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PART I

Sara Lance is a ninja.

Technically. Sort of.

She’s not a ninja in the way most people would think of upon hearing the word, but she’s been competing on American Ninja Warrior for the past three seasons now, so it counts in her book.

Her friend Mick disagrees, but Sara doesn’t really care.

She loves being a ninja. She loves stepping up to conquer a course that some think is impossible. She loves the rush of proving those people wrong.

Above all, she loves having fun. The ninja courses are her playground, and Sara knows that her tricks and flips are entertaining to watch, but that’s not why she does them. She’s genuinely enjoying herself that much that she can’t contain it.

Four years ago, Sara had stood in the walk-on line for over a week. Her video submission had failed to get her selected, but she’d been determined to compete. She’d stepped up, finished the qualifying course, and had completed seven out of ten obstacles in the city finals course. The next year, she’d been chosen by producers to compete, and had made it all the way to Stage One of the National Finals in Las Vegas. Last year, she’d made it to Stage Two.

This year, Sara wants to go all the way. Complete Stage Three and then climb the rope to a million dollars at Stage Four. She knows she’s capable, or she will be capable in a year or two if this season doesn’t go her way.

It will go her way.

Sara knows it.

Well, she believes it.

Or, rather, she hopes it.

Pushing away the niggling insecurities, she looks up. Several feet in the air, a course tester is doing his job – running through the obstacles so Sara and the other hundred or so competitors can see how they should be completed.

Or not, Sara muses, as the man loses his grip on the new Doorknob Drop obstacle and plunges into the tank of water below. The aforementioned ‘drop’ had peeled his fingers off the little spheres he’d been gripping onto. Sara makes a mental note to watch out for that.

Just off to the side, the Warped Wall awaits. Fourteen and a half feet high, Sara can run up it in her sleep. That hadn’t always the case; her five-foot-six frame had given her a slight advantage over some of the other women, but she’d had to train relentlessly on her technique in order to be able to reach the top.

This year, there’s a bigger Warped Wall next to it. Named the Mega Wall, it stands at eighteen feet in height, and offers a ten thousand dollar prize to any athlete who can reach the top in one attempt, provided they make it that far into the course.

Sara knows she probably won’t be able to do it. Not in one attempt. Besides, her focus is just on hitting the buzzer at the end of the course.

She turns to her friend, Wally, who’s nodding his head as they watch the next course tester tackle the obstacle. Wally’s twenty-one years old, and it’s his first year competing. In the couple of years she’s known him, he’s become a little brother to her, and to the group Sara trains with.

Not all of the group are competing here today. Given that they’re becoming pretty big names within the sport, the producers of the show had asked them to spread out a bit over a few of the different qualifying locations. Sara, for example, is running in Los Angeles, but some of her training group will be running in Miami, and some in Philadelphia.

But the Los Angeles qualifiers and finals are the first to be taped this season. Sara doesn’t live that far away; in truth, she and “The Legends” (as people had taken to calling them) all live in Long Beach, California, so they’re all coming out to watch her and Wally run the course.

It’s nice that she’ll have people on the sidelines, Sara thinks.

“What do you think, kid?” She asks Wally.

“Seems like the drop is a pretty big jolt to tired arms,” Wally says thoughtfully. “Grip strength would be dope here.”

Sara smiles at him. Wally pays a lot of attention to the obstacles he tackles, visualising how best to approach them. Then, when the time comes, he moves so quickly and effortlessly through the course that it looks easy. Sara’s watched him grow up over the past couple of years, and make his way up the rankings in local ninja competitions. Now he’s ready to take on the American Ninja Warrior course.

“Stay fast, stay light, don’t hold your bodyweight for any longer than you need to,” Sara tells him, and Wally flashes her a grin.

“Yes, Captain.”

 

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Once night falls, Sara watches the hosts arrive. They do their bit to camera, introducing the show, themselves, and the objective. It takes them two takes to get it how the producers want it.

Then they pass it down to Gideon, the show’s sideline reporter. She runs through a breakdown of the course ahead. Sara knows from experience that they’ll film the intro to the finals tomorrow night. For the audience, the qualifiers and finals for Los Angeles will air about six weeks apart, but in reality the episodes are taped over two consecutive nights.

The ‘wranglers’ tell them how tonight will be structured. First, they’ll run the one hundred people who have been selected to compete – Sara and Wally included. Then they’ll run as many people from the walk-on line as they can. Sara estimates they’ll get through about thirty before filming ends.

Sara’s number eighty-five in the running order, so she won’t be facing the course for hours. She stays, though. She has the advantage of watching lots of other athletes take their shot at the course, and she fully intends to learn from their mistakes.

