Harmony Falls, Oregon, circa 1958
"Oh, boy," Martin said.
Leonard agreed with the sentiment. "Just when you think you've seen everything," he replied.
The bird-thing leapt for the two men, but Leonard quickly knocked it out with a blast from his cold gun.
A second creature dove at them. A second blast of ice sent it flying backwards.
"Guess those missing kids are no longer missing," Leonard added.
But what has Savage done to them?
And just how many people had that lunatic changed? Judging from the screams in the distance, they had a lot more than four missing kids to worry about.
A growl came from the shadows ahead, and a third creature emerged. A sour feeling built in the pit of Leonard's stomach; even the previous two creatures couldn't prepare him for this new horror.
"Oh, my God," Martin said. He stared at the creature advancing on them. "It's Jefferson."
Leonard eyed the creature warily. This thing was the kid?
"Jefferson," Martin said, "it's... us!"
The creature hesitated and looked back and forth between the two men.
Is he even still in there? Leonard wondered. Maybe Jefferson had some humanity left; maybe he recognized them.
Or maybe he would rip them apart like the other creatures had tried to do to the girl.
The bird-thing snarled, spread its wings, and lunged for the two men.
Leonard shoved Martin out of the way, pushing the older man to the floor.
The creature turned to follow Martin's fall. Leonard charged up his cold gun, drawing the creature's attention back, and aimed. "Jax, don't make me do this!"
Once again, the creature hesitated. Because of the potential threat, or because Jefferson recognized him?
Leonard knew there was no way to be certain in time. But for the second time since this mission had begun, his survival instincts completely failed him. He kept the gun trained on the creature, hoping against all odds that he could keep it occupied long enough for Martin to get away, but if it came to saving his own life...?
He didn't believe he could pull the trigger.
A screech from behind nearly froze his blood to ice. Leonard turned his head to check the other creatures' location, noting with a detached sense of dread that one of them had vanished, and looked quickly back again, but too late. The bird-thing that had once been Jefferson swung one taloned hand his way, sending the thief reeling to the floor.
Pain exploded down his left arm as he landed. He squeezed his eyes shut against as the two creatures darted forward with an unnatural speed to claim their prey.
Instinct forced his eyes back open. Instinct and memory. He fumbled for the cold gun with his good arm and shot upwards, sending a blast of ice that punched a hole in the pipe over his head. Steam rushed out, barely cool enough thanks to the cold gun to miss cooking him alive.
He heard the bird monsters shrieking, but the sounds were muffled by the roar of the steam and he couldn't see which direction they approached from.
Something grabbed his injured arm, blinding him with white-hot pain. He had no awareness of being hauled limply to his feet and around the corner until after he pulled free of Martin's grasp to collapse against the wall.
His throat was raw, he couldn't catch his breath, and every inch of his left arm burned where the creature had struck him. He gingerly prodded his hurt shoulder and stared at the blood coating his fingertips.
Martin stopped further down the tunnel and ran back. "That won't distract them for long," he urged. "We need to get moving. We need the rest of the team."
Leonard nodded. "Right..." he managed to say between gasps, "behind you."
Martin eyed him for a moment, then reached for his good arm.
Leonard shrank away before the older man could touch him.
Martin hesitated for one second longer, then continued the motion. But he bent over so that he reached instead for the cold gun that Leonard had dropped.
Leonard accepted the weapon back and the pair continued down the tunnel. They moved much too slowly for the thief's liking, but every careful step jostled his arm and sent fresh waves of pain through his entire body. And Martin refused to leave his side.
"I could've shot you when you grabbed me," Leonard grumbled.
"They could've killed you if I hadn't," Martin snapped. His tone silenced further protests.
Finally, finally, the pain eased up enough that Leonard could speed up to a natural pace, though running was still beyond him. The maintenance tunnel came to an end and screams sounded from the hospital ahead, keeping his every nerve on edge.
He looked back and forth, watching, alert for any movement as they walked.
Despite his care, the creature that had once been Jefferson still managed to surprise him. When Leonard jerked his head in one direction, talons swung down onto the gun from the other, forcing him to drop it before he could injure himself further. The creature slashed at the two men, driving them slowly backwards.
