“There was this time when I was in third grade and-” She stops herself. Unable to finish the story, unable to bring up the memory that wasn’t even a memory at all. Just information inputted into her mind to make her think that she was human and normal.
She had never been.
This was supposed to have gotten easier to handle, easier to process .
The breakdowns were coming less and less frequently, because there had been too much else to deal with. The end of the world, the end of nearly all of time, and having a crisis every other moment because she now knew the truth of her origin hadn’t been acceptable then.
It still wasn’t acceptable now.
She’d compartmentalized her feelings put them aside for the sake of the mission.
She is the director of the Time Bureau. She has a job to do, a job that is so much more important than her ever impending crisis. Than the feeling of panic within in herself that surges up more often than Ava would care to admit.
Normally she is alone when the feeling over takes her, in an apartment that no longer feels like home or an office that she’s not entirely certain that she deserves. Not here. In the open, in a place that she’s felt welcome but never entirely at home, surrounded by people that know her secret, surrounded by -
“Ava,” Sara’s voice cuts briefly through the fog of her head.
Calm and steady.
At least one of them can manage to be.
“Baby, you’re having a panic attack,” Sara says softly, matter of fact in her attempt to calm Ava.
“No,” Ava says quickly, “No, I’m fine - I’m fine - I’m-”
“You’re not,” Sara says, reaching out for her hand, entwining their fingers together to give Ava a place to ground herself to.
She tries to.
Tries to focus on Sara’s hand in hers and not on the rush of noise in her head, the tightness in her chest, the feeling of being one in a million, one in twelve , not something unique, never something unique.
“It’s okay to not be okay.”
Ava wrinkles her nose at Sara’s phrasing, focusing on that. “You know, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, you know I can’t read.”
“You can read,” Ava insists stubbornly.
Focusing on Sara’s latest absurdity makes the panic seem a little less overwhelming.
Sara laughs a little. “There’s my girl.”
Ava closes her eyes. Tries to focus back in on herself, back in on what she was saying, what they had been saying before she ruined it by bringing up a memory that didn’t even exist, by trying to be a person that had never existed at all.
She feels it lightly, the ghost of a kiss on her forehead.
Soft and comforting.
“I thought the point of me being the taller one was that I’m in charge of forehead kisses,” Ava says, it’s meant to be teasing but it’s weak, her voice shaking a little over the words.
When she opens her eyes once more, Sara is staring at her, with a look so fond and full of love that for a second Ava can almost feel real.
“Rules are meant to be broken,” Sara insists.
Ava shakes her head, all she has is the rules. Rules make sense even when nothing else does. “They’re not.”
Sara laughs a little again. Not truly understanding, not able to. “Of course not, Director.”
She would have liked it to end there. Forgotten. A moment that didn’t exist.
Fitting for a woman that didn’t exist.
But Sara doesn’t forget.
Of course not, Ava’s life can never be that easy.
Instead she watches more closely, worry in her eyes when she thinks that Ava isn’t looking. She’s coming up with a plan, Ava knows that much. She can’t tell what secret Sara is keeping but she knows that there is something there.
Can feel it, a bitter anticipation that builds in her stomach leaving her anxious.
Because apparently anxiety was one of the few real feelings that she had.
A feeling that was all her own.
After all, who would program a clone with anxiety ? What would be the purpose of that?
She supposes she should take comfort in that. Comfort in knowing that there was at least one feeling that was uniquely her own. Even if it was a terrible one, even if it causes her hands to shake and makes her unwilling to look in the mirror more often than not.
At least, it was her own.
At least, that much she knew for certain.
“It would just be a week, maybe a little longer,” Sara says, softly, finally bringing up the topic that had been on her mind for far too long, over a lunch meeting. Paperwork on Ava’s desk that had been forgotten the second Sara showed up with a smile on her face and a boxes of take out.
They weren’t exactly… Things were still complicated.
They would need to talk about what this was, but there just hadn’t been a chance. Too many other things going on. Too many complications to her previously perfectly ordered life. That made whatever was going on between them was just another thing that needed to be discussed eventually.
At some point.
Ava couldn’t handle it now.
“The Bureau can manage without you for a few days,” Sara insists, “And it will be good, a chance to get out of here, out of your head, and just… Maybe forming new memories to replace the old ones will make this easier.”
Ava had to admit that there logic was there. Even if she was still hesitant.
“This isn’t going to get easier. This is who I am now,” Ava pauses and corrects herself, “This is who I’ve always been.”
“We can try,” Sara offers.
And Ava wants to.
Wants to do anything to keep Sara looking at her like that, like she believes in her, like she believes that Ava is real underneath it all.
Even if they both know she isn’t.
“I don’t think that that is-”
Sara cuts her off, in a voice that holds no room for argument. “Ava, do you trust me?”
The admission is easy, one thing that she does know for certain. “More than I trust myself.”
It’s Sara’s idea.
Which means it should generally be considered a terrible idea.
The type of idea that any rational person would turn down. The type of idea that Ava ought to have insisted against. But also the type of idea that comes from a woman that for some reason still looks at Ava with a look like love in her eyes. Ava couldn’t deny that. Doesn’t want to.
Sara leaves Amaya in charge, perfectly rational Amaya, who could probably run this whole team without even breaking a sweat.
Ava leaves Gary in charge, the only person at the Bureau that she trusts with her life, which as always seems like a bad decision on her part.
There’s numbers to call if things go wrong, ways to get in contact with them and explicit orders not to do so unless the whole of time is falling apart.
Otherwise it was just meant to be them, and an open stretch of road leading out from Star City to the rest of the world.
“A little easier said than done,” Ava insists.
She’s sitting in the passenger seat, something that feels abnormal to Ava. Not just because this is her car - the one she picked out for herself two years ago because making grocery runs via public transportation was more inconvenient than Ava had been willing to deal with and using her time courier for personal errands would have been a violation of protocol, no matter how many other agents did it.
Two years ago, recent enough that she should know that this memory was her own.
Or at least, a version of her. One of the eleven that came before, rebooted and formatted after each miscalculation was made. Memories repeated from the previous model. As close to real in the grand scheme of things as she can get.
She tries to imagine the version of herself that that had been. The Ava that choose this car all on their own.
