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Keep Our Demons on the Burner

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They'd all been thinking it for a while, but it was Amaya who actually said the words. She came into the fabrication room spiting fire. She had held her fists clenched at her sides, and if she'd touched her amulet just then, Ray was pretty sure she'd have channelled a stampeding wildebeest and killed them all. Ray opened his mouth to ask, but she cut him off.

"There's something wrong with Rory, and if you don't fix it, I will." Then she stomped out again.

"I thought they were getting along now," Ray said, confused.

"I guess they aren't." Sara tilted her head in the direction of the cargo bay. "You take him; I'll take her."

"Aye, aye," Ray agreed, only half joking. So maybe he'd been a little stung that no one had put him forward as captain, but on the other hand, it was really nice to have someone else holding the bag in times like these.

He did not, however, go straight down to Mick's hole up. He went by his own quarters and picked up the cold gun, which he'd finally gotten around to fixing, then went to the kitchen and had a sandwich and thought about what he was going to say. Amaya wasn't wrong: there had been something off about Mick since at least after their visit to the White House in the '80s. He'd been moody, distant and argumentative, and that was using Mick's normal behaviour as a baseline.

The worst part was that Ray had been wondering if it was his fault, if somehow Mick had worked out that Ray was struggling with a massive crush, and been offended. Mick had tried to make Ray his new partner, in part his new Leonard Snart, and when that had inevitably been a disaster, Mick had pulled back. He hadn't asked for the cold gun back, but he'd made it pretty clear that the whole partners gig was done and gone. Ray had run over the whole thing a hundred times, and every time come up with something he could have done or said differently. The irony being that he was on a time ship, but couldn't actually change his own past, not even to help a friend.

Finally finished his sandwich, tidied the kitchen, and out of possible excuses to procrastinate, picked up the cold gun and headed down to see Mick.

Ray found him was sitting in that beat up old arm chair, staring at the flame of his lighter. He had case of beer at his feet, and only one of the bottles still had its cap on. If there were three steps to a full-blown pyromaniac episode, Ray would peg the current situation at about one and a half.

Stopping in the doorway he held up the cold gun, and wiggled it a little until Mick slowly looked up at him. "Thought I'd give this back," Ray said. "I fixed the power source, so it works just like it did before, no improvements or anything like that. Meant to give it back earlier, but you know, stuff, plus I wanted to make sure the new Atom Suit was up to snuff..." No response from Mick, not even a grunt. He was again watching his lighter. Ray went forward and gingerly put the cold gun down on the crate Mick used as a footrest. "It's not that I don't want to be partners," Ray added, finally. Hell, he wanted whatever Mick would give him, which right now seemed to be nothing, but then Mick's gaze swept up to meet Ray's, and he nodded slightly. Ray could have been imagining it, but maybe something in Mick's expression softened a little bit. Ray sighed, and braced for stage two. "I ran into Amaya on the way down," he said, trying to make it sound casual. "She looked pretty pissed."

Mick snorted. "Subtle, Haircut."

Okay, that was fair, but since Ray'd already started, he might as well keep on. "So what happened?"

The silence stretched on so long that Ray didn't think Mick was going to answer. Then he flipped the lighter closed and jammed it into his pocket. "Vixen thinks she can tame me." He said her codename with such a disdainful emphasis that it sounded like something dirty. "Thinks she can wrap me around her little finger, that a kiss on the cheek and a kind word will make me her pet."

Ray ignored the comment about the kiss. Clearly Amaya had gotten farther than Ray ever had. "I'm sure she's just–" he started.

"But she can't," Mick continued, rolling right over him. "None of you can." He smiled humourlessly. "I set her straight."

Ray was pretty sure physical violence hadn't been involved, on basis that Mick was not currently a smear on the cargo bay deck, but it was easy to imagine what he might have told her. He winced. "Mick," he said, choosing his words extremely carefully, "everyone here knows who you are. None of us wants to tame you or change you or anything like that. We just–" he couldn't think of what they wanted, though Sara probably had a list. "I just want to be your friend. I think Amaya probably did too." Apparently in the exact same way that Ray had. Why did he have to be so completely outclassed, every time?

Mick pushed himself up out of the chair, wobbled slightly, and took a step towards Ray. This close, Ray could smell the beer on his breath, and his expression was closed and furious. Ray had to force himself not to take a step back. "You ain't my friend, Boy Scout, and you ain't my partner. The only man who ever was is dead 'cause of this team, 'cause of you."

