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Rule Three

Chapter Text

“You should go talk to him.” Sara ran a whetstone along the length of her blade. “And actually use your words this time.”

Even if the knife needed sharpening, which it didn’t, the Waverider had the tools to do it quicker. Better. Except, day one, Sara had told Hunter that wasn’t the point and, as it happened, Mick had agreed.

So here they sat: in the cargo bay, playing with sharp objects. Just like old times.

“There’s nothing to say.” Mick flexed his fingers, encouraging the slight sting across his healing knuckles.

The armour the Time Masters gave him was tough. Heavy. Kept him safe, but kept him apart too. Skin beating down on skin had felt so damn good, real in a way nothing else had in a long, long time.

Maybe Snart lying there like a mouthy kid on the wrong end of a shiv had made Mick pause, but it was the sharp burn of his own splitting skin that made him stop.

Could be Snart had counted on that; Mick doubted it.

“He barely tried to fight,” Sara said, picking up a throwing star. “What was the point?”

“We go back longer than you’ve been alive, Blondie. You really think that was the first time we’ve settled things with our fists? He knew I wouldn’t kill him.”

“Seriously?” She looked up incredulously, star hanging from her fingers. “Neither of you has learned how to say ‘sorry’ without punching each other in thirty years? Even Ollie figured that out.

“I’ll buy Snart knew you wouldn’t kill him,” she went on, when Mick didn’t bother to respond. “Question is, who threw the first punch? Was it you or was it Chronos?”

Mick grunted.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” The whetstone scraped along the curve of the star. “I don’t know what you went through. I’d say I’m willing to listen, except we both know you won’t talk. But any time you want to take it to the mat, I’ll see you there.”

Now that was an offer. Without his armour, up close and personal, Mick wasn’t sure who’d come out on top. Interest sparked and he knew from the satisfied curve of her lips that she’d seen the ignition.

“But that won’t fix things between you and Snart,” she said. “And we’re all getting a little tired of waiting for that particular fuse to blow.”

“We.”

She nodded and carefully put the star back in its silk-lined case. Picked up the next. “Literally everyone. Even Rip . You aren’t subtle, Mick.”

“Why should I care? This isn’t my problem to fix. We’re not partners anymore - Snart’s got you.”

Not that he’d had a problem with Blondie and Snart cosying up. Now , he realised it had been one more flashing warning that he was on the outs. Then , he hadn’t seen the threat until it was hitting him over the head and dragging him out of the inferno he’d planned to call home.

He’d liked Sara before and, hell, he still did. They understood each other. In their way.

Thing was, Snart had a type. Not in bed, but the people he actually wanted to spend time with. He’d probably say they were the ones who could challenge him, or the ones he had to work to take down. The ones who gave him that rush. Which was true, but only to a point.

Like everything else Snart came out with.

Fact was, criminal or flag-waving hero, to a man or woman, they were the ones who could stop him from going too far. Anyone who’d thought Mick was the only one who needed a fireline from time to time hadn’t been paying attention.

“We aren’t partners,” Sara denied, oblivious to her place in Mick’s hierarchy of damage control. “Maybe friends. As team building exercises go, almost freezing to death is up there. I’m pretty sure Leo would bleed from the eyes if he had to admit it, though.”

“Don’t call him Leo,” Mick growled on a reflex he didn’t know he still had.

“Why should you care?” she shot back. “It isn’t your problem to fix.”

The old Mick would have risen to that bait and she knew it. “Nice,” he said, instead. “Tricky. I like it.” ‘But don’t push it,’ was the unspoken addendum, delivered with a slow, broad smile that reached his canines.

Sara placed the last throwing star in the box, then closed the lid with a firm click. She stood and looked down at him, lit from behind, blonde hair a crown of fire.

Beautiful.

“I’m sorry about what happened to you, Mick,” she said evenly, all hint of humour gone. “You betrayed us, but you didn’t deserve to be left like that. I would have ended it clean, if I’d known.”

He nodded, accepting that for the kindness she intended.

“But if you turn on us again, know I am Ta-er al-Safar, twice-trained by The Demon’s Head and beloved by the Heir to the Demon. I will fight back.

“Talk to him,” she said over her shoulder as she walked away. “And if you won’t talk to him, talk to them.”

Beautiful.

-o-

Later, Sara stopped outside the third cabin from the left and leaned a magazine against the door, considerately open at the right page. “This stays between us, Gideon.”

“What stays between us, Ms Lance?”

Sara grinned and walked away.

She’d pushed it with Nyssa al Ghul. Mick Rory? Pft .

Chapter Text

It made sense to talk to the rest of the team, Mick figured. If only so he could work out who was most likely to turn on him first. Then the rest of the team - the youngest member of it, anyway - decided to get a jump on the meet and greet.

Jax was waiting outside the cargo bay as Mick left; at least he’d had the sense to make himself obvious. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, like he was ready to go long. “Listen. You know I’m, we’re, glad you’re not dead, right? Snart told us - let us think - you were, but it’s not like we were dancing in the streets about it.”

And apparently he wasn’t going to just say his piece and go. In the face of Mick’s silence and unblinking stare, he planted his feet, folded his arms and raised his chin - quarterback to linebacker. Stupid. Brave.

Kids.

“None of us asked questions,” Jax admitted, like he was ashamed or something. “We just let him go ahead. That wasn’t right. You should know, though, I told Snart I understood why he’d done it. I mean, when I thought he’d done it. That he was looking out for the team. I guess he was trying to look out for you too.”

“Where are you going with this?” Mick asked at last, because ‘mixed messages’ didn’t cover it.

“It’s kind of like when my mom and step father used to fight, only I never worried about one of them killing me while I slept. Except for the whole thing with the house party my senior year. That got tense. Little bit … murder-ey.”

“So this isn’t an apology,” Mick said. “It’s self-preservation.” Understandable, but unnecessary. The kid was a hero and there was a natural law: you might like them well enough, but heroes couldn’t be trusted and anyone who did was a fool. He’d known that going in.

His problem was always with Snart. And maybe Hunter. Fine, definitely Hunter. But, then, Hunter was no hero.

“No, it’s - I’m trying to say I like you guys.” Now Jax definitely looked faintly guilty and his shoulders slumped. “You and Snart. I know you’ve both done horrible things, but Chronos aside, you looked out for me. I didn’t want you dead, but I didn’t want Snart to think I hated him either.

“I’m sorry about what happened to you. And for not hating either of you as much as I probably should.” He stared down the corridor in a moment of unfocused reflection. “Man, this must be what Ray feels like the whole time.”

Nice sentiment, but what did the kid think he could have done against the others anyway?

“Something,” Jax said. “I could have done something.”

Mick hadn’t meant to say that aloud; Jax didn’t seem to notice.

“And next time, I swear I will. I don’t know where all this goes from here, but history is not going to repeat itself. Pun intended, but if it helps, I’m regretting it and may never be clean.”

“I’m not going to kill you in your sleep, kid,” Mick said, but Jax didn’t look that reassured. He tried again. “Next time we’re on opposite sides, you’ll see me coming and you’ll be armed.”

Jax’s eyes widened, then narrowed thoughtfully. After a long moment, he nodded. “That’s actually weirdly comforting. I’ll take it.”

Heartwarming.

Mick started for the elevator, but Jax stopped him with a hand to the shoulder, quickly snatched away. “Wait, there was something I wanted to ask you.”