A compact car that got good gas mileage, blue with a chrome finish, her one indulgence.
It’s different sitting in the passenger seat, watching as Sara pulls down the street. With only one hand on the wheel, while the other one fiddles with a playlist on her phone. Ava frowns a little at that.
“Texting and driving is illegal.”
“I’m not texting, I’m changing the song,” Sara insists, “And I know that’s not actually what you’re worried about.”
It’s not. She’s right. But it’s much easier to focus on the little things than the big things, the things that threaten to overwhelm Ava if she thinks about them for too long.
“Do you even have a driver’s license,” Ava asks suddenly.
Sara purses her lips together, as if she’s honestly thinking about it. “I mean, technically-”
“Forget I asked.”
“You know,” Sara drawls, “Would yours even be valid, if you never technically took the driving test?”
“Oh god,” Ava groans, as a small feeling of guilt surges up inside of her. “I’m lying to the government.”
“I lie to the government all the time,” Sara replies, shooting one of her half winks at Ava, “Sometimes I even lie with the government.”
Ava ignores her innuendo. Instead shifting to pull her wallet out of her bag, and removing her driver’s license. She avoids her own gaze in the picture, telling herself that nobody ever looks good in license photos, just as she ignores the birthday that she now knows isn’t real.
“Does this mean I’m not actually an organ donor? Or a Republican? Or-
“Wait, hold on you’re what?”
“Am I technically Canadian?
“I feel like we’re skipping over the Republican thing, and we need to go back to that,” Sara says, pointedly.
Enough that Ava finally looks away from her license and back at Sara, who meets her with a skeptical and questioning gaze, still holding her phone in her hand even though her quest for music has been momentarily put on hold.
Ava furrows her brow in return. “Well, my parents were and I didn’t want to disappoint them when I was younger and I guess I never thought about getting around to change it so…”
The ones that weren’t real.
“Actually,” She corrects herself, “I guess that’s just Rip not knowing how American politics work.”
Sara laughs a little. Free and open. Ava can’t remember the last time that she laughed. It feels like ages ago. Certainly before 2213.
She watches as Sara sets her phone down in one of the cupholders, though her free hand does not go back to the wheel, instead it rests there against her side. For a second, Ava considers cross the space between them to lace their fingers together. To know that Sara is real and there beside her.
Then again, it’s never been a question of whether Sara was real.
She was the one that wasn’t -
“Hey,” Sara says, “Let me do this okay. Let me take care of you.”
She wishes it was that easy. That she could just give herself all over to Sara and have all of the pain and hurt and uncertainties fall away in an instant. It’s not. It was never meant to be.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Ava says softly, a change in tone from their conversation moments before.
Because she’s offering Sara an out.
It’s an offer to stop this now before it even begins.
An offer that she almost wishes Sara would take.
She doesn’t though.
Just sighs a little, and says, “I want to.”
She dozes intermittently as they drive. Not sure what it is about long car rides that make her so tired.
Before she would have cited a childhood of camping trips with her family, where she’d fall asleep in the backseat and wake up in a whole new place. But now she knew that those memories weren’t real.
Still the feeling remains.
She wakes at one point to feel a blanket draped over her body. Pulled from one of the bags in the backseat. Her eyes flicker open for a second, taking in the sight of Sara still in the driver’s seat, looking over at Ava now that the car has stopped moving.
Sara says, “It’s okay, get some rest,” and Ava doesn’t want to fight it. Doesn’t want fight her. She just wants lets the waves of sleep over take her once more.
Instead though she forces her eyes open, forces herself to focus on Sara.
“Where are we?”
“Gas station,” Sara says, “But there’s a beach nearby, I drove past it when I pulled off the road if you want to get out and stretch your legs.”
Beaches in Oregon are nothing like the beaches in California. Nothing like the beaches in the rest of the world. Some part of Ava’s brain knows that. Though she’s not certain how real that memory is. Where the knowledge comes from. Her sleep addled brain unable to sort through what is real and what is not real.
Still she lets Sara drive them there.
Lets her pull over in a nearly abandoned parking lot. Only one other car beside their own having been tempted out to the beach on a day that was more gloomy than it ought to be this late in the year.
Then again, Ava supposes that maybe the grey clouds were meant just for her. The overcast feeling matching the one that took hold constantly in her chest, in the place where her soul was meant to be.
They follows the path from the parking lot to the beach. The tide is in, high enough that there isn’t much actual beach left, and what they have is more rocks and broken shells than sand. Still, Ava toes off her shoes at the edge of the sand. Leaving them forgotten as a need overwhelms her.
An urge to get closer to the water.
She’s never been afraid of water before, she’s a perfectly good swimmer, but there’s something about the vastness of the ocean spread out before her that seems to overwhelm her suddenly. A stretch of the infinite. Endless and all knowing.
The waves lap against her ankles, soaking the bottom of her pants, cold against her skin.
She tries to tell herself that this is real.
That all of this is real.
That this feeling, this memory, is hers and hers alone.
It’s harder than it should be.
Sara watching her doesn’t help things, and when Ava tears her eyes away from the horizon that seems forever too far away to look over her shoulder at where Sara stands behind her, the other woman’s expression is hard to read. Ava used to be so good at that, good at dissecting the minute feelings on other people’s faces, but now.... Ever since… It’s been hard to trust her gut.
Hard to trust anything.
“What are you thinking,” Ava asks, because she needs to know.
Sara looks a little sheepish herself, eyes glancing away from Ava for a moment, the briefest hint of color on her cheeks, “You’re beautiful.”
“That’s not what you were thinking,” Ava insists.
“I’m thinking it now,” Sara replies.
Which, Ava supposes will have to be good enough.
She presses her lips into a thin line and turns back to the water. Focuses on the waves, how they shift and pull. The science behind them. Cold hard facts, truths of the universe, truths that even she, an anomaly in the grand scheme of the universe, can understand.
Ava does not startle when she feels Sara move closer to her, but it’s a near thing.
Instead she regulates her breathing.
In and out.
In and out.
In and out.
As if that will make her feel more human.
Sara’s hands slips against hers, fingers threaded together, a warm steady presence when a moment later Sara leans against her.