The first obstacle is the Floating Steps; something that’s truly embarrassing to fall on. Jumping over the water and up to an angled step five times isn’t hard. At least it’s not for Sara, whose background is in Parkour. This is followed by a new obstacle – the Jumper Cables. Sara will have to swing on a set of vertical handles and make a jump to grab onto what looks like a punching bag and propel it to the platform.

Next up is the dreaded balance obstacle; the Spinning Bridge. An uneven run made up of 6 big spheres that will spin if you don’t step directly on top of them. Sara knows she’ll need to be quick and light across them, otherwise she could be making an early exit from the competition. The fourth obstacle looks to be a fun one – the Sky Hooks are made up of three sets of hooks six feet apart, a ring on the first hook of each pair. The athletes will have to jump the ring onto the second hook and then transition to the next set. Laches – a move that will be required here – are one of Sara’s specialities, so she’s really looking forward to this one.

After that comes the Doorknob Drop, which will be much harder after the upper body test of the previous obstacle, and then the final obstacle for tonight is the Warped Wall. Sara estimates she should be able to get through the course in about three and a half minutes, maybe less.

Forty competitors have been and gone, and so far there’s only been one finisher, who had put up a pretty slow time. Sara watches the builders set up for the next athlete, wondering if there’s going to be anyone who actually interests her.

“And up next, I think we’re going to see something special,” Carter Hall – one of the hosts – says. He turns to the other host, Kendra Saunders, excitedly. “This next ninja is only a rookie, which means it’s her first year of American Ninja Warrior, but she’s been turning heads at ninja competitions all over the west coast. Out of San Diego, California, this is Ava Sharpe!”

That gets Sara’s attention.

She’d been turning heads at ninja competitions alright. Thirty-two years old, but being treated like a twenty-one year old prodigy, Ava Sharpe and her stupidly tight bun had been climbing up the rankings for the past year. At the last competition, she’d even beat out Sara.

Sara really hadn’t enjoyed that.

She also hadn’t enjoyed the air of aloof smugness that had radiated off of Ava Sharpe. Ninja Warrior competitors had become a sort of extended community over the years, but Sharpe had seemed to want no part of that, keeping exclusively to herself.

It rubs Sara the wrong way.

But here’s the thing. Ava Sharpe is a damn good athlete.

Sara can see her now, standing by the start line. Her tank top shows off her impressive shoulders and arms, and her shorts reveal strong, toned legs that seem to go on for days. She’s stood perfectly still; doesn’t even look nervous. How the hell is she not nervous?

Ava gets her countdown, and then she’s off. With her long strides, she makes quick work of the Floating Steps, jumping for the rope and taking an extra swing before landing on the platform.

“Now facing the Jumper Cables,” Kendra comments. “Can she time it right?”

Sara rolls her eyes. Kendra knows as well as she does that Ava Sharpe isn’t going to make a mistake on the release. Sure enough, Ava takes one swing and propels herself to the bag, arms and legs wrapped around it securely. She drops from the bag to the platform to the sound of rising applause.

Ava appears not to hear any of the cheering, or even the supportive words from a dweeby guy in glasses on the sidelines. Sara doesn’t know who the hell he is, but if he’s Sharpe’s boyfriend, she instantly feels sorry for him.

Staring down the Spinning Bridge, Ava looks focused, planning her steps. Then she takes off in a sprint, her five foot nine frame carrying her across the uneven bridge almost effortlessly. Sara wants to stamp her foot, it’s that unfair.

Ava’s foot slips on the last sphere, but her momentum carries her to the landing platform with only a slight stumble, and the crowd cheers.

“A little misstep there, but she’s through,” Carter says. “Now Ava Sharpe faces down the Sky Hooks.”

Ava makes the leap from the trampette – an angled mini trampoline – to the first ring. She uses her lower body to generate a swing, then lifts up and pushes forwards, making the jump and landing hard on the next hook. The movement jolts her body, but her grip holds firm. Sara unwittingly sucks in a breath. As much as she doesn’t like Ava, and as much as she thinks she needs taking down a peg or two, she does like to see other women do well.

Just as Ava makes a better lache with the next ring, someone slings their arm around Sara’s shoulders. Not even flinching, Sara turns to smile at her best friend.

“She’s good,” Amaya says, nodding to where Ava is generating a swing for her third and final lache.

“She’s okay,” Sara responds, rolling her eyes. “Bit insufferable though.”

Amaya ignores her. “Think she’ll finish?”

“Probably.”

“How are you feeling?” Amaya asks her.

“Pretty good,” Sara says. “There’s nothing here I can’t do, besides the Mega Wall. And I don’t need to do that. Where’s Nate? I thought he’d be with you.”

“He’s parking the car,” Amaya says. “We were a bit late setting off.”