The thief hadn't had the opportunity to examine the adjoining rooms for weapons, but he remembered the layout of this wing all too well and he knew that they would find no escape behind them.
Sara darted out from the next room and swung her staff down onto the creature's back, sending the thing to the floor with a single blow and an anticlimactic thump.
This time, the thing that had been Jefferson lay still.
"It's time to go," Sara said.
"Not without Jefferson," Martin insisted. "Or whatever's left of him."
Thank god for dark clothing, Leonard thought as he wrapped another bandage around his arm. The scratches had stopped bleeding last night, and most of the blood had dried to invisibility against the fabric before it had become too obvious. Moving his arm produced only a small fraction of the pain it had last night, though he wouldn't be much use in a brawl for a few days. If anyone else had realized that he'd been injured, nobody had seen fit to mention. And if they hadn't realized, then he had no desire to enlighten them.
But the wounds were raw to the touch and needed continued protection and treatment. He knew he'd need to visit the medical bay soon to have his arm checked, at least to be sure the scratches wouldn't become more than a nuisance. All Gideon provided for him in his room were the bandages and minor salves, though he suspected she was capable of far more in a true emergency. There must be some provision, after all, for when it was unwise to move the injured.
But therein lay the problem. Jefferson's condition was a true emergency, one that had taken up Martin's every waking moment. Leonard's arm was a mere annoyance and could easily wait until the medical bay was empty.
And though Gideon grumbled about needing to dispose of last night's outfit in secret, and though she was entirely too cheerful each time she critiqued his efforts to recover in solitude, to her credit she had not once ordered him to the medical bay. She preferred instead to drop hints that Leonard patiently ignored, until a few minutes ago when she suggested he look in on Martin and Jefferson.
The trap couldn't have been more obvious, but he suspected that if he didn't comply the next step would be an unwanted guest in the form of Captain Hunter armed with whichever sedative they'd cooked up lately; most of the drugs Gideon supplied had little effect on Leonard in safe doses, but she'd focused a considerable amount of time treating both his panic attacks and his temporal illness and was bound to have developed something that could simply knock him out.
Leonard checked the bandage once more and decided it was tight enough without restricting his movement completely. Satisfied that it wouldn't unwind, he put his shirt back on and sought out the medical bay.
Rip glanced up at his arrival, his eyes on Leonard's injured left arm just a second or two longer than strictly necessary, before he looked back down at the creature laying on the bed.
"Any progress?" Leonard asked.
"Gideon was able to help me devise a gene therapy," Martin replied, "that will hopefully restore Jefferson and those at the asylum to their former selves. If genome bonding occurs, we should know right away."
Leonard nodded, following the explanation with far more ease than he'd ever let on. But he rolled his eyes at the professor's preferred phrasing, just in case.
"Of course, we would never have had the slightest chance of saving him were it not for you," Martin continued.
Leonard looked up, startled, to find Martin staring at him. He took a small step back and tried not to squirm under that gaze. "Let's not get sentimental," he protested. "Another minute, and things might have gone down very differently." Differently how, he could only guess. Though judging from the way Rip looked at his injured arm again, the captain might have made the same guess.
"Despite your bravado, Mr. Snart," Martin replied, "the actions I witnessed last night were nothing short of heroic."
The monitor beeped, distracting Martin from whatever else he planned to say. The three men watched as Jefferson's features smoothed out and slowly returned to normal.
"It's working," Rip said.
Leonard let out a sigh. "He's all right, then?"
"It looks like Mr. Jackson will make a full recovery," Gideon announced. "He'll be back to normal after a few hours' sleep."
"Excellent!" Rip said. "Martin, if you would...?"
"What?" Martin replied, the grin never leaving his face. "Would what? Oh! Of course, the local boys. They'll need treating, as well. Prepare another batch, Gideon!"
"The new batch is already completed," Gideon said, "and waiting among your supplies."
"I don't think I've ever seen him smile so much," Rip said after Martin was long out of earshot.
"Not even when he joined the crew," Leonard agreed. He turned toward the door. "I guess we'd better let Jax sleep it off, then—"
"Not so fast," Rip said.