They don’t speak.
Don’t say anything more than that. The truth is, that they don’t need to. They just need to be here. In a moment, in a world, where Ava feels so small. But so alive.
Her eyes burn the longer she looks at the water, it’s only by a true show of willpower that she does not cry, that she does not let herself fall apart at this. At nothing really.
But the feeling of being little more than a blip on the universe’s radar.
A woman dispatched from the time that she belongs to.
A woman standing on the beach with someone that she loves.
A woman learning to begin again.
Her voice is tight when she speaks, “We should head back to the car.”
She catches Sara’s nod slow and sure out of the corner of her eye. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Ava looks out on the water one last time, lingers a moment longer, committing this moment to memory. A new one. A sad one. But a memory that was all her own. That belonged to her well and truly as so few other things have.
This, at least, is hers.
“You’re supposed to keep two hands on the wheel.”
Sara makes a vague noise of agreement, though she makes no move to do so. Instead, without looking away from the road, she reaches across the space between them to take Ava’s hand from her lap, entwining their fingers just as they had been on the beach.
But it’s easier here.
Less weight to the movement.
Just comfort, just familiarity.
Just the two of them.
Here in a space where only they matter.
Ava can feel it again. The tears burning at the corners of her eyes. She does not stop them, cannot stop them now, they’re too long overdue. Hours, days, weeks. It doesn’t matter, because once they start she cannot do more than hiccup and sob through it. Holding onto Sara’s hand in hers like a lifeline.
Listening to the distant sound of music in the background turned down too low to make out the words.
And Sara’s voice, steady and sure, “It’s okay, baby, let it all out.”
They stop for the night at a hotel, in a town too small for Ava to know the name of. A place that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. A pit stop between one place and another. A brief break from the rest of the world.
Their room has two beds, and for a second she stares at the two of them, neither really big enough for more than one person. Not like the queen sized bed that Ava has at home or Sara’s king onboard the Waverider.
The space between the beds seems too large. An endless chasm, much like the one inside of her, empty and unwelcome, a void she could scream into for hours with no reply.
Rationally, she knows she’s being silly. That she’s letting her anxieties and her traitorous mind take over, that it’s barely more than a few feet of distance and that it doesn’t matter at all. That she’s reading too much into nothing.
But she can’t stop it once the thought is there.
“The person at the front desk assumed we were sisters, and I didn’t want to correct them,” Sara says hesitantly.
Ava tries to laugh it off, but she hasn’t laughed in too long, and the sound is so obviously bitter and fake to both of them that Ava almost wishes that she had never bothered.
“It’s fine,” Ava says. Meaning to say I’m fine , but unable to find the words.
She’s not fine.
She’s pretty sure she’ll never be fine again.
And this only seems to prove that point.
“It’s probably for the best,” Ava says, hating how tight her voice sounds, “After all, we’re not - I -” she can’t finish the sentence, doesn’t know how to.
“I’m going to take a shower.”
It’s an excuse to get out of there. To get out of a space that she no longer feels comfortable in.
The hotel bathroom does not offer her much of a reprise from her thoughts.
Instead, she spends too long looking in the mirror as the water in the shower warms up. She watches herself carefully as she strips down. Precise and calculated, folding her clothing the same way she does every time. Neat piles, tucked in precisely like someone who used spend their teenage years work in retail, or someone who was programmed to keep a house orderly.
Her hands still in the middle of folding her sweater as that thought strikes her, and suddenly she can’t finish the fold, can’t do it just right.
She looks back up at the mirror. It’s started to fog slightly, but she can still see herself. Naked in the reflection, all of her sins and flaws bared to her own scrutiny. She knows what they had said, that she was build from all the best DNA, put together in a way that was meant to be the perfect woman. Something that was a little bit racist and terrible and something that looking at herself Ava couldn’t believe.
No, she was not perfection.
Not even close.
Not even the first choice.
She was nothing but flaws, put together by scientists that didn’t truly understand what they were doing, what making her would mean.
A part of her wonders what they would think if they could see her now. See her imperfections, her flaws, her insecurities - an experiment fallen so far from its original purpose.
A flaw in their code.
A flaw in her code.
The mirror fogs over before the tears start to fall again and Ava counts that as one small success. Stepping away from where she can no longer see herself and into the water that burns her skin just a bit too much for comfort. But she does not step away from the water, does not turn it down, just focuses on the sensation of it against her skin.
Just like the waves from the beach this morning.
Focuses on it until she no longer feels like she’s drowning.
Until she feels at home in the water.
She turns off the water only once it starts to cool. No longer the burning that she needs. Bundles herself into a towel before heading back out into the main area of their room.
Sara’s fallen asleep at some point. Worn out from driving. Her body curled against the side of one of the beds. There really isn’t enough space beside her, but the invitation is so clear and there that it gives Ava pause.
She refuses to cry again, but it’s a near thing.
Instead she slips into the other bed. One that feels far too empty without Sara beside her, and tries to force herself to find something almost like sleep.
The morning comes too quickly, without Ava feelings like she got much sleep at all. There’s a fog in her head that reminds her of being hungover but in this case she knows to be a sign of something else.
A melancholy that settles deep in her bones.
That even a warm cup of coffee - just the way she likes it, because of course Sara remembers - doesn’t make it any better.
“Today’s going to be a bad day,” Ava tells her, fingers drumming against the side of the paper cup.
“I want to be here for your bad days,” Sara insists.
And Ava wants to believe her.
Wants to so badly that it hurts.
Even if she doesn’t.
Ava notices when the trees start to get taller. When they move off of the highway and out into nature. Sara has said that this trip was about making new memories and apparently that involved hitting up every National Park between here and wherever their final destination was.
“You know they filmed Star Wars here, like this is Endor,” Sara says, gesturing at the tree around them. “We’re basically in space.”
“We’re in California,” Ava corrects. “And, of course I know that, I am friends with Gary. The question is how do you know that.”
“Uh wow, I can be cultured.”
Ava casts her a skeptical look.
Sara shrugs a little in reply, “Okay, Ray told me, but I have seen Star Wars. I’m not that out of it.”
“If you say so.”
“You know, I actually met George Lucas back when he and Rip were roommates.”