“So this isn’t an apology, or self-preservation,” Mick growled. “It’s a favor?”

“It’s an invitation,” Jax corrected. “We’re starting a game night. Kendra and Ray got into these old board games back in the fifties and it turns out Gray’s into poker and Rip likes chess. It’s just a way to unwind. And you’re welcome to join us. I asked Snart too, but he just stared at me.

“Yeah, it’s kind of lame, I guess,” he said weakly into Mick’s silence. “Look, forget about it. I just wanted to-”

“The fifties, huh?” Mick canted his head. Hadn’t considered what they’d been up to while he’d been … gone. “All of you?”

The good-natured glint in Jax’s eyes dulled; he nodded. “Couple days for me, couple years for Sara, Ray and Kendra. No one blames you for that,” he added quickly.

“Sure they don’t. Must’ve been rough. For Kendra.” He studied Jax’s expression. “Guessing it wasn’t a picnic for you either.”

Jax’s smile hardened; he didn’t comment. Mick tried to see any trace of resentment or anger, but found none. If it was him - the old him - he’d have lit up the town if anyone even thought about looking at him the way he knew they’d been looking at Jax. Kendra.

The new him didn’t care. Not about himself, and sure as hell not about a stupid kid determined to save people whether they deserved it or not.

“Board games,” Mick said.

“And poker. And chess.” Jax smirked. “And Sara’s bringing vodka.”

“Should’ve led with that.”

This time Mick stopped Jax as he turned away. “Occurs to me, there’s not much point in you being armed if you don’t know how to fight.”

“You just want an excuse to beat on me.” He looked wary. Good.

“Don’t need one.”

“Yeah,” Jax agreed, grinning like he won something more than a daily world of hurt. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

“Ah, Mr Rory. Superb timing - I was just on my way to find you.” Two glasses in one hand and dust-coated bottle of brandy in the other, Stein paused on his way out of Rip’s anteroom. “Or should that be Chronos?” he asked, expression sliding from confidence into apprehension.

Mick raised an eyebrow. A master thief, Stein was not. Didn’t look like he had a getaway plan either; the tumblers clinked down on a display table fifteen feet from the scene of the crime.

“No recrimination intended, I assure you,” Stein went on hurriedly as he wrestled with the bottle’s cork, mistaking indifference for offence. “I just wasn’t sure which you’d prefer after … however long it’s been.”

When Hunter had asked what name he’d answer to, Mick hadn’t given it any thought. “Rory will do,” he decided now. Seemed about right.

“Mr Rory, then,” Stein agreed. “If you have a moment, I hoped we might converse.”

That was Stein: he’d allow Mick to be dragged out and shot, or left to rot in a cell, but he wouldn’t want to be uncivil.

The hypocrisy grated, but not like it used to. “No, you didn’t.”

“You’re quite right.” Stein’s anxious, tight-lipped smile turned wry. “More accurately, I hoped we might have a few vaguely mumbled platitudes - perhaps some faint assurances - and then continue on as before, with the warm glow of having failed utterly to communicate meaningfully in any fashion whatsoever.”

“Like men, you mean.”

“Precisely. Then we could go on to avoid any further interaction for, well. Quite possibly the rest of time.”

“Deal.” Mick turned to go.

“Except!” Stein cleared his throat and went on less urgently as Mick turned back. “Except. With everything we’ve been through - everything we’ve seen - if any group of people were to be keenly aware of lost opportunities, it would be ourselves. As you appear willing to meet us half way, then I can do no less.

“And to aid in this endeavor, brandy.” He held up the open bottle victoriously. “It’s Captain Hunter’s. I’m sure he won’t mind.”

“You have a habit of roofying people when things aren’t going your way, Stein. Gotta say, waking up in a vacuum doesn’t appeal.”

“Once is hardly a habit,” Stein objected, but without much heat. “I’m not proud of what I did - I’ve apologised to Jefferson many times. If he never forgave me, he’d be well within his rights. Fortunately for me, he did. His mouth twitched into a self-deprecating half-smile. “Thus I find my moral high horse several hands shorter than I’d assumed.”

It was tempting to leave; there was no real reason to stay. Unless Stein had developed a Machiavellian streak, he obviously wasn’t intending to cause Mick any trouble and that’s all Mick needed to know.

Brandy looked good, though. And maybe he was a little curious what Stein had to say.

“Pour,” he said, on impulse.

“Excellent!” Two generous shots were decanted; Stein slid Mick’s glass over. “Jefferson told me about your training session. He was quite enthused, if heavily bruised. You do remember that injuries inflicted upon him are also visited upon me?”

Mick knocked his brandy back in one. It was a smooth-tasting Cognac, warm going down. The thought of how pissed Hunter would be made it all the warmer.

“Yes,” he said. “I remember.”

Stein nodded mournfully. “I thought you might. Well, that being the case, I wonder if I might make a request: softer mats? Indeed, any mats?”

“No. And with the Hunters coming for us, you should train too.”

“Something better left to the younger members of the team, I think.” Stein sipped at his drink, made a pleased expression and quickly drank the rest. “Honestly, even as a youth the martial arts were never a true passion. Although I am pleased to say that I have managed to hold my own when the occasion demanded.”

“One pirate who wasn’t expecting a fight,” Mick pointed out. “You won’t get that lucky again, you’ll just get dead.”

Stein shifted uncomfortably. “You heard about that.”

“The kid told me. He’s proud of you. Even if he shouldn’t be. Pour.”

The glasses were filled again, even more generously this time.

“We aren’t friends, Mr Rory,” Stein said slowly, hesitant as a man in a minefield.

“No,” Mick agreed. “We aren’t.”

“And I suspect we never will be, at least not the kind who - who - “

“Sit around, drinking stolen brandy?”

“A good point.” Stein took a breath and rushed on, probably hoping nothing would explode if he spoke quickly enough. “I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, while we may not embrace many of the same interests or philosophies, we are on the same team and, while a great deal of trust has been lost on all sides, I do hope that, over time, it can be regained.”

Stein grabbed at his drink and drained it, swallowing thickly.

“Wasn’t any trust to lose,” Mick said evenly, and finished his own. “Not between us.”

Without prompting, Stein poured again; amber drops slid down the sides of the glasses and pooled on the panel.

“I suppose so. But I want you to know that no one considered you extraneous. Or, whatever else Captain Hunter might have said in a moment of -”

“Honesty?”

“- exigency. Dangerous, unpredictable and quite possibly psychotic, certainly. I can’t and won’t pretend we were all comfortable with your presence, any more than I imagine you were comfortable with ours, but you were not irrelevant. I hope we can regain an equilibrium. With the standard caveats and promises we’ll see you coming and so forth.”

And there it was. Stein wasn’t trying to make nice, he wanted in on the same deal as Jax. It might be a little of both, Mick allowed, but it didn’t make any difference: friendly or scared, Stein wasn’t a threat.

“Kid told you about that too, huh? Don’t worry, Professor. Sara already threatened to kill me if I try anything.”

“Something I would be inclined to take seriously, myself.”

“Oh, I do.” Mick nodded with total sincerity. “She’d be the first one I took out.”

The problem with the Waverider - with most Time Master-built habitats - was that the doors slid. Hard to make any kind of grand entrance or exit when there was nothing to slam.