"That's not–"

They were almost nose to nose now, and Ray started to wonder if Mick was actually going to hit him. "We were doing fine before Rip Hunter showed up, and convinced Snart he wanted to be a hero, a Legend, I coulda told him then–I did tell him–that it'd get us killed, and I was right. Not like anyone here ever listens. They just pat me on the head and tell me to be a good boy. Well, I ain't, and you and Vixen sniffing around my door, thinking that if you spread your legs, I'll be dumb enough to fall for a pretty face. Like telling me I'm a member of the crew will make me one. So I'll tell you what I told her: get out and don't come back."

He accompanied the last with a shove, both hands against Ray's chest. It wasn't even that hard, but Ray hadn't been expecting it and fell backward. He landed tailbone first, and sucked in a breath to keep from yelping in pain. Part of him still expected Mick to relent, to offer him a hand up and if not say he was sorry than at least offer him a beer, but when Ray looked up Mick was staring down at him, face a mask. Ray opened his mouth to say something, he didn't yet know what, but Mick snorted and turned away. He kept his back to Ray until Ray had pulled himself together and fled the cargo bay.

Ray absolutely did not go back to his quarters to cry. He just needed a moment of privacy to deal with the nausea and tightness in his chest. He didn't bother putting emotions to the physical sensations, though they were familiar ones, but focused on breathing and staring at the nature scenes on the screen by his bed until he could inhale and exhale without shaking.

Sara came in a minute later, and not knocking, but standing in the doorway until Ray looked up and nodded for her to come in.

"So that went well?" she asked. Her tone was sarcastic, but her face showed only sympathy. She sat on the bunk next to Ray, and put her hand on his knee. "You okay?"

Ray nodded, knowing that his face told another story. The worst part was that Mick had probably seen the same shattered expression and had still turned away. Not letting someone see him bleed had never been one of Ray's skills. "I don't know what to do," he said. "Maybe Amaya's right. Maybe there is something wrong with him." Or maybe it was Ray's fault for drudging up all that grief back in D.C.. That had been the closest Ray had seen Mick to tears since Leonard died, even when he'd woken up on the Waverider', after Sara had brought him back from the Oculus.

Sara didn't reply, and when Ray looked up, blinking hard, she was staring off into space. He let her think it over, glad for the second time that day that the buck didn't stop with him. Finally, she said, "Mick is always going to be Mick, but he hasn't picked this many fights in a long time." She didn't have to specify when. They both remembered agreeing to let Leonard deal with him, and what had come of that. "I guess it's time to pull out the big guns." Sara didn't say what those were, either, but squeezed Ray's knee and slid off the bunk.

"Be careful," Ray said as she left, but she just waved him off.

Ray never heard exactly what went on between Mick and Sara. Presumably Captain Lance had laid down some kind of law, and Mick didn't go on the next mission, didn't even show for the briefing. It turned out to be just some 26th-century archivist trying to save the Library at Alexandria, again, so being a man down didn't make or break it. Actually, leaving the heat gun onboard the Waverider had probably been for the best, though Ray would never say as much.

Mick wasn't in the cargo bay when they got back, and Ray didn't ask where he was. They'd been avoiding each other, Ray out of humiliation and Mick presumably to avoid the annoyance, but Jax looked at the empty armchair, jammed his hands in his pockets and stalked off towards the crew quarters. Martin looked like he was going to call after him, then shook his head and let him go.

Later, in the kitchen, Jax cornered Ray and said in a low voice, "Man, I've never seen him that wasted."

"Mick?" Ray asked, trying to catch up. Mick certainly seemed to subsist primarily on beer, but Ray didn't think he'd ever seen him actually drunk.

"Yeah." Jax was frowning, looking more worried than annoyed. "I swung by his room, and he wouldn't let me in, but he sounded messed up. I, uh..." he glanced around to make sure Sara wasn't in earshot. "I think he was talking to himself, something about Snart. I couldn't tell."

"Right." Ray said. He knew that Jax wanted him to try to intervene again, to do something, anything to get Mick back on track before Sara had to, but he was at a loss. "I'll talk to him," he said, finally, because what else could he do? Sara was clearly on her last straw when it came to Mick, and with good reason. Even if Mick hated him right now, Ray was probably closer to him than anyone else onboard. Maybe he had a chance, and even if he didn't, he had to try get through to Mick. He remembered Leonard, beat half to death after talking Mick around the last time, and sucked in a breath. If that was what it took, he'd do it, and still owe Mick for taking his place.