Ava groans, “I don’t want to know, do I?”
“Oh, yes you do,” Sara insists.
Ava can’t help it. The smallest of smiles that find its way onto her face. It’s the silliest of things, but she feels for a second so real and normal sitting here with Sara listening to the story of some mission the Legends did terrible wrong. As always.
She’s certain she’s read a report on it before, but this is different, hearing the way Sara tells the tale.
This is how it should be.
Two people, maybe not normal.
But as close as they can be.
Where being able to put professional time traveler on her resume was the oddest thing about her.
She lets herself enjoy the moment, enjoy the story, only pointing out how against Bureau protocol their handling over the situation was three times. Which truly was a show of restraint on Ava’s part.
The moment, predictably, doesn’t last long enough.
They never seem to.
It happens again, that rude awakening to what her reality is, once they’ve parked. Gotten out of the car and headed for a path that will lead them out into the middle of a forest that was meant to make people feel small.
They’re walking with no destination in particular, a path that’s meant to be three miles, a chance to stretch their legs from the ongoing long drive to nowhere and everywhere.
“I used to hate camping,” Ava says, a memory coming up suddenly at the sight of the forest around her. Before it falls away at once. Not real. It’s not real. “Or no - I -” She tries to push past it, the familiar start of a panic attack mixed the melancholy from this morning all a little too overwhelming.
She stops walking. Cannot will herself to keep moving forward. Not when that terrible awareness is back.
Sara seems to catch on a moment later. Stopping as well, and turning around to look at her.
Ava hates the concern in her look.
The way she can still be soft over this, still so kind and gentle with her.
As if she does not seem to realize that this is something Ava will never be over. That it will always be here, a terrible constant in her life, until this manufactured body of hers gives out just as all the others before her have. She will always be struck by these terrible moments of awareness, knowing deep inside that she never was human and that she never will be again.
“I wish I could just forget it,” Ava says suddenly.
“Which parts,” Sara asks slowly.
A question Ava isn’t even entirely certain the answer to.
“All of it,” she says, “I wish I didn’t know what I am, or I - or just have someone go in and delete the memories that aren’t real. Maybe take it all back, start me all over, a clean slate like one of - one of them from that factory and - and then - I -”
Sara takes a step toward her. Probably to offer comfort, but Ava can’t take it. Can’t bring herself to give into that easy urge. To cry against Sara once more. Because that’s all that she seems to do lately. Another sign of her imperfection. Of the terrible flawed thing that she is.
Instead she steps back, away from Sara, and tries to ignore the flash of hurt in the other woman’s eyes.
“Not you,” Ava says, forcing the words out between her gasps for air. “Everything else, but not you. I don’t want to forget you.”
“You don’t have to,” Sara insists, carefully like she’s speaking to a spooked animal. “I’m here. I’ll always be here.”
It’s those words that cut through the fog. Not in the way Sara had intended them to. But instead fueling that dark terrible part of her. The one that was constantly filled with doubts. The voice in her head that insists that if Sara didn’t want her when she was a normal person, why would she want her now, when she wasn’t even human at all. The part of her that was certain Sara was only here supporting her now out of a sense of duty or obligation nothing more than that.
Her voice is more bitter than it has any right to be when she says. “But you weren’t.”
This time the look of hurt on Sara’s face is impossible to miss.
She feels so bad that she almost wants to take it all back.
Wishes that this look wasn’t a memory that she would be stuck with.
Instead she steals her resolve, shoving her hands into the pocket of her hoodie, and says, “Come on, let’s keep walking,” even though that’s the last thing she wants to do. Even though she knows at some point that they’re going to need to talk about this. All of this.
She’s just not ready. Not yet.
Being angry a little longer feels like her right.
“You know,” Sara says when they get back in the car. Speaking for the first time since Ava had lashed out at her. “Fresno isn’t far from here. I know they’re not your real parents but if you wanted to stop by and get some closure.”
Ava can’t help but tense up, aborting her previous motion to buckle her seat belt, as she feels it again.
That constant and helpless feeling that washes over her and reminds her that everything she thought that she knew about her life was a lie. All her childhood memories, the mother that always made snickerdoodle cookies, the camping trips that her father had dragged them on every summer - none of it was real. Nothing was real.
Her throat feels tight as she manages to focus out the words, “I’d rather not.”
Sara nods a little at that.
Instead she says, voice light, almost like she was trying to change the topic. Trying to hang the tension that has been heavy in the air for the last hour. “I always worried about meeting your parents. I mean you’re so perfect and I-”
“You saw the factory I was made in,” Ava cuts her off, hating herself a little for how bitter and hurtful her tone is. Knowing that Sara doesn’t deserve that and yet being unable to stop the hurt inside of herself from spilling out. “That’s close enough.”
She can see Sara tense. Clenching her jaw. Her hands tight against the steering wheel, so much that Ava can see the white of her knuckles.
“I hate it when you talk like that,” Sara says. The words dark and unpleasant.
The first unkind thing she’s said to Ava since whole revelation.
There’s something about it. This openness and honesty, the sign that Ava wasn’t the only one taking this poorly, that seems the most real of all.
“It’s the truth,” Ava says, just as bitter. “I’m not real. I’ve never been real. And nothing is going to change that. So you might as well just accept that-”
“I’m trying,” Sara snaps. “I’m trying so fucking-”
“And why bother, when clearly you’re not-”
“You’re the one that’s stuck like this, refusing to let me help-”
“You don’t understand what it’s like-”
“Sometimes you make it hard to love you,” Sara says.
Words so harsh that any comeback Ava had dies on her lips before it can be fully formed. Sara seems to catch herself a moment later as well. Guilt flashing so clearly on her face, that Ava has to turn and look away from her, for fear that she might start crying all over again.
“Shit, Ava - I didn’t mean,” Sara says quickly, voice shaking a little, like she too might be on the verge of tears.
She knows that if she were to turn now and see tears in Sara’s eyes that that would be all that it would take. Her resolve would fall away in an instant. Which is why she keeps her gaze steady on the trees outside the car window.
She stays that way stony and silent until Sara gets them back on the highway.
