The door to her cell slid open, and Nora didn’t even need to look up from her book to know who it was, because there was only one person at the Bureau who visited her regularly. She smiled lightly. ‘Did you bring me another book, Mona? Because I’m thirty pages away from finishing this one.’
‘Something better,’ Mona answered, and this time she did look up.
Nora’s eyes went wide. Mona was, besides her usual wide smile, wearing an utterly atrocious green jumper with reindeer and a goddamn Santa hat. And she didn’t even warn her.
How was it Christmas already?
‘I’ve got another letter for you,’ she finished, and when Nora heard the word letter, she quickly forgot about the hideous clothes. The book landed on her bed and Nora got up to meet her halfway before she remembered she couldn’t actually get out.
Mona scurried over to her just as quickly, though, already reaching to her with a pristine white envelope in her hand. And then she pulled something else out of her pocket.
‘And also this; I hope you’ll like it. I’m sorry you have to be here during the holidays…’
Nora shook her head. ‘I don’t even celebrate Christmas,’ she said. She still took the present and inspected it—it was wrapped too neatly for something so small. Unless…? No, it couldn’t be. She lifted it up. ‘But thank you for this.’
‘Of course. Uh…’ Mona hovered. ‘Can I hug you? You look like you could use a hug.’
‘Yeah. Sure,’ Nora replied, and Mona’s arms were already around her, squeezing tight. She was warm, and Nora wasn’t going to lie, you start missing human contact after a while in here. She squeezed back.
There was someone else she really wanted to hug, too. But that was impossible, wasn’t it?
She let go. Mona kept on smiling brightly.
‘I’ll leave you to it then,’ the girl said and made her way back to the metal trolley. She gave her a wave before she left to feed the prisoner next door. ‘See you later!’
‘Bye, Mona,’ Nora said. She couldn’t wait to open the letter.
Her fingers tore through the paper—and a speck of dust flew out of it, a blue speck of dust that quickly grew into the size of a human in an exoskeleton armour. Nora gasped.
Ray was here.
‘Merry Christmas!’ he said, smiling like she was the world. He quickly took off his helmet. His hair was ruffled, and he looked utterly adorable. ‘Surprise!’
‘Ray! What are you doing here? Ava was pretty clear—’
‘It’s Christmas, Nora, so I pulled a few strings. Ava and Mona love me.’ Of course they did—everyone loved Ray Palmer, the human ray of sunshine. ‘I figured you could use the company.’
She looked at the floor and her feet. She needed to calm down. She didn’t even like Christmas and presents and the awful music, because Christmas was supposed to be a time spent with family, it was a holiday of happiness and love and generosity, and she’s never had any of that. Her dad had made sure of that.
But Ray, he meant well. He cared. He sneaked into the Bureau for her. Nora was pretty sure the redness on her cheeks gave her thoughts away.
‘Thank you,’ she said with a soft smile meant only for her. Then she looked up. His armour was already halfway off.
‘I, uh, also brought you something. That present Mona was supposed to give you. It’s not much, but—you have it, right?’
‘Yeah, here.’ She picked up the tiny present that lay on her bed, forgotten. It wasn’t supposed to be so small; it was shrunken. Obviously.
‘Can you put it on the bed? And be careful now,’ he said and aimed his gloved hand at it to demonstrate his point. He charged the blaster and then fired, precisely and gently. The box enlarged almost immediately.
‘Wow, this is,’ she noted, ‘large. You shouldn’t have, Ray.’ She was almost afraid to open it. She never got presents that were good, not since her dad came up with the plan to rule Star City and then the world.
He marched to her and picked it up. He held it above her. ‘No, I wanted to give this to you. I—’ he swallowed the words. ‘You’re here because of me.’
No, she was here because it was the right thing to do. Running didn’t make her a better person. Prove anything. It would be permanent. This might not be.
Nora took the box and untied the golden bow that held it together. It was soft and smooth, unlike the prison clothes they’ve put on her. Ray hovered at her side with anticipation; she held her breath as she removed the lid.