The door slid shut in front of Leonard before he took more than two steps. He sighed. "You know, as predictable as you are, this habit of yours is starting to get on my nerves."
"I really don't give a damn," Rip replied. "Let me see it."
Leonard put on his best "innocent" expression and turned around to face the captain. "You don't honestly think I had time to steal with everything that was going down? You must have more confidence in my skills than I have."
"To hell with whatever you stole!" Rip snapped. "You know bloody well what I want. Now show me your arm."
"Just because you don't trust me," Leonard growled, "doesn't mean you need—"
"I'm going to have to stop you right there." Rip sighed and shook his head. "Because that? The reason you don't want to show me? That's exactly why I need to see it. You find it so hard to trust your team that you would rather go untreated than risk letting anyone think you a liability, or vulnerable. But without that help, you may find yourself exactly as vulnerable as you fear. And no matter what aid Gideon provided in your quarters, I cannot accurately assess your condition or a suitable treatment if I am not allowed to examine your injuries."
Leonard continued to glare at the captain. There was still a trap here, but what? What Rip had said made entirely too much sense to simply dismiss out of hand. "And I suppose I'm going to be locked in here if I don't comply?" he growled. That had to be it; it wouldn't be the first time the captain had tried something like that.
But Rip shook his head. "No, Mr. Snart. No. If I believed that you were a danger to the team, then I would not hesitate to do exactly that. But right now the only person you're endangering is yourself. And I'll not risk exacerbating your injuries by forcing you to accept treatment if you truly don't want it." He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I would like nothing better than to know that you don't need anyone's help. To see proof that I am worrying over nothing. But I am human, and I am your captain. And I am responsible for your well-being for as long as you remain with my crew. I trust that you are intelligent enough to know how to look out for yourself and for the team. If you are unwilling to trust the team to look out for you in turn, then go right ahead and walk out that door and I will not speak of this again."
Trust? That's what this was about? That's how Rip planned to trap him? Leonard almost laughed at the idea. What a ridiculous plan. If Lewis managed to teach me one thing, it's that you can't trust anyone.
"Let's get this over with." Leonard sat down on one of the far beds, away from the sleeping Jefferson, and struggled to pull his shirt free. "You, uh, need to examine me up close, or are you getting enough of an eyeful from over there?"
"I wasn't certain if you'd appreciate any help with the shirt," Rip replied. He waited until the thief was settled before approaching. "Hmm." He felt along the edges of the bandage. "No discoloration. Temperature's a little concerning, but you've always run a bit cool. Gideon?"
"The site of the wound is within his normal temperature range," Gideon replied. "Circulation is normal."
"Bandages are tighter than I'm comfortable with," Rip continued. He shoved two fingers under the uppermost layer at Leonard's shoulder and tugged.
Leonard stifled a yelp as it felt like the captain's fingers dug into his raw skin. He clutched the sides of the bed to force himself to hold still. Another tug further down, and he could not stop the groan as easily. His grip tightened until he started to lose the feeling in his fingers.
Rip prodded at the bandages for another fifty-two seconds before he was satisfied. "Well, I won't torture you further by making you redo it," he finally said.
"Gee," Leonard managed to gasp, "thanks." He released the bed, and feeling rushed back into his fingers with a sensation of needles jabbing into his skin.
"If Gideon says your circulation is normal," Rip continued, "then you should be fine. Not bad for doing it one-handed, though; if I didn't know any better, I'd think you had persuaded someone to help you."
"Field surgery is difficult under the best of circumstances," Gideon said, "but Mr. Snart is adept at it."
Rip nodded. "If you could show me his injuries?"
A light shined down on Leonard's injured arm, producing a hologram that showed the scratches under the bandages. The same display appeared on the nearest monitor.
A hiss escaped from between Rip's teeth.
Leonard glanced up at the monitor. "Another inch higher and I'd look like Peggy Sue."
"Or dead," Rip muttered. "This is quite a bit deeper than was Miss Seaver's. The wound is clean?"
"Not entirely, no," Gideon admitted. "The salves I provided have been keeping the wound protected against infection, but I'm afraid some Nth metal particles have entered his bloodstream. They're too small for my systems to remove."