The lack of music only making it more tense, so Ava shifts slightly, moving to turn flick through the stations. Static for the most part, but a distraction still. When she glances at Sara after finding a halfway decent station, Ava notices that she’s shoved her sunglasses back on hiding her expression away.
“You don’t have to, you know,” Ava says, softly, her words barely able to be heard over the music.
But Sara does not miss them, simply asking, “What?”
Love me , she wants to say, but can’t bring herself to say that word.
Instead she says, “You don’t have to care about me.”
“I can't just stop caring about you, it doesn't work that way.”
“No,” Ava agrees. “I suppose not.”
They don’t talk much after that.
Neither knowing what to say.
Instead they let the music play, loud enough that there’s no room for conversation. No room for the terrible thoughts that make their home inside of Ava’s head. She wants to sing along to the radio but can’t bring herself to do so, instead she focuses on the soft tremors of Sara’s voice just barely there under the noise from the radio.
They stop for food at some point.
A drive through, just a short pitstop.
It’s the first time they’ve spoken in hours, when Sara immediately after placing her order turns to Ava and asks, “What do you want to eat?”
There’s a terrible feeling in her stomach, anxiety not hunger, her appetite nonexistent despite the fact that they last time they ate was at the motel this morning.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You need to eat,” Sara insists.
And Ava can’t help it, she means to come off harsh, but all she manages is a genuine note of curiosity, “Do I?”
She had never really thought it through. Never really contemplated it until now, but now she can’t stop thinking about it. What was the point really in the grand scheme of things? Would her body actually decay and wither away if she refused to eat? Or was she like a plastic bottle forever meant to keep its form even after decades of lifelessness?
Sara doesn’t answer her.
Maybe she’s wondering the same things Ava is.
Though instead of replying to Ava’s question, she just turns away from Ava and back towards the screen waiting to take their order. “Actually double that.”
They get another hotel room, this time with only one bed, and Ava can’t help but let out a bitter noise almost like a laugh at the irony at it. The one time that she wants to be as far from Sara as possible is the one time they can’t.
Of course not.
Of course this was her life.
She wonders briefly if the eleven other versions of her had better luck than this. If they didn’t have to suffer the way that she did. Maybe dying was easier than whatever this was, this mess of being in love and yet knowing that she didn’t have any right to feel that way or have any claim to any feeling anything at all.
At least, they were naive to the truth when they died.
But they also didn’t have…
“I can sleep on the floor if that makes it easier,” Sara offers.
So sincerely that Ava snaps her head away from the bed that seems too big and too empty to focus on Sara instead. Sara, who so rarely looks hesitant, but now shifts before her slightly, as if pulling in on herself.
“I’m sorry,” Ava says, because what else is there to say. “I’m sorry that I’m so terrible and hard to love and that I-”
Sara kisses her, cutting her off. Soft and sure and it feels like it’s been so long since the last time they kissed. So long since she’s let herself have this, the feeling of being loved, of knowing it in the curve of Sara’s lips, in the way that she presses against her, holding onto Ava’s sweater to keep her in place.
As if Ava would want to pull away.
As if Ava could ever pull away.
Ava kisses Sara back like her life depends on doing so. It may just. Because for once she doesn’t feel like she’s falling with no end in sight. She feels like she’s here and real and human and normal and not just one in a million.
It only lasts a moment, because when Sara pulls back for air there are tears on Ava’s cheeks, and she knows that they need to talk about this. That there is so much for them to talk about, but she can’t bring herself to say the words that she knows need to come out.
Instead she just says, “Stay with me.”
And hopes that that is enough.
She wakes briefly in the middle of the night to the sound of Sara having a nightmare.
And it’s so familiar that it hurts.
So familiar that her half asleep mind can’t help but reach out for Sara, pressing her hand against Sara’s chest in the same way she used to before.The way she used to reach for Sara, a steady presence to ground her, feeling as her heartbeat slows back down to a normal rhythm.
A small act of comfort.
A little thing.
The one thing that she can do right.
She waits with bated breath, until she feels Sara’s hand on top of hers, holding her steady and in place, as they both wait for Sara’s rapidly beating heart to slow down.
“Sorry, I woke you,” Sara says with a sleep heavy voice.
“I don’t mind,” Ava says, her own voice just as tired, not thinking to filter herself for a moment, “I’m just glad I could be here.”
Sara’s voice is soft, “I missed this.”
But it still manages to steal Ava’s breath away.
She missed this too.
Missed Sara beside her, in her bed, in her life.
Sara shifts slightly, curling in against her, and Ava lets her. Takes the small comfort that she can in holding Sara close to her. Protecting her, as one of the few things left that Ava can successfully do. Holding her there until her breathing regulates and she falls back asleep once more.
She would like to say that is is easier in the morning, that waking up curled against Sara makes this easier to handle.
But it doesn’t.
But it isn’t.
Because there is still so much between them that Ava isn’t sure where to begin isn’t sure if she should even bother trying to understand whatever their relationship was when she didn’t even understand herself.
It’s not but she's trying and she figured that ought to count for something.
They cross over into Nevada in the early hours of the morning.
Forests giving way to endless stretches of deserts, roads that curved through mountains now stretching out on flat ground so that she can see the horizon forever in the distance. The sun coming out for the first time in what seems like ages.
“Hear me out,” Sara says, “Let’s get married in Vegas.”
She sounds so serious that if Ava didn’t know better she would have taken it for a real offer.
Ava stares at her for a long moment waiting for her faux serious look to crumble. “You’re joking.”
“I’m joking,” Sara confirms a second later with a smile. “I mean if we wanted Elvis to marry us we could just hop back on the Waverider and get the real one. He does owe us a favor after that whole ghost guitar thing.”
“I think I'm good,” Ava replies, attempting to force a smile of her own.
She misses when she was able to smile with ease, without worry and self doubts. Without questioning her every reason for smiling.
Sara sees through her smile in an instant. “Tell me what you're thinking?”
“I don't know if that's a good idea,” Ava admits. Speaking her mind yesterday hadn’t exactly helped things, but last night she had felt a change in the right direction and…
They did need to talk about this at some point, just not now, she wasn’t ready yet.