Four things. She could see four different things inside. God. She didn’t deserve this. Him.
But she wanted to hold him close.
‘Well, look at it!’ Ray said.
She pulled the jumper out first, because of course there was one. It was a deep shade of red, kind of like blood, but no one but her would think so. A snowman smiled at her in the front. Nora scoffed. ‘Seriously?’
‘Put it on! All the Legends did, even Mick.’
‘I don’t believe that.’
‘Well, okay, I lied about Mick, but you still have to put it on. Feel the Christmas spirit!’
She rolled her eyes and pulled the horrible thing over her overalls. The next thing she pulled out of the box was a small plastic Christmas tree, complete with baubles and tinsel and fairy lights. She raised an eyebrow and added a playful smirk. ‘Do they come in larger sizes too?’
Ray smiled fondly, at her and at the tree, and said, ‘Hang on.’
Nora got up and placed it on the floor creating a safe distance between the bed and the tree. He maximised it just like he did with the box. It was even more beautiful in its full size—there were different ornaments, matte and glittery, all in her favourite colour. Purple. The plastic tinsels wound round it were silver.
‘What about Ava, though?’ she asked in concern. ‘She’ll see it. She’ll know.’
They both knew what she was talking about.
‘Say it was Mona. She can do that sort of thing around here, right? Cell decorations.’
‘Yeah, she also brings me books—and the letters. Which you know.’ The flush in her cheeks was back.
Ray didn’t seem to pay it any mind. He crouched down by the tree, pressed a button somewhere, and turned the lights on. Nora was certain she wasn’t allowed anywhere near electricity or long wires. But oh, it was spectacular.
‘Well, there are three more things in there.’
Three? She grabbed the nearest item. It was a plastic box, and inside two pieces of pie, pecan, by the look of it. She loved pecan pie. Did he know?
‘I made that myself,’ he said proudly and conjured up an actual metal fork before he sat down next to her. His body radiated warmth like he really was the sun, and it made her feel safe.
She pointed at the fork. ‘Are you sure you can trust me with that?’
‘Well, are you planning on stabbing me with a fork while you’re in a prison cell at the Time Bureau?’
‘Yes, I’ve been plotting to murder you and put the ATOM suit on to escape for months.’
Ray laughed, a real, whole-hearted laugh, and she laughed with him.
Maybe Christmas didn’t have to be miserable anymore.
She laid the pie aside for later and took the last item. It was a book. But Ray said three? She turned it over. Nothing was taped to the back. Or the front. She frowned at it.
‘Finish that one first,’ Ray pointed at the romance novel, thrown aside upon Mona’s arrival. And then he winked. It was awkward and very fucking cute. Also, there was definitely something inside the book—something the agents shouldn’t know about.
She put it away. ‘Okay, well, thank you so much, for—for all of this.’
‘You’re—you’re welcome.’ He took a deep breath. His next words came out barely audible, ‘I wanted to see you.’
Nora knew how he felt. She felt exactly the same.
She looked at him, really looked at him, in the artificial light of the cell and the shade of the exquisite Christmas tree and its blinking LED diodes. He was smiling softly, and his eyes, they belonged to her.
‘I’m glad you did,’ she breathed.
Ray looked at her like no one ever did. Not ever. Adoration glistened in his eyes, and he really meant it, she knew. She used to think it was impossible for someone to adore her, love her, look at her like she was the only one. But now—
Ray’s hand touched her cheek, gently, like he was afraid he’d hurt her when really, she should be the one worrying about that, not him. His thumb caressed her skin, and oh god, she was dying inside. He leant a little closer. ‘Can I, uh—’
‘Just come here, Ray Palmer.’
Ray kissed her, or maybe she kissed him; it didn’t matter. His lips were on hers and they were kissing and it was only a short, soft kiss, but there were fireworks, because it was her first kiss, and it was with Ray Palmer.
Christmas definitely wasn’t miserable this time.