“Ew,” Sara wrinkles her nose. “I don’t want to know.”

Amaya rolls her eyes good-naturedly as Zari, one of the other legends, meanders over to join them.

“Zari!” Amaya reaches out her free arm to pull Zari into a hug, effectively squishing Sara in the middle.

“And why are you so late?” Sara asks her.

Zari shrugs. “Had a nap.”

“Of course you did.”

By now, Ava is halfway through the Doorknob Drop. She makes the one-eighty transition to the next panel, and Zari hums thoughtfully.

“She’s good.”

Sara scoffs. “She’s okay.”

“She looks strong,” Zari comments.

“Please don’t tell me you’re drooling over her,” Sara groans.

“Nah, she’s not my type,” Zari says. “Too tall, too blonde.”

The panel drops, jolting Ava, although not enough to make her fall. She makes the sideways dismount to the cheers of the crowd, and then she’s facing down the last obstacle.

“She’s going to try it,” Kendra says as Ava lines up on the Mega Wall. “Eighteen feet high, let’s do this!”

Ava rocks back then pushes forwards into a sprint. She leans back slightly as the starts to ascend the wall. One, two, three strides and then a jump. Her hand stretches to the top and misses by a few inches. Ava slides back down the wall as the crowd groans in disappointment, and Sara can’t help but feel a tiny bit smug.

“Now that she’s failed the Mega Wall, she only has one shot at the regular wall,” Carter tells the audience, and the camera. “But one shot is all she needs, and Ava Sharpe is going to hit the buzzer at her first attempt!”

Ava scrambles over the top of the Warped Wall, and slams her palm down on the red buzzer before throwing her arms up in celebration. Sara reluctantly claps along with Amaya and Zari as Nate jogs up to them, car keys in hand.

“What did I miss?” He asks, leaning down to peck Amaya on the lips.

“Rookie finished the course,” Zari says, looking back up to where Ava is making her exit with one final wave to the crowd.

“Hey, isn’t that the woman who beat Sara last time out?” Nate asks, and Sara glares at him.

 

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It’s around two in the morning by the time Sara takes to the course.

She stands at the start line, shaking out her limbs as she waits for her countdown. At the sidelines, the rest of the legends are gathered in front of a camera crew. Wally, Amaya, Nate and Zari are joined by Ray and Jax, all cheering her on. It makes Sara’s heart feel lighter that they’re all there for her.

Deep down, she wishes certain other people were there, but that’s impossible now. So, Sara simply takes a breath and waits for her countdown. Once she’s released, Sara makes quick work of the Floating Steps, bounding from one to the next with practiced ease.

“This is Sara’s fourth straight season,” Kendra announces as Sara swings to safety on the rope. “She’s been impressive since her debut, and last year she made it to Stage Two at the National Finals. She’s thirty years old from Long Beach, California, and I know this crowd will be waiting to see if she does any of her signature tricks!”

There’s not room for a lot of tricks on the course, Sara thinks, as she swings out on the Jumper Cables, landing softly on the bag and sliding to the platform. She stares down the Spinning Bridge, which looks far more imposing from this angle. She can hear her friends yelling encouragement from the sidelines, and Sara knows she’ll probably have to get past at least this obstacle if she wants a spot in the women’s top five.

(The top thirty competitors move onto city finals, as do the top five women, although these days there are usually two or three inside the top thirty anyway).

But Sara hasn’t come here to scrape through. She’s come here to finish.

She runs at the bridge. One, two, three, four steps go well, but then she nearly overshoots the fifth sphere, and if she carries on this trajectory, she’ll land in the water between the last sphere and the platform. So, Sara thinks quickly and pushes off hard from the fifth sphere, tucking up and diving into a roll. She skips right over the last sphere and comes up out of the roll onto her feet, safe on dry land.

The crowd seems to think she’s done the flip on purpose, and they go wild, but Sara knows her friends will have been able to see her near miss. Carter and Kendra, being former competitors themselves, will have also noticed.

“Excellent quick thinking by Sara Lance on the Spinning Bridge,” Carter says. “Now she steps up to face the Sky Hooks.”

Sara jumps from the trampette and grabs onto the first ring. She takes a couple of swings to get her momentum up, and then makes the lache to the hook six feet away. She lands fairly gently, and grins, reaching out one hand to her left to grab the other ring. She doesn’t let go of the first ring; she’d seen too many earlier competitors start swinging sideways due to their momentum, so she keeps one hand on each ring until the last swing, quickly putting both hands on the second ring on the backswing and pushing forwards and up once again. She almost overshoots the landing with the power of her swing, the ring slamming hard into the hook, but Sara’s grip strength has always been good, so she hangs on with no problem. She reaches out to the right and uses the same trick to generate a forward swing, making sure not to overshoot the landing this time. Once she’s made it to the last hook, she gets a smaller swing going and jumps to the landing pad, grinning as she hears the crowd cheer.