Mick had to concede that Hunter, trenchcoat snapping around his ankles as he strode in, gave it his best shot anyway. “Who the hell broke into my liquor cabinet?

Stein turned from the display table and cheerfully raised a hand in Hunter’s direction, listing at the shift in balance. “That would be me, and may I compliment you on your exquisite taste in Cognac?”

“Napoleon Bonaparte's exquisite taste in Cognac, actually,” Hunter muttered sourly. “Professor Stein, I must say I’m disappointed in you.”

“I fell into bad company,” Stein said, unrepentantly. “Jefferson can be very convincing. I succumbed to peer pressure - if anything, I’m the victim here.”

“Jax persuaded you to steal my brandy? You’ll forgive me if I find that unlikely.”

Mick ignored the look Hunter pointedly didn’t send his way.

“Well, perhaps not in so many words. I’m dreadfully sorry,” Stein said, pouring again. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“And yet you’re still drinking.”

“Well I feel I’ve somewhat committed to the part now. Besides, it would be a dreadful waste.”

“Here.” Mick swiped at at the rim of his empty glass and then pushed it towards Hunter. “All yours.”

Hunter took the glass reflexively as Mick headed for the door. “Oh, I get to drink what’s left of my own brandy. How kind.”

Stein stepped away from the table, swaying dangerously until Hunter rolled his eyes and grudgingly caught his shoulder to steady him. “Mr Rory, I-“

“We’re okay, Professor.”

“But you won’t make me the same promise you made Jefferson?”

 Mick glanced at Hunter, then back. “You’re a package deal,” he said, and walked away.

Chapter Text

Kendra was leaning against the doorway of her quarters, barefoot and relaxed; one hand held a steaming cup of something minty, the other was tucked around her waist.

“You should know,” she started when Mick walked by. “When the others were deciding what to do with you? When they said you could be reformed? I didn’t agree.”

He’d planned to leave her until last, but the brandy was still warm in his stomach and it seemed as good a time as any. Besides, it wasn’t like he blamed her for being one of the only people on the team with a survival instinct. “I know. Gideon showed me the logs. Snart didn’t think so either.”

“Like he wasn’t just saying that so he’d have an in with me if he needed one.” She rolled her eyes. “Please.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. We done?” Except she was holding the cup so tightly that her fingers were pale where they pressed against the ceramic, he realized. Not so relaxed after all. “Guess not. Funny. I figured you’d take the long view.”

“I can’t.” She sipped her drink, hand steady despite the tension. “If I think in centuries, millennia - if I think about how little any of this matters in the grand scheme of things? I’d be Savage. I’d be you. So it all matters. Every day.”

“Don’t follow,” Mick said, because there was a warning scratch at the back of his head and he needed time to work out why.

“You’ve changed. All of us can see that, even if we don’t know what it means yet. But I think you do take the long view. You can’t be redeemed,” she explained kindly, “because you’ll never care about us or anything else.”

“You think I’ll turn on you.”

Kenda uncurled and leaned to the side, putting her cup on the small table inside the door. “You’re a scorpion,” she said, as she straightened again. “I don’t hate you for your nature.”

“But you do hate me.” Mick hadn’t felt the urge to take a step back in a long, long time. Maybe that’s why it took him a moment to recognise it. He planted his feet and braced. “For your kid.”

“His name was Aldus,” she said, and took a deliberate step into his space; her wings didn’t manifest, but Mick could hear the damn things beating. “You killed my son.”

“I-”

She shook her head sharply. “Don’t. If you’re planning to apologize, or remind me you were fighting Chronos that day too, don’t.” She looked away at last; stepped back a moment later. “Or by every god I can name, I will end you.”

“I won’t apologize for the actions of another man, and I wasn’t fighting for you or your family that day. But if I owe anyone on this ship a free shot, I figure it’s you.”

Her eyes raked over his face; finally, she looked thoughtful. “What makes you think you’d survive me?”

“That’s the point.” Mick shrugged. Privately he gave himself even odds; all he'd ever asked out of life was a fighting chance.

“Sara’s my friend,” Kendra murmured, like she was trying to talk herself out of it, but already looking for loopholes. “She needs to believe you can change and she needs me to believe it too. And you pulled Ray out of the gulag even though Snart didn’t want you to; he thinks that means something.

“Maybe it does,” she concluded. “But I don’t feel it. All I feel is my son in my arms. So where does that leave us?”

Kind, gentle Kendra, with the hunting instincts of an ancient predator. Even if she didn’t remember her entire four-thousand year run, she was the sum of it.  And she could smell when her prey was bleeding.

But maybe she could be distracted until Mick could think of something to put on the table. “Snart wanted me to get Ray out,” he tried. “If he hadn’t, he’d have shot him.”

“What?” She blinked, derailed as he’d hoped.

“You really think he’d be on Blondie’s case about killing the Professor, but leave Haircut lying half-dead in a prison? He gave me the choice so I’d think I still called the shots, then complained enough to make it convincing: he was playing me, same as he tried to do to you.”

Her mouth twitched in unwilling amusement. “You two have a complex relationship.”

“Not really,” he denied. It was very, very simple.

“Did you remember your time with us?” she asked with a note of genuine curiosity. “When you were hunting us down?”

“Yes, but it didn’t matter. Hunting you wasn’t revenge,” he clarified. “It was a directive. I didn’t start coming back until...”

“Until the fifties,” Kendra finished for him. “You weren’t planning to take Snart when you attacked the ship, were you?”

“I was planning to kill everyone on-board and then I was coming for the rest of you. Burn out the infection. Then Hunter went down and Snart tried to pull him into cover. Rookie move, and he knew it.” Mick shook his head. “I should have been pleased it was so easy and instead I was angry and that was ... familiar.”

“When you came after us in Nanda Parbat, did you think the League would help us?” There was a speculative light in her eyes and, somehow, that was more unsettling than the coldly unpredictable fury.

“I didn’t care,” he said warily, unsure where he was being herded. “My orders were to take you out.”

“But all you had to do was wait,” she mused, tone a touch too sweet. “If you hadn’t attacked, the League might have done your job for you. Rip said Chronos was relentless, not impatient. Mick Rory is impatient, but I don’t believe Mick Rory would think he could take on the League, and all of us, and win.”

He said nothing; she smiled, sharp and vicious as she found a place to tear.

“When Aldus was born, he was so small the doctors said he wouldn’t survive. He fought as hard as Carter or I ever have to live. We’d had children before, but Aldus was the first in a long time. We wanted so badly to make something beautiful, meaningful, before we died.

“He was so clever. So curious about everything. Ten years. That’s all we had.” Her gaze had softened fondly; it hardened again as she focused. “And I’m going to tell you about every one of them.”

He shook his head, mystified. “Why?”

“I’m taking my shot,” she said, eyes glinting. “If it doesn’t hit, I’ll know I was right the first time and I won’t hesitate to put you down. Do you believe me?”

She was fire, Mick realized. Not like Sara, but the kind that turned oceans to sand and melted mountains down into shards of glass. He believed her.

“I wasn’t planning to kill him,” he said. “He wasn’t a threat, he was collateral. He shouldn’t have been there.”

“You think we should have left him behind? You, of all people?”

Mick’s jaw worked. “Not the same.”

Kendra turned and crossed to the old kettle that Ray had retrieved from the fifties, then pulled a second cup from the box of other things he hadn’t been able to leave behind. Mick followed her as far as the door.

