothing of it,” Diana says, laughing. “I am honored.”
“Ditto to what he said,” Ray says, looking dazed. “Wow – like, so much ditto. Wow.”
Sara looks like she’s been hit by a truck. It’s not uncommon when people meet Diana. “Yeah,” she says. “Seriously. Wow. And you and your Amazons will be working with us on this? Wow. Now that’s an honor.”
The other Legends follow – Nate and Amaya and Zari, which Len has seen in the tapestry, and Mick.
Len would go to him, but his feet are frozen in place.
(Karma for being amused at Caitlin's plight, no doubt.)
“This is so cool,” Nate says, while both Zari and Amaya seem to be bouncing up and down in a fit of excitement too intense to actually permit them to speak. “I’m going to go say – Mick, what are you doing?”
Mick ignores him and continues walking straight up to a distracted Diana, reaching out for her.
“Mick!” Sara squawks, echoed by Ray and Firestorm. “Stop!”
Diana turns, sees him, and embraces him warmly. “My brother,” she says warmly. “I hope you are well. I have him for you.”
“You’d better,” Mick says, looking relieved.
Nate attempts to insert himself between the two of them. “You’re just amazing,” he gushes, ignoring Mick entirely despite the way they're intertwined. “I mean, you’re Wonder Woman – Mick, let me talk to her, you had your moment –”
“Buzz off, Pretty,” Mick says, pulling back and making a face at his crewmate. “I wanna talk to my sister.”
“Mick,” Nate hisses.
“Perhaps we can speak later, Mr. Heywood,” Diana says politely, her kind smile unaffected. “I have not seen Mick for quite some time.”
“Wait, you guys have met before?” Ray asks, looking between them. “For real?”
“Did you miss the whole brother-sister thing?” Mick asks dryly.
“We didn’t miss it, we were just stunned,” Firestorm says. “Man, Mick, why didn’t you tell us you’d met Wonder Woman?”
“Didn’t seem relevant.”
“How is that not relevant?” Sara asks, then shakes her head. “Don’t answer that. Really cool, Mick. How did you two meet? And what did you do to get called Wonder Woman’s brother?”
Diana laughs. “He did not have to do anything,” she says, squeezing Mick’s hand. “He was born. Is that not the typical way of it, with brothers?”
“She’s older,” Mick says. “In case it wasn’t obvious.”
“Wait,” Cisco says. “Wait, wait, wait. You’re literally siblings? Mick’s from Thermiscyia?”
"How?" Ray asks. "I thought they were women only."
“I’m from Keystone, idiots,” Mick says. “She’s still my sister. Listen, we’ve got something really important to discuss – more questions later.”
“Agreed,” Diana says. “If you will be so kind as to excuse us…?”
The crowd parts like the Red Sea, and lets them pass, Diana leading Mick back towards the Amazons. Of course, as soon as they’ve left the group, and the Amazons have close ranks around them, blocking them from view, frantic whispers and gestures erupt in the group left behind.
Len would normally be wallowing in amusement, but his focus is elsewhere.
He pulls off his helmet.
“You,” Mick growls, and lunges forward.
Len is moving at the same time, and they crash together, arms around each other, holding each other close. Len feels the wave of dizziness, the feeling of heat burning in his chest,
and he knows enough now to let it flow through him, from Mick into the rest of his body, and when he regains his ability to stand, Mick still has him held tight.
“I won’t do that again,” Len promises.
“You’d better,” Mick says. “I won’t let you.”
They stand in silence for a few more minutes.
After a few minutes, Len says, “How do you feel about threesomes? There’s a list of interested Amazons I’ve been collecting.”
“Yeah, I’m in,” Mick says, rolling his eyes but unable to keep the smile off his face. “Maybe after the current crisis?”
“If you insist.”
“I think I do.”
They grin at each other.
“Cisco rebuilt your gun, you know,” Mick says. “Caitlin’s been using it.”
“Trust me, I know,” Len says. “I’ve been watching Arachne’s tapestry.”
Mick blinks at him.
“No, I know what it is, but it’s only supposed to be readable to – you know what, never mind. Let’s go fight.”
“You can’t leave it at that!”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy you’ve developed a functional form of immortality by becoming an Amazonian prince –”
“Don’t be absurd!”
“Technically, my dear, you did marry the brother of the princess,” Hippolyta says mildly. “You qualify. Don’t worry, you'll get used to it.”
Len’s reintroduction to the Legends and the Flash turns out to involve some unattractive gaping on his part, because his friends are all awful people, but it still works out somehow. He only has to punch a half-dozen of them or so.
Besides, he has a new job.
Namely, protecting Mick from avid fans trying to convince him to get Diana to give out autographs.
Len minds exactly not at all, as long as Mick’s by his side.
And in the end, they go back to where they ought to be.
The Gem Cities just aren't the same without their golem.