She rolls her shoulders and shakes out her arm muscles before she climbs the rope that will take her to the Doorknob Drop. She uses the rope as long as possible, wrapping her feet up to take the weight off her arms, and then once she gets far enough in, she untangles her feet and then she’s just relying on her upper body.

She uses her hips to generate a bit of momentum, especially when she has to start travelling upwards. Sara’s biceps are getting tired, but she tries to keep the ‘L’ shapes with her arms, moving swiftly up to the top of the panel. She can feel it teetering, and it finally drops when she’s at the top. Sara gasps as the jolt rips one of her hands off the doorknobs, and she’s down to one hand.

The crowd gasp in horror, but Sara reaches out and twists her body, grabbing onto the first doorknob of the second panel to right herself. She lets out a breath. This run is turning out a bit more tumultuous than she’d expected.

She’s more careful making her way along the second panel. When it drops, she cushions the jolt by lifting her body up, and then makes the sideways dismount. Shaking out her aching arms, Sara lines up on the smaller Warped Wall.

“Seems like Sara Lance is unbothered by the Mega Wall,” Kendra announces.

Or, Sara thinks, she knows she won’t get within a foot of the top after running the rest of the course. She runs up the wall, firmly grabbing hold of the top and hoisting herself over easily. She presses the buzzer and whoops, looking out over the crowd as they applaud and cheer for her. She can see her friends on the sidelines celebrating, and she gives the hosts a little salute as they congratulate her on her run.

She climbs back down the other side of the wall, looking ahead to the extra obstacles that will be in tomorrow night’s course. She can’t wait to take them on. As soon as she’s back with her friends on the sidelines, the cameras are on her again. The legends mob her in a group hug, and she hasn’t felt this loved and this giddy in a while.

Sara’s told her time; three minutes and twenty-four seconds. Her initial prediction had been pretty much spot on. At the moment, that slots her into third place on the leaderboard. Not only is she guaranteed a place in city finals, but it seems like she’ll have a pretty advantageous spot in the running order.

 

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Soon enough, it’s Wally’s turn to take on the course. The producers have placed him ninety-eighth to go out of the hundred selected competitors, so they’re clearly expecting big things from him.

Sara stands with the other legends on the sidelines, crossing her fingers even though she knows she doesn’t need to, because Wally’s got this.

And, sure enough, Wally breezes through the first four obstacles without a hitch. He’s fast, faster than almost anyone to this point, and after a slightly awkward moment where he has to cross his hands over on the Doorknob Drop, he gets through that obstacle too.

Wally stands in front of the Mega Wall, psyching himself up while the legends yell encouragement.

“Come on, kid!” Sara shouts, and she can see Wally smile before he bolts at the wall.

He takes three long strides and then pushes up, stretching his six foot tall body up towards the top. The fingers of Wally’s right hand reach the ledge, and he hangs on for dear life. The audience roar as his grip holds, and he gets both hands on the top, pulling himself up and over to bring his hand down on the buzzer victoriously.

The legends go wild on the sidelines. Nate picks up Amaya and spins her around, Zari nearly hits Sara in the face by accident, and Ray clings to Jax like a lifeline as he jumps up and down in joy. Wally blows them a kiss from the top of the wall.

“We have just witnessed something very special, ladies and gentlemen,” Carter says excitedly. “Wally West, in his American Ninja Warrior debut, becomes the first person up the Mega Wall. He takes home ten thousand dollars, not bad for a night’s work!”

By this point, it’s getting on for three in the morning, but Sara couldn’t care less. Between her own run, and Wally’s just now, she’s wired.

By the end of the night, there’s cause for more celebration. Wally has completed the course in the fastest time, giving him pole position tomorrow night. Sara herself is in fifth place, which means she’ll run twenty-eighth. She notes, with satisfaction, that she’s ahead of Ava Sharpe’s ninth place finish. There’s one other woman in the top thirty – someone who failed on the Doorknob Drop – and the top five women are rounded out by two who had placed outside the top thirty, bringing the total number of competitors to thirty-two.

Sara sees Ava briefly, talking to the dweeby man who’d been on the sidelines for her run. She looks neither happy nor sad, just stern. Sara briefly wonders if she has any actual emotions beyond ‘smug’.

Sara scowls, and reminds herself that she doesn’t care.

 

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Since they don’t live far away, the legends go back to Long Beach for the day. Sara says goodbye to them and then goes straight to her apartment, falling asleep within seconds of her head touching the pillow. She sleeps from five until midday, waking from a dreamless sleep and stretching as she gets out of bed.

Sara reaches for her phone and sees that she has a text from Amaya.