Instead she chooses to voice a small doubt. A small truth in lieu of a much bigger one. “I almost did get married in Vegas once, my ex, you know, she had this crazy impulsive idea but I backed out at the last minute. I’ve never really been the impulsive one, I ran off before the ceremony could begin.”
“I’m glad you didn’t get married,” Sara says, her joking tone slipping away into something almost like -
“Are you jealous?”
Defensively Sara insists, “I’m not jealous.”
Ava doesn’t say anything, just arches an eyebrow when Sara looks away from the road for an instant to glance at her.
“I’m allowed to be jealous.”
It’s a little funny. She could almost laugh about it. This sudden turn in events. She was the one that was jealous before of John Constantine and of every other person that had come before - from casual fling to serious partner - comparing herself up to everyone that Sara had before her and finding herself lacking.
Now though... To see the color on Sara’s face, the way she purses her lips refusing to admit how this all made her feel.
Ava can’t help but push, “I could tell you about her, if that would make you feel any better, we’ve never really talked about exes.”
“This is terrible,” Sara says with a groan, “I don’t know how you managed to work with John. Forget Vegas! The whole state of Nevada is canceled! Off limits! Banned forever.”
There’s something about the way Sara says it. So dramatic that she can’t help it. A laugh bubbles up from within her. Real and genuine, the first laugh that she’s had in far too long.
Sara looks just as startled by it as Ava feels.
“I missed that sound,” Sara says, so soft that Ava nearly misses it.
But she can’t.
She’s glad that she didn’t.
“Me too,” Ava admits hesitantly.
Sara removes one of her hands from the wheel, stretching it across the space between them. A silent offer. Ava wants to take it. Wants to lace their fingers together and have this be that easy. But she can’t. Not with so many doubts still in her head, making the laughter of a moment before seem like a ghost all too soon.
“I don't even know if I could get married,” Ava says after a moment. Focusing her attention and running her fingers over the back of Sara’s hand rather than looking at the other woman. “I mean I’m not even…” She trails off unable to say the words. Instead she starts again. “I don't even have a real birth certificate.”
“Well, I think I still might be legally declared dead so,” Sara says, easy and free. As if it really could all be that easy, a joke between them on their good days. “Maybe it’s best if we don't.”
“Probably,” Ava agrees.
She thinks for a moment that that will be the end of it, that they'll go back to listening to the music and watching the rest of the world pass them by.
But Sara can’t stay quiet for long. “I’d do it you know?”
“Marry you,” she says, matter of fact, as if there was no question to it.
As if Ava wasn’t on the brink of having another crisis. This one so different than all the others that she’s had before. Because this isn't about what she is, but rather what they are.
How sure Sara sounds when Ava isn't sure about anything at all.
She's not sure what to say, not sure how a normal person is supposed to respond to that, let alone someone like her.
Which is why all she manages to do is squeak out a high pitched, “Thank you,” her voice lifting up at the end in question.
Sara’s hand twists in her grasp, finally threading their fingers together.
“It’s too hot to exist,” Sara says, dramatic as always. She’s supposed to be pumping gas, but she’s given up on watching the pump and is instead leaning against the side of the car and watching Ava as she washes the windshield.
Sara’s barely wearing anything as it is, a crop top that when she stretches shows off the muscled plains of her stomach and shorts that barely cover anything. A pleasant distraction. Ava had noticed it earlier in the day, but here out in the open the clear lack of clothing that Sara was wearing was even more noticeable.
“Remember yesterday when it was sad and cloudy,” Sara says, “I miss that.”
“I don’t,” Ava says without thinking to stop herself.
When Sara catches her eye there’s a soft look there. “I don’t mean the sad stuff. I mean, not feeling like my skin is going to burn off, which in this heat, Aves, is a legitimate concern.”
Ava lets her gaze linger on Sara, looking her up and down pointedly. “I don’t miss that either.”
Sara smirks at her, the smirk that means trouble, the one that gives Ava ideas that she hasn’t had properly in far too long.
Impulsively Ava flicks some of the water she’s using to clean the car at Sara.
Just to watch that smirk turn into something more mischievous.
“You’re in trouble,” Sara tells her.
“Are you going to do something about it?”
Sara does that thing where she’s clearly intending to wink but just misses the mark, and Ava can’t help but smile at the familiar gesture. The smile stays on her face when Sara slides pointedly closer to her giving up her dramatic attack to get into Ava’s space.
“You’re going to make me drop this,” Ava points out.
And Sara just laughs, grabs the wiper from her hand setting it down on the hood of the car and instead taking up the space directly in front of Ava. There’s so much of her that it’s hard for Ava’s hands not to settle on her bare skin. They’re a little wet from washing the windshield and Sara’s shivers against her touch when Ava settles her wet hands on Sara’s waist.
“You should kiss me,” Sara says sugary sweet.
She’s never been the type for public displays of affection. Memories of coming out and having it go terribly, missteps along the way of a messy life always holding her back but that…. It wasn’t real. She hadn’t had all of her childhood friends turn their back on her once she came out, because she never had childhood friends, never had a childhood. Normally that would give her more of a crisis. But right now, in this moment, with Sara right before her, it gives Ava just the push she needs.
Kissing Sara is easy and familiar and natural as if this was the thing that she was made for. As if she had been chosen out from all the other Avas because she was the one meant to be here in this moment, kissing this wonderful woman, and feeling like she just might have been programmed for love after all.
Ava pushes against Sara needing more, pushing her up onto the hood of the car. Deepening the kiss. Biting down on Sara’s lip so that she opens her mouth up to Ava with a moan on her lip. One that sends vibrations of want and need throughout Ava’s entire being.
She could stay like this forever, kissing Sara at a gas station in a town where nobody knew there name, were in not for the loud sound of the gas pump clicking, signaling that they were full up and ready to go, cutting them off and pulling Ava back to her senses.
She moves back from Sara with the greatest show of restraint. Resisting the urge to kiss her again when Sara lets out a whine as the loss of contant.
“Go put the cap on,” Ava tells her, turning to return the wiper to its previous location.
Sara grumbles a little but does what she’s told, but not without purposely running her fingers over Ava’s lower back when she passes her by.
“I want snacks before we get back on the road,” Sara says, with a voice that leaves no tone for argument.
Not that Ava would really objected. She was feeling a bit hungry herself.