“We took him to the World’s Fair. In San Diego. He showed me a photo, but I didn’t remember until later. That or the necklace.” She touched her throat. “He loved the Painted Desert. They actually built one. Can you imagine? Joe - Carter - and I, after four-thousand years we’d seen so much, but with Aldus this fake little village was a wonder of the world.

“I didn’t get the chance to ask him if he remembered. They tore it down in the forties.”

She finished making the tea and walked back; he took the cup he was handed and wrinkled his nose. Smelled like mint too.

“For a while, I got little flashes of him growing up. It hurt, but in a good way, you know?”

He did; he nodded.

“Then you stranded us. I wanted to find him, I thought it would be the one good thing about being left behind, but Ray persuaded me not to. He was right, I know that. Then a few months later, I lost my wings. The next morning I woke up and couldn’t remember my own son’s name.”

“I have a time ship,” Mick threw out quickly, like a defensive shield. “Right now it’s back in the sixties playing bait for the Hunters, but I can call it to this position. It’s good for a round trip. Play it right and you can save your son. Maybe even your man.”

She stared at him, eyes wide and mouth open. “What would it do to the timeline?” she asked, breathless, like he’d punched her in the gut rather than offered her a second chance. “If they stayed on the Waverider. If they never left the ship. What could it do?”

“To history or to them?” In his experience, a cage was a cage, whether it had bars or not. “I only know what happens when when people are erased early, not when they’re brought back.”

“Carter will come back on his own,” she said, slowly, as she thought it through. “Aldus won’t. And he’s older, an academic. He’d be happy here - it could work.” She looked up with bright, desperate hope. “It could work. I could save my son. Perhaps he wouldn’t have much more time, but he’ll have a little. But when the Hunters come for us... whoever they send after that? He wasn’t scared, when he died. Or alone. He shouldn’t be - I don’t want him to -”

“Lady, you want to save your son or not?”

Her eyes glittered with unshed tears, but her voice was steady. “More than anything in this world. And to do that, I have to let him die. Damn you.”

Which put them where they started, worse: she had more reason to hate him now, if she thought he’d done this to hurt her. He hadn’t. This once, he hadn’t, and there was an unfamiliar twist in his chest. Didn’t matter what he did, he left ashes.

He should have remembered that.

Kendra’s devastation wasn’t his problem, he told himself. Shiara could take it.

Shiara.

“My ship is set to autodestruct when the Hunters come on board,” he said. “I’m not saying they’ll take the bait, but if they do... there’s a manual override. And internal cameras. ”

“You’re trying to make up for killing my son by letting me kill three people in cold blood?”

“Nothing can make up for it. I’m giving you the chance to protect the crew without anyone else getting caught in the crossfire. Don’t pretend you don’t want to get your talons bloody. I may be a scorpion, but you’re no frog.”

She smiled; tired, this time. Maybe real. “Nothing can make up for it,” she echoed in agreement. “Maybe that’s my grand revenge: you’ll always owe me. You’ll never make things even.”

Seemed about fair.

Chapter Text

Hunter glanced up from behind the main console as Mick entered Command, tapped something on his data pad and then moved on to the next screen. “Mr Rory. All is well?”

Mick paused next to the scrolling engine readouts, ran an eye over them. Once, they’d meant nothing to him: gibberish, of no interest or concern. Now, they were informative - he could see exactly how out of date the ship’s systems were. Still not that interesting, though. “None of your business.”

“I’d contend it’s at least somewhat my business,” Hunter ducked under a panel with a grunt. “The Waverider is my ship and I’d appreciate advanced warning if any of you are actively plotting to murder one another. Or me. More than usual, that is.”

“Any of us? You think anyone trusts you?”

“I wasn’t the one making deals with time pirates.” Hunter extracted himself from the tangle of spliced wiring and climbed to his feet, casting about for the pad. “Or, for that matter, hunting anyone down for the Time Masters. And I allowed Per Degaton to live.”

Hunter was too nonchalant, too controlled. It was an act, Mick was sure of that, he just didn’t know why. Time to ruffle him up some.

“You couldn’t kill a kid, big deal. Last time I checked, we ain’t kids. You’re really going to pretend you wouldn’t sell us out for your family? You were in a hell of a rush to get Kendra back. That because she’s on your crew, or because you can trade her to Savage if everything else goes South?”

Hunter’s expression wavered close to nausea; Mick would bet he’d never even considered it. And if he hadn’t thought of something that obvious, he probably hadn’t thought of anything else.

Doubtful the same could be said for Savage; he’d make the good Captain an offer, sooner or later.

“Whatever I say, I’m sure you won’t believe me.” Hunter’s expression shuttered. “So I’ll just keep acting as if I’m not the second greatest monster the world has ever known and we’ll see how we get on, all right?”

His hand hovered over the data pad, then dropped away. His shoulders fell and he rubbed at his eyes. “This will end badly, won’t it?”

“You’re the Time Master,” Mick said. “You tell me.”

“You know very well it doesn’t work that way.”

“IQ of meat, remember?”

Hunter scowled irritably as the last of the calm veneer eroded. “Something said in the heat of the moment and, if you recall, recanted immediately. And I apologized after Nanda Parbat, even though you’d attempted to kill us. Repeatedly. I’m not sure what else I can say. Or why I should. How many of your countless victims have you made reparations to?”

“Time Masters are too used to writing over their mistakes,” Mick said, ignoring the question. “That’s the problem with you people. Your arrogance. I don’t need your apology. Never did.”

“‘You people.’” Hunter shook his head. “Except it’s you as well now, isn’t it?”

“Feeling less special? Don’t worry, I was just a tool to them. Familiar sensation.”

“Mr Rory, it cannot have escaped your notice that I’m not the most diplomatic of men. I’d apologize for that as well, but frankly, I don’t think either of us gets much out of it.” Hunter smiled faintly. “I’m surprised you took any notice - there hasn’t been overwhelming evidence that anyone on this crew cares what I have to say, but yourself and Mr Snart always seemed particularly impervious.”

“No one likes to be told they were the throw-away part of a two for one deal.”

Hunter nodded. “Particularly not, I imagine, when the other half of said deal has acclimatised somewhat more easily.”

“Some people are who they are: we don’t change and nothing changes us. Not really. Not where it counts. That’s you and me.”

Hunter didn’t deny it.

“The others adapt to fit in, to hide. To survive. I respect that, but I don’t trust it. I don’t like not being able to trust my partner to do the right thing.”

“The right thing in that case being to leave the rest of us to the tender, entirely non-existent mercies of time pirates?”

“The right thing being to have my back.” Mick crossed his arms, waiting for the sanctimonious sermon to begin.

“In the newfound spirit of teamwork, we’ll have to agree to disagree,” Hunter said, after an almost delicate pause. “Anyway, I thought things were settled between you now. With the….” He waved a hand vaguely towards his face. “Gideon offered to repair the damage, you know. Snart refused. I don’t pretend to understand his reasons.

“Well,” he went on briskly, when Mick made no effort to enlighten him. “I think that’s enough small talk, don’t you?”

“More than enough.” They were in full agreement for possibly the first time since they met; maybe they should get Gideon to make a note in the log. Or not. “What do you want?”