Amaya

Late lunch at 2 with me and Zari?

Sara

sure thing

Sara scrapes her hair back into its usual ponytail and changes into a sports bra and gym leggings. She goes for a quick jog to loosen her muscles, and then stands under her shower for longer than is perhaps necessary. She puts her white ‘Team Legends’ tank top through the wash, ready to wear again tonight, and changes into jean shorts and a soft t-shirt, grabbing her bag and sunglasses as she goes. It may only be March, but Long Beach is starting to warm up, and it’s sunny today.

She doesn’t need to ask where they’re meeting, because she and Amaya (and later, Zari) have been meeting at the same diner for a long time now. When Sara arrives, she can already see Amaya and Zari at their usual booth in the back, sitting next to each other on one side of the table. They’re chatting animatedly, bodies half turned towards each other as they talk, and they’re so deep in conversation that they don’t notice Sara approaching until she slides onto the bench opposite them.

This happens from time to time. Sometimes Sara thinks she’s a perpetual third wheel, especially when it comes to her best friend. If she’s not third-wheeling Amaya with Nate, then she’s third-wheeling her with Zari. It doesn’t make her jealous or anything, but Sara sometimes wishes she had someone she was close with in that way. She and Amaya never seem to lose themselves in conversation the way that Amaya and Zari do.

“Hey, Sara,” Amaya greets her. “How are you feeling?”

“Pretty good,” Sara says. “No sore muscles. Just need to refuel before tonight.”

Zari pushes a menu towards her, and Sara grins because even as she looks over the menu, she already knows that all three of them are going to order the same thing they always do. This diner is the one place that Sara lets herself be somewhat unhealthy, and she orders a burger and fries with a side salad. Amaya orders a chicken salad, because apparently she’s perfect even at their cheat meal establishment, and Zari orders a stack of pancakes.

“So,” Zari starts as she digs into her food. “How are you feeling about your chances tonight?”

“I’m gonna finish the city finals course,” Sara says resolutely. “I don’t care how tough it is, I’m gonna beat it this time.”

“Nice,” Zari says around a mouthful of pancakes. Amaya rolls her eyes at Zari fondly.

For all her success, Sara hasn’t actually completed a city finals course before. They’re notoriously tough, and she’s nearly done it, but only a few athletes tend to finish them at each location, and Sara’s never been amongst their numbers. Not that many women have finished a city finals course at all. Amaya had, last year, but she’d been the only one to do so that season.

“You’re going to crush it,” Amaya promises. “And we’ll all be there when you do.”

“Thanks guys,” Sara says. “And hey, you’d better join me in Vegas. I can’t wait to watch you guys run next month.”

“Are you kidding?” Amaya laughs. “I made it there my second season. Zari here made it there at her first attempt.” She throws her arm around Zari’s shoulders, who blushes at the praise. “This woman right here is a beast,” Amaya declares.

“Yeah, well, I learned from the best,” Zari mumbles, and Amaya beams at her.

“Make sure you guys are on time tonight,” Sara reminds them.

“Don’t worry, I’m planning on taking my nap earlier today,” Zari reassures her.

Sara turns to Amaya. “And you… hold off on banging Nate until after city finals.”

Amaya laughs. “I’ll try.”

Zari stabs her pancake with a little more force than necessary, Sara thinks. She raises an eyebrow at Zari, who shakes her head almost imperceptibly.

“You okay, Z?” Amaya asks.

“Fine,” Zari says. “My hand slipped.”

This satisfies Amaya, but Sara makes a mental note to ask Zari about it another time. Even though she’s not the oldest or the most experienced competitor in the legends, she can’t help but feel responsible for them. She’s not that used to being the one to take care of people, but she’s finding that she likes it more and more.

 

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That night, her friends are mercifully on time.

Sara stands with them as they watch the first twenty competitors run the extended course, and not one of them make it to the buzzer. The last few obstacles are proving particularly brutal; nobody has yet made it past the ninth, and only a couple have reached that obstacle.

Sara warms up at the same time as Wally, but they take a break to watch Ava Sharpe’s run on the big screen. Just out of curiosity.

She’s wearing the same outfit as she had done the previous night; tank top and shorts, and she shakes out her legs as she waits for the countdown. If Sara didn’t know better, she’d say Ava was feeling the pressure more this time.

Ava’s given the all-clear to start, and bounds through the Floating Steps with the same ease as she had done the last time. The Jumper Cables, too, she makes quick work of; then she’s regrouping for the Spinning Bridge. The camera holds a close-up of the intense look of concentration on her face, and Sara grudgingly admits to herself that Ava Sharpe isn’t terrible-looking.