They split up once they’re inside the gas station. Ava going to the candy aisle giving in to her minor sweet tooth while Sara flits off to who knows where. Returning after not much time with a bag of chips and two soda pops.
She bumps her hip lightly into Ava’s to announce her presence.
“And here I thought I was supposed to be the indecisive one,” Sara says with a note of humor in her voice.
Ava casts a brief amused glance in Sara’s direction. “Picking out candy is serious business.”
She’s rewarded with Sara’s laugh in return. “I love you, you know that right?”
And it’s like Ava’s brain short circuits. One second she had been in the middle of deciding between sour and regular skittles and the next, everything she ever knew was crashing down around her.
“You can’t just say things like that.”
“It’s true though,” Sara insists, so casually, before reaching past Ava to grab a pack of candy. As if Ava isn’t having a crisis in the middle of the gas station. “Sour, always. Come on let’s go.”
It’s so easy for Sara. This isn’t the first time she’s said it and yet Ava still can’t bring herself to say the words back. Can’t bring herself to believe that she’s worthy of anyone’s love, let alone someone as wonderful as Sara.
So she tries to ignore it.
Tries to pretend that all of this is normal.
That she isn’t on the brink of another crisis as she stands there watching Sara check out.
They make it back to the car quickly enough. The snacks getting tossed in the back as Ava takes her usual spot in the passenger seat without any question. She waits a moment for Sara to join her in the car, watching as she dramatically turns to air conditioner all the way up.
“You know we could just roll down a window?”
“And let more heat it,” Sara says scandalized, “To think that I trusted you.”
“It’s not that hot,” Ava insists.
Then again, she never really seems to get overheated. Or worn down. Or sick for that matter. Which… Now that she was thinking about it.
“It’s too hot for clothing,” Sara retorts. Before giving Ava another one of her almost winks, and pulling her crop top off over her head, to reveal her black lacy bra underneath.
Ava had seen hints of it before when the crop top had ridden up, but being presented with Sara wearing nothing but it, was something else entirely.
“You’re going to be the death of me.”
“I try,” Sara insists, tossing her shirt into the back and starting the car.
Ava tries to focus on something else. On the music, on the road, on anything other than Sara’s tits but it’s a little hard not to when they’re right there and bringing back memories of all the times that they had been together before.
Times that seem too long ago now.
“So we have two options,” Sara says, as she pulls them back onto the road, “Option one, we keep driving through the evening and get to our destination early tomorrow morning.”
“Wait, we actually have a destination?”
Sara ignores her. “Or option two, I find us the nearest hotel and you fuck me until neither of us can think straight.”
“Fucking hell,” Ava hisses out, “I - God-”
“It’s Sara. But an easy mistake to make,” she teases, “Come on, Aves, it’s been too long, and I need you.”
It has been too long. And Sara, beautiful Sara, sitting there in nothing but her bra because it was too hot, a weak excuse if she ever heard one, is too great of a temptation for Ava to resist.
She always has been, and always will be, Ava’s one true weakness.
“I think the heat is getting to be after all, maybe a hotel would be nice, we could lay down for the night, ride out this heat wave.”
“I like the way you think.”
They barely make it inside the door of their hotel room. Barely have it shut behind them before they’re on each other. Ava isn’t certain who kisses who first, isn’t certain that it matters, because they are kissing with the same heat and passion that they’d had at the gas station but also something more.
Because they were here finally in a place where they could act upon those urges.
It’s the first time they’ve done anything since… The reveal of what she was. Since they broke up. Since they somehow slowly started finding their way back together.
“I need you,” Ava says, because she can’t help herself, because she does. She needs this more than she’s needed anything else in her life, anyone in her life, and she needs Sara to know this. Needs her to know how important this is to her.
It’s not just sex.
Not just too bodies moving against each other for relief.
Not just fire and passion.
It’s so much more than that, so much that Ava feels as if she could start crying again, because Sara is kissing her and touching her and it’s almost too much and she thought that she would never get to have this again.
For the first time, in a long time, she feels as if she really might be real.
“I need you,” she says again, because what else is there to say, “I need you, please, Sara-”
“I know, Ava, I’ve got you.”
“Don’t judge me,” Sara tells her, “I worked up quite an appetite.”
Ava doesn’t choke on her coffee but it’s a near thing. Her face heating up even if there’s no one but the two of them to hear Sara’s lewd comment. To feel her foot pressing up against Ava’s leg, teasing and with intent. As if they were in public getting breakfast.
She would have asked if Sara had no shame if she didn’t already know better.
“I’d joke about keeping the hotel room for another day,” Ava says, shifting slightly away from Sara’s touch so that she doesn’t give into the temptation. “But you might actually take me up on that offer.”
“You actually do know me.”
“Well,” Ava says, setting her mug down. “I did read your file.”
“I probably shouldn’t find that as hot as I do.”
“Probably not,” Ava admits.
Truth be told, when she read Sara’s file it was for research. When she’d need to know about this woman that was a criminal to time, that made her blood burn in a way that Ava hadn’t yet been able to explain. She had thought that she hated Sara, but now… Now she knew better.
It wasn’t love at first sight.
Not even close.
But it was something… An almost.
As if somehow they had always been meant for each other.
The thought was supposed to be a romantic one, but the second that it’s in her head she can’t stop it. That little voice like doubt in her brain, making her stomach turn, her appetite slowly slipping away.
“Aves, I can hear you thinking from here.”
“You don’t think…” Ava starts then stops herself. “Sorry, it’s silly.”
“Nothing you say is ever silly,” Sara insists. “I want to hear it, whatever is on your mind. If it’s important to you then it’s important to me.”
She shouldn’t say it.
Knows she shouldn’t.
Doesn’t want to ruin the moment.
“What if I was programmed to fall in love with you? What if this feeling isn’t real? What if I’m not even really a lesbian? Or what if I just-”
“That’s a load of shit.”
There’s anger in Sara’s tone. And for a second, Ava can’t help but feel so miserable and terrible that Sara is mad at her. That this is her fault. That she shouldn’t have said anything and that she should’ve kept her mouth shut and just been happy with what she had.
But she had spoken up and ruined it and now Sara would come to her senses and leave her.