"Nth metal?" Leonard echoed. "You mean like the meteor that changed Jax?" His voice dropped to nearly a whisper as he tried to keep it under control. "Or like in Peggy Sue's cuts—"
"The fragments in Miss Seaver's wounds were too large to enter her bloodstream," Gideon corrected. "And she received immediate treatment to clear them out."
Rip's eyes went wide at Gideon's tone. "How long has she been mothering you?" he asked.
"Since day one," Leonard replied. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to turn into one of those... things?" This time he could not hide the tremor in his voice.
"Perhaps the genome therapy you and Martin devised," Rip suggested. "Only as a precaution, of course."
"That would not be wise," Gideon said. "The genome therapy worked on Mr. Jackson in part by discharging the Nth metal that had mutated him. I'm afraid if we used it on Mr. Snart at this stage it would produce the opposite effect, and without a means to focus the charge there would be no predicting what that would do to him."
"What do you suggest?" Rip asked.
"Merely that Mr. Snart relaxes for a while," Gideon said. "Remain within the Waverider's shields and keep his stress levels to an absolute minimum."
Relax? Leonard thought. They drop that kind of bombshell on me and expect me to relax?
The silence that followed this thought was deafening.
Oh, shit, did I say that out loud?
Leonard's eyes darted around the medical bay as he tried to look everywhere except at Rip.
No.... no, he's still talking. I think. Spontaneous deafness must be one of the side effects of time travel. Never mind that the Waverider hadn't moved for a couple of days now.
He risked a look at the captain, then looked quickly away when he saw the pity in the other man's eyes.
"This won't turn you into a monster, Mr. Snart," Rip said quietly. "I promise."
"How can you be sure?" Leonard asked. "If Gideon can't even predict what would happen, then how can you make a promise like that?"
"Because the team won't let that happen," Rip replied. "I won't let that happen."
"But if it does—" Leonard protested.
"Then we can use the genome therapy as a backup plan," Rip said. "Isn't that correct, Gideon?"
"Absolutely correct," Gideon added. "But given your current condition it will not be necessary. Once Professor Stein has finished his task and the rest of the team is back on board, we can enter the temporal zone to wait out your recovery. Without a catalyst to charge up the particles, your own immune system will break them down and be rid of them within 48 hours. There will be no further need for treatment."
"So... as Gideon ordered," Rip said. "Relax. You were right all along; you didn't need our help. There was nothing to worry about after all. You can take a nap, explore the ship, whatever you like. Just take it easy for the next couple of days, that's all."
"I might like to read a little," Leonard admitted.
"Gideon can show you the library. One of the lovely things about being on a time ship is that I have plenty of material to choose from. You might even be tempted to steal a few selections."
Leonard snickered. "Um.... can I put my shirt back on now?"
"Can you—oh!" Rip's face turned bright red. "Sorry, yes. Of... of course."
Rip hovered over the monitors in his office as he continued to watch each of the members of his crew.
Martin had finished administering the genome therapy to Vandal Savage's victims and was on his way back to the ship. His partner had long since woken and, in a moment of restless boredom, had concealed himself in the Waverider's "garage" for a few hours before driving out to Harmony Falls in a brand-new car.
Sara, predictably, he found lurking about in the asylum on the hunt for her pretty nurse.
And Kendra and Ray were busy packing up the last of the supplies they'd left in their temporary home.
That only left Leonard. Rip easily located the thief within the library as expected. He was not digging through the rarer selections as Rip had feared, preferring instead to rely on Gideon's digital scans to idly browse the contents. Though with Leonard's eye for value, that shouldn't have been a surprise; even with the Time Masters' technology the thief would not risk damaging the oldest tomes by handling them carelessly when there were other ways to entertain himself.
No, the real surprise was that he was taking it easy, exactly as ordered.
Though perhaps that shouldn't have been a surprise, either. "It's odd," Rip mused. "But with all the dangers we've faced, the dangers he's faced before I put the crew together—hell, even with his panic disorder—and I believe that is the first time that I have ever seen him truly frightened."