This time Ava doesn’t so much as slip on the Spinning Bridge. Her steps are precise and well-calculated, and she goes into the Sky Hooks with no hesitation. She’s not racing through the course, but she’s not hanging around either, and she keeps her swings efficient and controlled, and her laches well-measured.

The Doorknob Drop doesn’t seem to sap much strength from her arms, and Ava runs right up the Warped Wall. The Mega Wall is gone now – it had only been an option for the qualifying course – leaving the fourteen and a half foot wall as the only option.

The crowd cheers as Ava jumps down the two steps on her way to the back half of the course. She’s the second woman to make it this far tonight, and the other woman had fallen on the next obstacle – the Salmon Ladder.

But Ava doesn’t, of course. She jumps from the trampette and grabs the metal bar in a switch grip, stilling her body before kipping up and jumping the bar up to the first rung. She has to make four jumps in total, and she executes them with almost military precision, never losing her ‘L’ shapes or her perfect form.

“And with that, this rookie has guaranteed herself a spot in our Vegas lineup!” Kendra says excitedly from the announcer’s booth. “She’ll definitely be in the women’s top two, with only Sara Lance to come after her.”

And okay, fine, Sara’s kind of impressed.

Ava takes one hand off the bar, shaking out her arm, before doing the same with the other one. Then, she reaches out with one arm and grabs hold of the Swinging Peg Boards. This obstacle looks brutal; made up of two peg boards that swing side to side. Ava makes use of the pegs already in place, and traverses her way across the first board. Mid-swing, she switches her hands around and uses her right hand to reach up for the second peg board. Holding the first one still, she removes one of the pegs (since there’s only one in place on the second board) and slots it into one of the holes near the edge of the second board.

This board now starts swinging, and Ava looks to be breaking a sweat for the first time in this course as she slowly works her way towards the platform. Sara can just about make out a grimace on her face as she spots her exit, and she builds momentum with her legs to make the jump to the landing pad.

She doesn’t land on her feet, safe and unharmed as she tucks into a side roll. It’s not a pretty dismount, but she’s still in the game. Ava gets up, a hint of a smile on her face for the first time, although it’s gone soon after as she examines the next obstacle, the Stair Hopper. Only two people have attempted it so far tonight, both of them men, and both of them had fallen.

Ava grabs the metal bar and slides it into place on the rails. Her feet leave the platform, but she doesn’t stay hanging from the bar for long before she jumps it down to the next ‘stair’. She makes the next two jumps down easily enough, and then she starts to build up a swing. Sara realises that she’s aiming to skip the bottom ‘stair’, which means she’ll have to jump the bar straight across, but twice the distance. With a huge effort, Ava lands the risky move, and the crowd roar. She jumps the bar up twice, which appears to be significantly harder than going down, and it seems to take a toll on her.

“She’s looking for the dismount, Kendra,” Carter says. “I don’t know if she has the strength for the last hop up.”

Ava swings back and then releases the bar at her closest point to the platform. She gets most of her body on the landing pad, pulling her trailing leg up before it can touch the water, and kneels while she catches her breath.

“And this rookie does what those before her couldn’t!” Kendra practically yells. “Ava Sharpe becomes the first person through the Stair Hopper, and now she only has one obstacle left!”

“Yes, but does she have the strength?” Carter muses as Ava gets to her feet and strides over to the Elevator Climb. “This obstacle is brutal on the arms and shoulders, and she’ll have to pump those handles up thirty-five feet to the buzzer.”

Sara watches, enraptured, as Ava gets into position, facing out towards the crowd and putting her hands on two separate bars in front of her. She pushes up with one arm, then the other, and uses the momentum of her hips to help push the rest of her body up. Ava keeps a good pace until she’s climbed fifteen feet, when she starts to slow down. The pain is evident on her face, but she grits her teeth and keeps fighting. The landing pad moves up the tower a few feet below her, ready to catch her should she fall, but Ava is resolutely not looking down.

It’s when she reaches twenty-five feet that her fingers peel off the handles.

Ava drops the short distance to the landing pad as the lights on the course flash red, signalling the end of her run. Ava sits on the pad as it descends, sides heaving with the effort as the crowd give their ovation. Sara claps along with them, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Just ten feet from the buzzer,” Kendra laments. “But Ava Sharpe puts up a memorable run, punching her ticket to Vegas in the process.”

“Damn, she’s something,” Wally admits, and Sara shrugs.

Maybe she agrees, just a little bit, but it doesn’t mean she has to like Sharpe and her attitude. Maybe she’s also a little bit pleased that she hadn’t finished the course at her first attempt, because that just isn’t fair, especially given Sara’s failed three times.

She watches on the screen as Gideon interviews Ava, although she looks so tired she can barely speak, and then Sara remembers there’s only a few to run until her turn, so she gets back to stretching, clearing her mind of anything except hitting that buzzer.