“Your ship. We have to destroy it or the League of the twentieth century will be rather more well armed, and potentially well travelled, than anyone in their right mind could ever be comfortable with. Ra's al Ghul with a time ship? Good God.”

“It’s hidden.”

Hunter nodded and raised his data pad, fingers poised to key in the coordinates. “Good. Where?”

“If I told you that, it wouldn’t be hidden anymore.”

The pad lowered; Mick smirked in the face of a flatly unamused glare.

“Fine. I assume your partner knows, as he escaped it.” Hunter’s expression sharpened as he thought aloud. “With only one hand, too, so I don’t imagine a great deal of climbing was involved. Or that it’s far from the city, given how quickly he found us. That narrows the field. Gideon, search for-”

“No,” Mick said, firmly.

“For heaven’s sake, why?”

“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“Yes, Mr Rory, in this instance you do. I suppose I wouldn’t want someone to scuttle the Waverider,” Hunter allowed, grudgingly, after a moment. “But I would leave her somewhere more secure than a city full of crazed assassins!”

“Wouldn’t let Blondie hear you say that.” But if Hunter was starting to think, at last, that seemed like something Mick should encourage after the succession of screw ups. “Internal and external defences are active,” he said. “If anyone tries to breach, it will auto-initiate self-destruct. The League aren’t looking for her, but if we’re lucky the Hunters are.”

“We could take them out before they find us.” Hunter nodded, looking more relieved than surprised. “I agree that would be worth the risk. I am curious about one thing, though: if your ship has the standard defences, how did Snart get out? Although I suppose I might just as well ask how he escaped you at all. No one ever evaded Chronos, certainly no one ever got away. Mr Snart is that good?”

“You’re the one that wanted to recruit him so bad you took the pyromaniac too,” Mick pointed out, knowing that his tone was even, his expression unreadable. He’d had practice. “You tell me - was it for his big blue eyes?”

Hunter’s gaze skirted over his face in much the same way that Kendra’s had. Disconcerting for a moment, but a pale imitation.

“I wasn’t going to keep either of you,” Hunter said abruptly, and turned back to the system checks. “After it all went wrong in the seventies.”

“So why did you?”

“Because I thought there was a chance, a chance, you’d both realize there was something greater than yourselves to fight for. Something more important than the next heist. You have to be something of an optimist, as a Time Master.” Hunter’s mouth twisted into a bitter smile. “You have to be able to convince yourself, when you’re walking away from some unimaginable human tragedy or other, that it will all be for the best.”

In his time working for the Time Masters, Mick couldn’t say that had come up. “How’s that working out for you?”

“In all honesty, I’m seriously considering grabbing my family the day before Savage gets there, throwing them on the ship and losing us all in dark space.”

“So why don’t you? You’d have to keep moving through the frags, but if you were careful you might make it.”

“I’ve thought about it,” Hunter admitted. “Obviously I’d have to fake their deaths so my past self would embark on the desired course, but it could work. For a while. But I want them to be free. Safe, for always. And, as selfish I’m aware my motives appear, I’m entirely sincere in my desire to rid the world of Vandal Savage. I might be able to rescue my wife and son, but I’m not sure either would forgive me if I - we - didn’t make every effort to save everyone else as well.”

“Noble.” Mick watched Hunter wrestle with the release on the next service box. “I’m sure that’ll be a real comfort when the Hunters catch up to us.”

“I’m confident we’ll overcome. With adequate preparation, on open ground.” Hunter eyed the box like he was judging the distance for a kick. “We took you down.”

“With the help of crazed assassins.” Mick brought his fist down hard just above the catch; it popped. “And there are three of them."

“Thank you,” Hunter said, but remained where he stood. Apparently Mick had his full attention now. “You sound like you want them to win.”

“Call it professional pride. But if you’re asking whether I’ll try and make a deal, it’s too late for that.”

Rip’s smile was thin-lipped and crooked. “So where does that leave us? Gideon tells me you’ve been making your peace with the others well enough. Or at least negotiating terms of engagement.”

“You had Gideon spying on me,” Mick growled, unsure whether he was impressed or angry that Hunter had tried to play him. “That’s how you knew about my ship.”

“No, actually.” Hunter ducked down again, apparently confident Mick wasn’t going to punch him like a stuck hatch. “I was monitoring you, of course. But, however preoccupied I may be, I like to think a fully operational time ship sitting in the League of Assassins’ driveway isn’t something that would slip my mind.”

“But you waited until now to mention it. Why not destroy it before we left Nanda Parbat? Because you wanted me to know,” Mick answered himself after a beat, grudgingly impressed. “It was a test.”

“If you’d tried to keep it secret, if you’d tried to leave yourself somewhere to run, I would be significantly less inclined to trust you onboard the Waverider.” Hunter entered the last digits into the pad before tucking it into his inner pocket. “I must admit some surprise that you offered it to Ms Saunders.”

“Still none of your business.”

“If you trust nothing else, Mr Rory, trust that I spend as little time as possible considering your motives. For anything. Now, I understand Mr Palmer is expecting us for,” his lip curled, “games night. If you’re attending, please let him know I will be late. And also that I don’t appreciate blackmail.”

“Blackmail? We're talking about Haircut?”

Hunter paced towards his anteroom with narrowed eyes and a determined expression. “Ask him.”

Chapter Text

Ray was sitting at a table, carefully lining up the sides of a chessboard; he bounced to his feet as Mick walked in.

“You came! Kendra and Sara were here,” he went on rapidly as Mick took in the otherwise empty mess. “Then they went to play AlcoHunt. The first rule of AlcoHunt is ‘You do not tell Rip about AlcoHunt.’ In case you were wondering, the second rule of AlcoHunt is also ‘You do not tell Rip about AlcoHunt,’ while the third rule involves going limp - at least if you’re Professor Stein.”

He flashed a bright and completely unsympathetic grin. “Jax is trying to get Gideon to fabricate chips and dip that don’t taste like gasoline and ennui. And hydrating. I’m not sure he’ll be able to cure Stein’s hangover that way, but I guess it’s worth a shot.”

“It’s not some kind of setup,” he finished awkwardly. “Is what I’m trying to say.”

Mick considered the assorted pillows, the scattered games and empty glasses, and finally the earnest expression of the man standing anxiously before him. “Didn’t think it was,” he said with complete honesty.

“Really?” Ray’s expression fell. “Not even a little bit? I guess there’s something to be said for being voted least likely to stage a double-cross.”

“You keep thinking that.” Mick dropped into a chair. “Hunter said he’ll be along. What did you blackmail him with?”

“Blackmail?” Palmer raised a hand to his chest, attempting to look both shocked and appalled at the accusation, but failing on both counts. “That’s such an ugly word. Totally accurate, but I prefer ‘put the screws on.’ Although that could be the fifties talking. I think I can definitively say it wasn’t a better time, but the movies were great. And I really liked the hats,” he added wistfully.

“Haircut.”

“Right, right.” Ray shrugged and went back to setting up the chess board. “I told him he had to show up tonight or we’d seize control of the ship and go to Woodstock. The second one.”

Mick raised an eyebrow.

“Prison changed me,” Ray said solemnly. “Speaking of hardened criminals, Jax said Snart isn’t coming. I guess he doesn’t play games.”

Mick startled into a rusty laugh; Ray looked shocked, then rueful. “Yeah, I’ll rephrase that. I guess he doesn’t play board games.”