Mick's door was locked and he wasn't answering at all by the time Ray got there. He tried pounding on it, then getting Gideon to page him through a few times, but still heard no reply. Ray was starting to worry; Jax hadn't been there twenty minutes ago, and Mick had been talking then. Had he passed out? Fallen and hit his head? The crew had mutually agreed not to use the omnipresent ship's computer to pry, but after five minutes, Ray gave up and asked for Mick's vitals.

"Mr. Rory is currently unconscious," Gideon supplied, just as Sara came around the corner.

"Gideon, unlock that door," Sara snapped. Her voice could have cut steel, or frozen it. "Now."

Ray was inside before the door finished opening. Mick was sprawled on the floor, apparently having moved up to the good stuff, judging by the whiskey bottle shattered near his boot, and the lack of whiskey on the floor. Mick wasn't moving, but his back rose and fell as he breathed.

Sara, having pushed past Ray, growled low in her throat, and if there'd been room, Ray would have flinched away. She sounded about ready to tear someone's throat out. He didn't think she was angry at Mick, either, as much as angry about him. He heard her take a slow breath before she lifted her chin and said, "Fine. Help me get him to medical."

Somehow, she'd dragged him out of the Oculus by herself, Ray had never known how, because Mick was not a light man, even split between the two of them, especially when he started to come to about half way there and tried to help walk. "Don't wanna to go," he muttered, then Ray thought he heard, "Snart, don't...."

"Too bad," Sara retorted. "Do want to go to medical, don't give yourself alcohol poisoning."

"Sorry," Mick slurred.

"Well that's a first," Ray said, and dumped him in the medical chair.

Sara slapped on the wrist band. "Gideon, see if you can detox him before he sets himself on fire."

"Certainly, Captain Lance."

Mick stirred again as the medical computers started to whirr, saying again, "Don't wanna leave."

Ray exchanged a look with Sara, before asking gently, "Leave where, Mick?"

"The ship. He keeps saying I have to, but..." He tried to cover his face with his hands, but the wrist band pulled him up short, and he turned to them, suddenly lucid. "I can't stop seeing him, Ray."

When Ray asked who he meant, Mick wouldn't answer, pretending to pass out in the chair to avoid questions.

Ray tugged at Sara's arm until they were in the doorway. "Jax said he was talking to himself," he said.

"About what?" Sara asked, but she was already two steps past that, "Or to whom? Gideon. Show me all incidents of Mick talking to himself. Volume low, subtitles on."

The screen flashed up on the far wall, and Ray was again unsettled out by the constant surveillance. Apparently, Mick talked to himself a lot, a sort of low level griping when he was alone that started the minute Rip had recruited them. Ray didn't think he could stand to watch that year play out again. "Skip to after our last mission in Washington, D.C.," he said, and the scene changed.

It was in sick bay, during the disaster of the Chicago mission that they saw it: Mick in the same chair he was in now, drinking by himself, suddenly looking sharply at the door and saying, "Leonard!" then, "I must be losing my mind." And after that, there was more. In the weeks since Chicago, Mick had spent increasing amounts of time talking to a Leonard Snart that only he could see, and each time he did, he seemed to grow more standoffish and angry. Sown together in a row, Ray could easily see Mick's growing depression, as well as his increase in self-medication.

Neither of them spoke until Gideon's screen had caught up with the present time, and even then it took Sara a moment to pull herself together enough to ask, "Gideon, any idea what could cause Mick to start seeing ghosts?"

"Scanning," Gideon replied.

"Do you think it's actually..." Ray start to ask, but saw Sara's expression and stopped dead.

"Nothing on the ship indicates the presence of a spectral form," Gideon answered anyway, and Sara sighed.

"Maybe he has some kind of brain tumour," Ray suggested.

"I am detecting an aberration in Mr. Rory's right pre-frontal lobe. It appears to be artificial, too small to detect without a direct search."

"What?" Sara covered the deck back to Mick's chair in three strides, and stared down at him as though she could x-ray his skull like Supergirl. "How did it get there? What does it do?"

"Can you take it out?" Ray asked.. He knew he sounded panicky, but Mick had something in his brain. "I could take it out, like with the shrapnel in Kendra's blood."

"Go get Martin," Sara told him. "We may need him."

Ray thought it was more likely that she just wanted him out of her hair, but went anyway. By the time he got back, Gideon had determined that the device, whatever it was, was the source of Mick's hallucinations, and likely affected his mood as well. "It has been influencing Mr. Rory for some time, judging by the cumulative effects," she was saying as Ray and Martin came in, then went on to describe its probable entry via crawling in though the ear canal, which really wasn't something Ray had ever wanted to hear. Sara was listening with her lips pressed thin, arms folded tightly, and Ray wanted to give her a hug.