 

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The first part of the course goes better for her this time around. She nails the Spinning Bridge and is prepared for the jolts of the Doorknob Drop, and before Sara knows it, she’s running up the Warped Wall with ease and lifting herself up and over the top.

“Sara Lance making it look easy,” Kendra says, and Sara – level with her and Carter’s booth – gives her a wink.

“Salmon Ladder now, flirt later,” Carter laughs, and Sara grins and shakes her head, stepping down the other side of the wall to face up to the seventh obstacle.

Sara loves the Salmon Ladder.

She makes the jump from the trampette to grasp the bar, both her hands facing forwards. She knows some people use a switch grip, but she’s always trained this way. Kipping her body, she jumps with an explosive movement, taking her up two rungs in one jump.

“Just skipping rungs,” Carter marvels. “What power out of Sara Lance.”

Okay, maybe Sara likes to show off very occasionally. She does the rest in the standard two jumps, reaching the required rung and reaching out to grasp hold of the first peg board. By doing so, she’s guaranteed a spot in the National Finals, but that’s at the back of her mind right now. Her focus is on the buzzer, and more importantly, these Swinging Peg Boards.

Sara makes sure she has a firm grip on the peg before letting go of the bar, sending the board into motion as she swings out. She quickly brings her left hand to one of the other pegs, and when the board swings to the right, she moves her right hand to the peg at the edge of the board. Keeping her eyes on the next peg – on the second board – she times her move, bringing her left hand to join her right just before she reaches out her right arm as far as it will stretch, and grabs the peg.

Holding on tight, she hangs between the two boards as she pulls out the peg she’s holding with her left hand. It doesn’t come easy, but she gets it, and then she’s holding on with one hand as the second board starts to swing, although thankfully not as much as the first had. Sara slots the peg into one of the holes, and then rests her weight on it as she moves the peg in her right hand along the board.

Right, left, right, left, right.

Sara’s sure she’s close enough to make the dismount now. She works her hips in tandem with the swing of the board, letting go with her left hand a second before she releases the right and makes the lache. It’s quite a long way down, and Sara rolls as she lands to cushion the impact, standing up quickly and taking in the whoops and cheers of her friends on the sidelines. Rolling her shoulders, Sara takes the bar out of its holder for the Stair Hopper, and slots it into place on the metal tracks.

She pushes the bar out as far as she dares, and then her feet are leaving the platform and she’s hanging from the bar. She pulls her upper body upwards, getting more control over the bar before jumping it down the first step. She tests the pain and finds it isn’t too bad. The next two jumps aren’t too bad either, but Sara knows the ascent is going to be harder, and she decides to skip the bottom step and take the bar straight across. She knows it will work, and she still has enough grip strength left to not fall on the impact, so she does it.

Sara puffs out a breath as she lands, pulling her body back up to start the ascent. Her biceps protest the action slightly, but Sara ignores it and makes the first jump up. She makes the second fine, but she knows if she jumps again it’ll put a lot of strain on her arms, and she still has one more obstacle to go.

Deciding that she’s made much bigger laches successfully than this, and that if Sharpe can do it then so can she, Sara gets a swing going and then launches herself forwards. She lands with one foot, one knee, and a hand on the ground, her other hand behind her back, and grins.

“Superhero landing!” She can hear Nate yelling.

Sara rises to her full height, staring down the Elevator Climb with steely determination.

“The final obstacle is all that stands between Sara Lance, and her first city finals buzzer,” Kendra says. “She’s come close before, but it’s never quite happened. Could this be the day it all changes?”

Sara takes a deep breath, sets her hands on the handles, and starts the climb. The crowd are chanting for her to ‘go’, and she does. She can just about see Ava Sharpe on the sidelines, watching her closely, and fresh determination rushes through her body. Sara closes her eyes against the burn in her arms and shoulders, and pushes on. Everything hurts, but she uses her whole body to propel herself upwards, trying to be as efficient as possible.

“Twenty, twenty-five, thirty feet,” Carter counts the distance. “I think she’s going to do it!”

Sara grits her teeth for the last five feet, body screaming in protest, as her head passes through the hole in the floor of the podium. As soon as she can get her legs up, she levers herself through the hole and just about remembers to press the buzzer before she sinks to the floor, utterly exhausted.

She rolls onto her back, putting a hand over her mouth. She’s done it. She’s finally finished the city finals course.

Sara laughs, sitting and then standing with difficulty to look out over the defeated course. She can see her friends jumping up and down and hugging each other, and Sara waves at them as the grin threatens to split her face.

Sara doesn’t really recall how she gets down from the tower, she’s so giddy, and the next thing she knows she’s standing next to Amaya and the other legends talking to Gideon.