“Not anymore. One time we hid up for two weeks in some old library with a Keystone crew. No power and nothing to do except read and wait for the heat to die down. Day four we found a stack of old games, day five Monopoly took out three guys. He plays chess. Poker.”

Ray blinked. “And you?”

“Plays me too.”

“I meant - you know what I meant.” Ray coughed, then grinned again, trying to play along. “I’m guessing he cheats.”

Mick raised an eyebrow.

“Wait. Not … like … or, maybe like? Because, Sara said - there’d be nothing wrong with that of course, consensually, except where you nearly died and - I. Wow. Okay, I will now stop talking.”

Snart always said messing with Palmer was too easy to be worth it; Mick disagreed. “He only cheats when people are expecting him to,” he said. “Says it’s no fun otherwise. What’re the stakes?”

Ray followed his gaze to the deck of cards, waiting to be shuffled. “Well, cash doesn’t mean much when Gideon can fabricate gold bullion. We could do chores, but practically everything is automated, and there’s no risk playing for matchsticks. So we’re betting stories. Ours, specifically. It’s like Truth or Dare, with bluffing.”

“So you took a good, cut-throat game and turned it into group therapy? I get why Snart said no.”

“Yet you’re still here,” Ray pointed out, when Mick failed to show signs of leaving.

The chair was comfortable. Besides. “Do you think there’s any truth I won’t tell, just to watch Hunter squirm?”

“No,” Ray admitted, smile fading. “I don’t. Can I ask you a question?”

“If you win a hand.”

“Poker isn’t really my game. I have a tell.” Ray winced. “By which I mean sometimes I get distracted and tell people my hand. I’m more of a Patience kind of guy.”

“Fine, you answer my question too and we’re square. Would you have stayed in the fifties? If you could have?”

Ray’s smile faded completely, leaving something brittle in its place. “While there was nothing we could do, we made the best of it. But if I have to choose between Kendra and picket fences, I choose Kendra. Every time. Is this about twenty forty-six?”

The answer wasn’t a surprise, how quickly Ray figured out the question’s motive was. Too easy to forget there was a genius behind the Boy Scout, that under the grin and the hair was a man who wore armour. “That really what you want to ask me?” Mick deflected.

“Actually, I was going to ask if you’re planning on killing us all, but I couldn’t think of a subtle way to do it.” Ray shrugged. “So I guess I’ll ask what happens when we fight the Time Masters? We’ll have to eventually. Unless Savage kills us first - we could all look forward to that instead. Do you know what will happen?”

“That’s two questions,” Mick pointed out, but he was feeling generous. “If - when - we fight the Time Masters, they’ll be trying to kill me too. I don’t know how this ends, but either way, we’ll be on the same side. You died,” he went on, careful not to make it a question.

“I do? Oh, you mean I did? Before? Yeah, but only a little. Gideon doesn’t have very optimistic projections and Kendra’s pretty determined. At least Sara and Snart were okay.” He tilted his head back to look at the small black camera in the corner of the room. “Even though HAL over there was trying to kill them.”

“I’m glad you all survived, Doctor Palmer,” Gideon said from hidden speakers. “I was not trying to kill them.”

“What kind of killer failsafe kicks in after the problem has been dealt with?”

“I didn’t design the Waverider, Doctor. Or its systems. I simply inhabit them, much like yourself.”

“Thanks,” Mick interjected, before Ray could start arguing with a machine. “Chances are Snart turned on me because you saved him, but could be that’s why he didn’t kill me too.”

“You two like to pay your debts.” Ray picked up a pawn, twisting it in his fingers before carefully putting back in its square. “I know you got me out of the gulag because you thought you owed me.”

“So?”

“So seeing as we let Snart maroon you, we’re even, and I’m wondering which side the scales are on now? Are you with us because you think you owe us for not killing you in Nanda Parbat, or that we owe you for not killing us … every other time before then. What happens when no one owes anyone anything?”

“You think that’s likely to happen any time soon? With this crew?”

“No.” Ray’s mouth curled in amused agreement. “Probably not.”

“Rip hid the brandy too well,” Sara announced as she and Kendra entered. “But we found the whiskey.” They were flushed and slightly breathless, and both triumphantly holding a dust-covered bottle.

Ray stood and crossed to the glasses, pulling six into a line. “Where?”

“In the starboard vents.” Kendra paused to shake some glittering particles out of her hair. “There were… obstacles.”

“‘It makes no logical sense! Why is it here? This episode was badly written!’” Ray looked around expectantly, then frowned. “Seriously. No one? If we survive Monopoly, I’m instituting a movie night.”

“If you suggest Alien, I’m throwing you out an airlock,” Sara promised.

“Galaxy Quest first. Then I was thinking Back to the Future. Maybe Terminator. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The … Time Traveller’s Wife?”

“I think not, Raymond,” Stein said, walking into the mess with the kind of slow care reserved for those with recent injuries or really bad hangovers.

Jax followed in his wake, hurrying him along with exactly as much sympathy as you’d expect from someone with a headache they hadn’t earned. “What’s with all the old movies? I vote Hunger Games. Team Katniss, man.”

“Yes, because two hours of children slaughtering each other for the entertainment of the masses in a dystopian future is certainly the light, entertaining fare I look forward to of an evening.”

“Actually, it’s more like eight hours - there’s four movies.”

Stein slumped down into a chair. “Goody.”

Kendra sat next to Ray and leaned into his shoulder as he poured the whiskey. “This is on you, you realize?”

“My bad,” Ray said, unrepentantly.

The mess door closed and then almost immediately slid open again as Hunter strode in. “Where the hell is my whiskey?”

“Don’t pout,” Sara said, unruffled. “We poured you a glass. You can choose the first game.”

Hunter stopped, jammed his hands in the pockets of his duster and scowled in Mick’s direction. “Is it too late to request you turn us in to the Time Masters?”

“Should’ve thought of that earlier.” Mick took the glass Ray handed him and stretched his legs out comfortably.

Time Bandits!” Ray beamed.

Sara perched on the arm of Mick’s chair as the others arranged themselves, squabbling like children over which game to play first. “You haven’t talked to him yet.”

“Been busy.”

“I heard.” Sara’s eyes flicked to Kendra, laughing with Jax. “I have to say, as far as apology gifts go, that was pretty creative. Flowers and a thoughtful card are probably more traditional, but resurrection is how my family show we care too, so...”

“The League isn’t family,” Mick snapped. “And neither are we.”

Sara raised an eyebrow, but didn't look particularly concerned by his tone. “I wasn’t talking about the League, I was talking about my sister.”

“The other Canary.” He left it there, because this wasn’t a conversation they should have. It shouldn’t be him.

“We didn’t always get on,” she said, tone fond. “I stole her boyfriend and died. Came back, screwed up her life and died again. But we’re in a good place now. Things work out.” She frowned warily at something in his expression. “What?”

He ducked his head, stared down at the floor. Later, she’d ask why he didn’t tell her. Later, he’d lie. Tell her he didn’t know. Better that way. Better it came from anyone else at all. “Nothing. So, what? You think we'll work it out? He turned on me.”

“Nyssa threatened my family to get me to go with her. She only backed off when she realised I’d rather die than go back to the League. And she’s everything to me. Always will be. People like us, we define ‘betrayal’ a little differently. Loyalty too. Other things beginning with ‘L.’”