"So the rest of us all getting brain scans," he commented, and she jerked her head in a nod. "What about getting it out?"

"I believe that I will be able to deactivate the device by employing a focused electromagnetic pulse," Gideon replied. "After which, removal will be simple."

"Do it now," Sara told her.


Mick jerked on the chair, then lay still again. On the monitor, his vitals spiked, before retuning to normal. A moment later, a silver object the size of a pinhead fell out of his ear. Martin, looking green, collected it into sample container.

"Everyone to medical. Right now," Sara snapped over the intercom, and sat down in the other chair to get the first scan herself. Ray followed, then the others as they came in, every one of them coming up clear. Sara and Martin went to the lab, the rest trailing behind for a promised briefing, leaving Ray to sit with Mick.

He was still passed out, in truth this time. Gideon had said that a light induced coma would reset his brain chemistry, and they were waiting that out. Ray sat on the floor with his back to the wall, Mick's limp hand dangling off the table in front of him. He'd taken his gloves off. Ray hadn't noticed that before, but now he could see the edges of the burns on his arms. Gideon had offered to fix them at one point, but Mick had told her shove it.

"I'm sorry, Mick," Ray said miserably. "We should have..." he didn't even know. He had a feeling that mandatory post-mission medicals were in their future, but they hadn't even thought to look for that kind of thing, especially given its latent activation. Ray would put money on it having been implanted some time during the D.C. mission, probably by the speedster, presumably to screw up the crew. "We should have talked sooner." It should have been Ray, not Amaya who'd gotten close enough to work out that something really was wrong. If it hadn't been for Ray's stupid puppy love and resulting guilt, maybe it would have been. No wonder Nate said the JLA had had rules about fraternisation.

Mick didn't respond, of course, and eventually Ray fell asleep against the base of the medical chair, head falling forward to rest on his drawn up knees. He had a blanket thrown over him when he woke up, hours later, but was still alone. Mick slept on.

Ray had just gotten up to stretch when he heard the steady beep of resting vitals begin to pick up and Mick start to stir in the chair. Suddenly, Ray wasn't so sure he should be the one who was here when Mick came to. It should probably be Sara, really, and he was about to call her down when Mick blinked, then stiffened as he realised where he was. "Raymond," he said.

"Yeah, Mick," Ray replied, "I'm here. You're going to be okay now." He was already standing by the bed, and wanted to take Mick's hand, but didn't think that would be a good idea. "There was a... a thing in your brain, that was making you see things, but it's gone now."

"Oh." Mick closed his eyes again, leaving Ray standing next to the chair not knowing what to do. He was about to turn away, give Mick some space, when he looked up again and reached out to catch Ray's sleeve, holding him in place. "Knew he wasn't real," he said, "Most of the time, just couldn't..."

Ray nodded. If Anna came back to haunt him, he didn't think he'd be able to stop listening to her either. "I'm sorry, Mick," he said.

"Kept telling me..." Mick didn't finish, his eyes were fixed on the ceiling, but he hadn't let go of Ray's sleeve. "Shouldn't have believed him. He just kept saying it, and I always used to listen to him, didn't always do what he said, but I listened. He was usually right."

He was trying to apologise, Ray realised, or as close as Mick Rory would ever come. "I thought you hated me," Ray said. He should have told Mick that it was okay, that he knew he hadn't been himself, but his ass still hurt from landing hard on the deck, and even days later his ears were ringing what Mick had said. There had to have been some truth in it.

Mick growled. "You and Amaya..." He paused, searching for words. "You've been nicer than a jerk like me deserves." That was another unspoken apology, and Ray wanted to take it, he did, but if he left things there, he'd never know.

"I'm uh... I'm not," Ray knew he was blushing, but decided to just say it, "I don't want to sleep with you just to get you to stay, or to make you nicer."

He thought that at least would make Mick let go of him, but he was still holding on when he replied, "I know that. Guess I haven't had the guts to take you up on it." While Ray's mind was still spinning from that statement, he added, "doesn't matter anyway. I don't figure Sara will give me much choice about staying, after this."

Ray hadn't thought of that, but knew Sara was a pretty safe bet for having a weak spot in regards to victims of brainwashing and other mind-altering attacks. Besides, if they'd kept Mick after Chronos, Ray didn't think they'd make him walk the plank now. Instead of saying any of that, however, he told Mick, "If you go, I'll go with you. We're partners, aren't we?"

"Yeah," Mick said, voice thick. He took a shaky breath and blinked a couple of times. "Yeah, we are."