“This is the first time you’ve completed the city finals course,” Gideon says. “How does it feel?”

“Amazing,” Sara says, still short of breath. “That was one of my goals this year, and I knew I could do it in theory, but it’s something else entirely to actually do it.”

“What are your other goals?”

“Hit the buzzer on Stage One,” Sara tells her. “Then Stages Two, Three and Four.”

The crowd cheers as her friends laugh. Gideon smiles her megawatt smile.

“Well, I know we’re all wishing you the best of luck, Sara.”

“Thank you,” Sara responds.

“Carter and Kendra, back to you guys,” Gideon says to camera, and the hosts take over as the builders finish resetting the course for the next competitor.

Sara is engulfed in a group hug, and wraps her tired arms around her friends. Right now, she’s in first place, and even though it might not stay that way, no one can take this moment away from her.

She emerges from the huddle to see Ava Sharpe regarding her. Sara’s usually pretty good at reading expressions, but she can’t tell if Ava is impressed or not. Her face is almost passive, but there’s a look in her eye that indicates that she’s not indifferent to Sara.

Sara jerks her chin up, and the corner of Ava’s mouth twitches. Her attention is pulled away by the dweeby guy that Sara still doesn’t know the name of, and then Ray is in Sara’s line of sight, talking about Wally’s upcoming run. By the time Sara answers him and he moves away, Ava is nowhere to be seen.

 

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“Wally!”

Sara watches her friend and teammate plunge into the tank of water as the crowd gasp in shock. She’s surprised herself, eyes snapping up to the clock on the big screen and trying to work out if Wally’s out of the competition for this season.

He’d fallen on the Swinging Peg Boards, the eighth obstacle, but he’d been quick up until that point. Thirteen competitors had reached the next obstacle, leaving only two places. Sara had been the only finisher, although three more had made it to the Elevator Climb.

Finishing on top of the leaderboard isn’t even in Sara’s mind as she waits anxiously for the verdict. Wally climbs out of the tank and takes the proffered towel sadly, and Sara knows he’s already kicking himself for his mistake. Jax claps him on the shoulder and Wally locks his jaw, trying not to betray how upset he is, and Sara’s heart goes out to him.

“The results are confirmed, and Wally West finishes the city finals stage in fifteenth place,” Kendra says, and Sara’s eyes widen.

Wally seems to understand it a split-second later, because his jaw drops open as he realises that he’s made it. By the skin of his teeth, yes, but he’s going to Vegas. Sara launches herself at him at the same time as the others do, not even caring about her clothes getting wet as she hugs her friend tight.

Later, Sara’s waiting alone for Ray to drive her and Wally home (she doesn’t think either of them have the physical or mental capacity to drive a car right now) when she sees her again.

Ava Sharpe approaches her general direction, a frown creasing her brow as she looks around for someone. Such is her distraction, she nearly collides with Sara, who sticks out a hand to stop her.

“Watch where you’re going,” Sara says, but there’s not much of a bite to it. She’s too tired for that.

Ava recoils, but doesn’t apologise. Instead, she seems to realise it’s Sara she’s bumped into, and her eyes narrow.

“Lance,” she says shortly.

“Sharpe,” Sara mimics her, and Ava scowls.

“Your shirt is see-through,” she tells her, and Sara looks down at her tank top, which is pretty much soaked through from hugging Wally after he’d gotten out of the tank. Sure enough, her sports bra is visible. Not that Sara cares.

“See something you like?”

“No,” Ava says witheringly. “Just wondering why you’d wear a white shirt to a course with water underneath it.”

Sara smirks. “It’s so I can distract the competition.”

“That’s a dumb tactic,” Ava says.

“It got you to comment on it,” Sara fires back, and Ava glares. “Who were you looking for anyway? You know, when you almost knocked me over.”

“Please,” Ava scoffs. “And not that it’s any of your business, but I can’t find Gary, and he’s supposed to be my ride home.”

“Is Gary the nerdy glasses guy?” Sara asks

“That’s him,” Ava sighs, and Sara thinks that Gary probably gets described to others like this quite often.

Sara nods to somewhere over Ava’s shoulder. “Your dweeby boyfriend is coming this way, so I think you’ll be fine.”

Ava wrinkles her nose in distaste. “He’s not my boyfriend.”

“Ouch, don’t let him hear you,” Sara says, raising her eyebrows. “You sound like you’re about to throw up.”

Ava rolls her eyes, and spins on her heel to face an out-of-breath Gary, who looks more than a little terrified.

“Ready?” He squeaks. Ava nods, and doesn’t spare Sara a second glance as she walks away.

Sara lets out a breath.

Ava Sharpe may be a damn good athlete, but she’s also an asshole.