“Don’t go there, Blondie.”

“Hey!” Jax called over. “We playing or we playing?”

“I’ve shared enough.” Mick stood. Hesitated. “Independence Day,” he suggested.

“I’m down with the classics,” Jax said, nodding approvingly.

Classics? ” Stein protested weakly.

Mick left them bickering, their voices fading behind him as he walked the passageways towards Snart’s quarters.

Chapter Text

Snart sat on the floor, back against his bunk and legs stretched before him. There was a mug of coffee at his hip and a glossy magazine on his lap; he looked comfortable enough. Except Mick knew he couldn’t be. Not if he’d turned down the bio-gen.

The performance wasn’t for Mick’s benefit, not exactly. Since he’d got an inch on his old man, and a men’s size 10 bruise over his kidneys for his trouble, Snart’s tactic had been to stay low, stay small, until he was ready to make his move.

Mick had always been the opposite - before the fire, before juvie, before everything: a punk, fronting like he was ten feet tall and always running straight for the biggest target in the room. No kid of Joe Rory’s could do anything else.

They’d made it work. Covered each other’s weak points and watched each other’s backs. Until they hadn’t.

“Sara came by,” Snart drawled, without looking up. “Said you’ve been running around making nice. I told her Mick Rory doesn’t make nice, even when he should.” His tone turned speculative. “But he has been known to check for explosives. Anyone ticking?”

“No.” And maybe some of them should have been. Mick stuck a scrambler on the panel next to the door; Gideon wouldn’t be spying on this conversation. “And you can tell Blondie I wasn’t making nice ,” he grumbled.

Snark smirked. “I would, but you know how much I hate to say ‘I told you so.’”

“About as much as you hate to say ‘Stick ‘em up, this is a robbery.’”

One time.” Snart flipped to the next page. “Can’t beat the classics.”

It had been days since he’d last been in this white, anonymous little room, Mick realized. Days and then years. Their safe houses in Central City might have been dark and dirty, the air thick with black smoke more often or not, but he’d fit there. He didn’t fit here. Never would.

But he could make here fit with him instead.

He dragged a chair from the wall to the middle of the room and slammed it down next to Snart’s feet. “You can tell Sara she owes me,” he snapped, and sat while Snart stared in bemusement. “Gold Bullion or matchsticks - I don’t care.”

Games night?” The smirk widened into the delighted grin Snart wore whenever someone - usually Mick - was going to be reminded about something for the rest of their goddamn lives. Adorable. Did you share with the group?”

“Therapy only works if you work with therapy,” Mick reminded him.

Snart laughed under his breath. “Dr. Crankshaw. There’s a blast from the past. I wonder if he ever found his tooth.” Long fingers - thief’s fingers - drummed quietly on the magazine. “So no one wants you spaced, even though you gave the ship to time pirates and tried to kill us all? Heroes.” He shook his head. Will they never learn?”

Sure, Snart was half-way disgusted, but he was half-way amused too. Indulgent. And that should have been the biggest warning sign of all: Snart had thawed, and Mick hadn’t noticed the ice cracking under them until it was way too late.

“I made a deal with the time pirates to save our lives,” he said. “Hunter doesn’t care if we live or die. We’re history to him. I have nothing to apologize for.”

The drumming stopped. “Time. Pirates.”

Mick leaned back and crossed his arms. Changed the subject. “Sara thinks you didn’t fight. Back in the cell.”

“Well, that’s hurtful. Admittedly, not as hurtful as you.” Snart poked at his bruised cheek and grimaced. “We aren’t all trained assassins and bounty hunters. You know me, what do you think?”

“Which you? My partner, or the choir boy who stabbed me in the back?”

Snart turned another page, unperturbed. “You think I went soft, but I’m on the same side as always: mine . I just happen to think we have a better chance on a team full of super-powered choir boys - and girls - than with a bunch of leather-bound losers. It would have been like working with the Mardon brothers.”

He shuddered theatrically.

And still didn’t look up.

Mick leaned forward and waited silently until the close-cropped head cautiously raised. When it did, he caught Snart’s gaze and held it. “Hunter asked me what I’d do to save the team, and I did it. I had a plan to get us out alive. You didn’t trust me.”

“Couldn’t risk it, Mick.” Snart blinked and looked back down. His tone hardened, his drawl was heavy with affected boredom as he tried to recover ground. “Not after that little speech you gave. So if you’re waiting for an apology from me, you’ll be waiting a long time. Whatever anyone else may say.”

“Sara, again.” Mick said, leaning back. He knew for a fact she had better things to do than interfere, and that meant she had an end goal he wasn’t seeing. Yet.

“Turns out she’s a romantic, under all those knives. Thinks we should kiss and make up.”

“So does the Haircut.”

“Pretty sure Raymond didn’t leave this.” Snart flicked back a few pages, then held the magazine so Mick could see the article he’d been reading. The title read ‘Ten Ways to Apologize,’ but someone had added ‘Without Punching Your Loved Ones in the Face’ in purple ink and a neat block print.

Subtle.

Mick kicked without force at the closest ankle. “Hit the bunk.”

Snart drew his knees up slowly, guarded again. “Why?”

“Because my neck hurts from looking down and I don’t like it when I can’t see you.”

Snart’s already suspicious frown deepened into a scowl, but he hauled himself onto the sleeping pad, trying - and failing - to hide how painful it was to move, and how much more comfortable it was than the floor.

“I don’t like it when I can see you,” he muttered as he arranged himself cross-legged against the wall. “Which would normally be something of a barrier to any ongoing partnership.”

Mick dragged the chair closer to the bed and put his feet up on the mattress. “But?”

But, I’ve come to realize that I’ll probably just keep walking into the cell anyway. Figuratively speaking.” For a moment, Snart looked genuinely angry - at himself, if not Mick.

Yeah, probably at Mick too.

The storm cleared with a shrug. “So there’s no point worrying about it,” he concluded. “At least if you kill me, I won’t die at the hands of someone like Savage. That would be embarrassing .” His expression shifted; the gallows humor drained away. There was a subdued pause, then. “Besides, our association was never about longevity.”

“One perfect score,” Mick agreed.

That was what they’d promised themselves when they were kids, when neither of them expected to make it to twenty, let alone thirty. Forty had been up there with fairy tales or the Astros winning the World Series.

But here they were, and the only reason either of them was still alive was the clock in Snart’s head and the fire in Mick’s fists.

“Anyway, it’s been great to catch up and all, but I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me where’s this going?” Snart asked impatiently, breaking through the moment of nostalgia. “Because if you’re here to check for explosives, we’ve already established you don’t have anything to worry about, and I’d like to find out which ten men I should be glad I didn’t marry.”

Mick snatched the magazine away before Snart could reach it, making a mental note to drop by the incinerator later. “I’m here because the score changed,” he said. “Then the game. If we’re going to be partners again, the rules are changing too.”

“I see.” Snart waved a hand, shrugged. “Go ahead, give me the revised edition.”

“Rule One: I call the shots. Not you, not Hunter. Me.”

Mick didn’t hate Hunter - genuinely, he didn’t. Not anymore. All that had burned out a long time gone. Couldn’t say he liked the man, but he had to admire his determination; his sense of purpose was as bright a fire as Mick had ever lit. Thing was, he was dangerous in ways that had nothing to do with firearms and everything to do with justifying the means.