And she’d deserve that.
She was the one that was hard to love .
The one that wasn’t real.
That one that -
“Ava. Shit, baby girl, I’m sorry, don’t panic again. It’s okay, I’ve got you.”
There’s hands on top of hers. Holding her in place, grounding her, and Ava blinks past the tears that had appeared without warning to focus on Sara still sitting across from her, by some miracle not gone. The angry expression on her place replaced with soft concern that makes Ava want to cry for a whole different reason.
“Ava, I love you. I love you so much that it hurts me seeing you like this,” Sara says. “I used to hate you, but now I hate the thought of not being around you constantly. These past few days have been the best of my life, even when things went wrong, because I’ve been with you, with the woman I love, and nothing else matters. This feeling in my heart is real, just like the feeling in your heart is. Nobody, no outside force, made us feel this way. I love you, and that’s real.”
“I -” Ava starts then stops, she wants to say it back so badly. But her whole chest feels too tight. Her lungs refuse to let her breathe. Her mouth refuses to form the words that she needs.
“It’s okay,” Sara tells her, “You don’t have to say it back, that doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
“Okay,” Ava echoes.
Even though she knows it’s not enough.
It’s all she can manage.
So for now it will have to be.
Sara smiles at her soft and sure, and Ava tries to smile back. Even though it feels all a little too fake. Her mouth contorted into a form that’s almost a smile. Close but not real. Like so much of her.
She’s saved from her mind betraying her again, by their waitress returning with Sara’s first round of pancakes. Ava pulling her hands back to the protective safety of her lap, while their food is set out before them.
Ava intends to get right into breakfast and forget about any of that.
But something stops her.
A thought that cuts through the fog.
“Aves,” Ava says after a moment. “You called me that before?”
Sara shrugs a little, but Ava can’t help but notice a hint of blush on her cheeks as she looks down at her plate pointedly. “It’s a nickname, I guess, something that’s just ours. No other Ava is an Aves right, because I came up with it and you’re mine.”
She’s never been the nickname type. And a part of her wants to point out that usually nicknames are supposed to be shorter than people’s actual names.
But there’s something about it.
About the way Sara says it.
“I like it,”
“Good, because you were going to be stuck with it either way.”
Sara steps out of the diner when Ava goes up to pay. She tries not to watch her through the glass. Tries not to think about who she knows Sara is calling or what that angry look on her face means or what question she is demanding to whoever is on the other end.
It doesn’t make any different.
It doesn’t change things.
She loves Sara.
Looking at her through the glass, demanding answers to questions that Ava is too nervous to fully voice herself.
That is the woman that she loves.
No one programmed that feeling into her.
It’s natural and it’s her own.
“I want to drive,” Ava says when she gets back out to the car.
Sara has finished her phone call at some point. Though there’s a furrow between her brow that Ava is certain she doesn’t want to ask about. Ava notices that she tries to cover it up when she sees Ava, a smile taking the place of a worried look. A smile that Ava knows is only a little bit fake.
“That would ruin the surprise,” Sara insists, though even as she says this she’s fishing the keys out of her pocket to hand to Ava.
“I’ve never been a fan of surprises.”
Sara nods a little at that. Though she makes no movement to actually hand the keys over. Just holds them there in the palm of her hand. “Do you know why I wanted to take this trip?”
Ava shrugs a little, “Because we both needed a break?”
“Yes, and no,” Sara replies. “I mean we did, and our teams can handle a little time without us. Helps them build character while their moms are busy.”
Ava wrinkes her nose at the turn of phrase.
“But that’s not it,” Sara continues, her voice soft and kind, gentle as always in a way that Ava is not certain how she’s been lucky enough to deserve. “I just… I wanted to give you new memories to replace the old ones, the ones that weren’t real.”
“I saw these pictures. When I was meeting your parents - or well, the actors pretending to be your parents - of all these trips this little girl that wasn’t you had taken. Trips to the beach and to the Redwood forest, and to the Grand Canyon and I wanted to give you real memories instead.”
If Ava closes her eyes, if she tries she can remember those pictures. The ones that never felt real. Pictures that she had looked at in a home of people that had felt like strangers trying to pull up memories that she now knew were fabricated.
Now she could think of those places and not have fabricated memories.
She could think of holding Sara’s hand on the beach as the tide came in.
She could think of a forest that had felt too quiet because neither of them could find the right words to say.
She could think of a hotel bed sheets scratching against her skin.
She could think of Sara. Here with her. Loving her enough to do all of this.
Ava feels like she could cry again.
But this time they would be tears of happiness.
She doesn’t. Somehow she manages to hold back.
Instead she kisses Sara, not with the heat and passion of the night before, but with something soft, something that was gentle, something that belonged to just the two of them and this moment.
Another place that Ava would commit to memory.
A real memory.
One all of her own.
She slips her hand against Sara’s as they kiss, sliding the keys out into her own hand instead, and when she pulls back Ava can’t help but notice that she’s not the only one with tears in her eyes.
“Thank you,” Ava says softly. “I needed this. I needed you.”
“You have me,” Sara insists.
Ava knows that now.
This time when she smiles down at Sara it’s real and genuine and she feels a bit like her heart is going to burst.
“I’m still driving,” Ava says. Moving away from Sara to head to the driver’s seat. “I need this too.”
It’s been too long feeling not in control.
Of the car, of her feelings, of her life, of all of space and time.
This is something little. A small thing. But it’s enough. The hum of the engine beneath her feet, the certainty that this one thing at least will go wherever Ava guides it. She drives a little too fast. Not caring about the speed limits, not caring about rules and regulations.
For the first time in her life she doesn’t care.
She doesn’t have to care.
The only thing that she cares about is the woman right beside her. The woman that she loves and who by some miracle loves her in return. Who took her on this journey without asking for anything more than that. Who believed in her even when Ava could not believe in herself.
She glances across the space between them.
Committing this image to memory.
“This is real,” Ava says, not a question anymore, but a statement of fact. “All of this is real.”
“This is real,” Sara agrees.
“I love you. I should have said that before, but I… I wanted it to be real.”
“It’s always been real. Just like you.”
And for the first time, Ava truly does believe her.
“Just like me.”