“He’ll get us both killed,” he said. “And you’ve drunk enough Kool-aid to let him.”

Deprived of the magazine, Snart occupied himself picking at the bed sheets. “It wasn’t like you ever had to follow my orders."

“But, somehow, you always get what you want. Or have you forgotten twenty forty-six?”

Fine. I’ll keep all future efforts to make sure you aren’t erased from the timeline to a minimum. However, I reserve the right to make suggestions. Particularly if Raymond has been attempting to cook, or we’re about to die horribly for some other reason.” Snart hesitated, then went on. “Rule Two: you never mention or go near my sister again.”

“You’re not making the rules,” Mick said levelly. "I am.”

The picking stopped; for the first time since Mick had walked in the door, Snart met his gaze squarely. “Consider it a rider. And a dealbreaker.”

“Would you believe me if I said I wasn’t going to hurt her?”

“Speaking as someone who froze his own hand off to escape those neat little restraints of yours, I would have to say ‘no.’ While I might be willing to bet my life you’re back with Team Hapless, hers is off the table.”

Snart shouldn’t believe him; Mick didn’t. “Agreed. Rule Two-”

“Wait, are there going to be many more of these? Should I be making a list?” Snart’s drawl was thick and his tone was mocking; his sneer was calculated to aggravate. Trying to find any hair triggers he could still pull.

When he moved from arrogance, through confusion, and finally to frustration, Mick smiled as benevolently as he could.

“We done? Good. Rule Two,” he said, ignoring the answering snarl. “I don’t care what you say to them, but you don’t lie to me. That’s it. Two rules.”

“Two rules,” Snart echoed slowly, lingering resentment fading into a kind of grudging interest as he considered all the moving parts. Specifically, Mick suspected, how to get around them. “And the penalty for breaking a rule?”

“Decided at my discretion.”

“I can work with that,” he said finally, with no particular inflection.

The fingers were at the sheets again, the lazy pick-pick-pick.

“Why’d you freeze your hand off?”

He hadn’t mentioned the hand before, hadn’t been planning to. It had grown back, and it wasn’t like they hadn’t been taking pieces out of each other for years, one way or another. But as far as testing this new arrangement went, the answer would be way more interesting than whether or not their little cage fight had been for real.

“I had to get to you.” Snart didn’t blink: he’d been ready for it.

And, once, Mick would have assumed he meant ‘to stop you,’ but now? Now, it was two minutes in and he already regretted not wording Rule Two more tightly. “Why?” he pressed.

Snart’s eyes widened briefly in concern before they narrowed again in concentration; he might have been ready, but there was no Plan B. “The obvious reasons,” he threw back, trying for bored nonchalance. “Even you can’t be that dense.”

It was so strange to have the upper hand, Mick discovered he wasn’t even angry at the attempt to distract him. Besides, the hedging was the most familiar note in their relationship in a real long time. “Pretend I am.”

“You’re really going to make me say it?” Snart looked more than a little alarmed.

And if he hadn’t have been quite so intent on getting an answer, Mick might have had the presence of mind to join him - this wasn’t the talk he’d been intending to have. Not tonight.

But he’d gone ahead and run straight at the biggest target in the room.

“Blondie pointed out neither of us had learned how to say ‘sorry’ in thirty years,” he said, mentally squaring up. “I’m starting to wonder what else we never got around to.”

“Some things go without saying.” Snart’s eyes flickered to the door.

“Some things don’t.” Mick slouched to the left, effectively blocking his view. “If that one’s too hard, tell me why you didn’t finish it when you booted me off the ship?”

Snart threw his hands up in frustration, winced and glowered at Mick like it was his fault.

Okay. Kind of was.

“I lied. I was never going to kill you, but we couldn’t have taken them all out and our on-board assassin was about to suggest some permanent solutions. The smart move was to ground you and come back when you cooled off - when I’d talked them around. Then Chronos attacked us.” He shook his head. “You always had terrible timing, Mick.”

That had been the Time Masters locking them in, making sure Snart could never go back. Just like Haircut’s beacon had cemented a two year sabbatical.

The hunger, the madness in the weeks after he’d been marooned, he remembered them clearly, but without anger. Without anything much at all. That last conversation, though, the Time Masters conditioning hadn’t touched; it still burned. “You called me a liability.”

Something almost stricken flickered in Snart’s impassive expression, but his tone chilled. “You let Hunter rile you up and then - I can’t stress this enough - there were time pirates where we live. What would you call that?”

They stared at each other for a long moment before Mick pressed, inexorably, one more time. “Why aren’t I dead, Lenny?”

If Snart was armed, Mick thought he’d probably be looking down a barrel right now. Fortunately, the cold gun had been left, wrapped neatly in its straps, on the second bunk. Where it couldn’t do any harm.

“You’re a son of a bitch,” Snart snapped, looking a lot like he was regretting the gesture.

“I prefer ‘boss.’ It’s got a ring to it. And that isn’t an answer.”

“It isn’t a lie either, and that’s what we agreed.” Snart rolled off the bed, to his feet and - probably not entirely coincidentally - towards the gun. “If that’s not good enough, you can take your rules and-”

Too fast; he swayed. Mick stood fast, grabbed his shoulder to steady him before he went down. A trip to the med bay would be all this conversation needed.

“We’ve got a good thing going,” Snart wheedled, trying to pull away. “Why mess around with that?”

Had a good thing going. So you tell me, what’s the score worth dying for now?”

“Dammit, Mick.” Snart’s head dropped, his gaze darted away. Never could tell the truth to someone’s face. “I couldn’t kill you then, I couldn’t do it in the cell, and I doubt I could do it now,” he ground out, before bitterly meeting Mick’s eyes again. “If that’s all you were waiting for before making your play, I’d prefer we move this along to the grand finale.”

This time when he tried to twist away, Mick let him. Neither of them did so great when they were trapped. “You know I don’t have the patience for a long con.”

“I don’t know you, not anymore. I wish-” Snart’s mouth clamped shut.

It wasn’t the admission Mick had wanted, but it was closer than he’d expected.

And not nearly as satisfying as he’d hoped.

“Hell of a thing, isn’t it?” He said softly. “Not knowing if your partner has your back. Watching them change on you. It’s easy to take a punch, any punk can do that. Hard’s when you don’t see it coming, when you can’t block it. When you bleed on the inside and know, maybe one day, it’ll kill you.”

“Well, that’s almost poetic.” Snart’s defences had slammed back up and he regarded Mick cooly. “That’s what you want? I think we’re good, think we’re … partners. Never see the hit coming?”

“Doesn’t matter what I say, you’ll never really be sure. I get my vengeance whether I want it or not. And I get it cold.” Mick let his distaste show as he moved away, leaving a clear line to the door. “So tell me, Lenny. You still planning on walking into that cell?”

Mick could almost hear the tick-tick-tick in his head, see the scales dip as their past and future was weighed and measured.

“Yeah,” Snart murmured, then huffed with something like a laugh. One that had taken a tour through darker space. “For now,” he amended.

“Rule Three,” Mick followed quickly. “I say when we’re done.”

“You’ll get no argument from me.”

“That was a lie,” Mick pointed out, and stepped closer.

“What are you going to do about it?” Snart smiled like he was staring at some priceless, locked up thing; his eyes glinted with avarice and adrenaline, and he didn’t back away.

“Use my discretion.”