The screen lit up, Ava’s name flashing in front of Sara’s eyes. Sara smiled as she opened the call. That wouldn’t have been the case a couple of months ago, but things had changed.
Ava’s face appeared, her face stern. Sara frowned, the smile quickly wiped off her face - that expression was supposed to be something of the past. They were on good terms now, or at least, she thought they were.
“Sara.” Ava’s voice was terse, her gaze flickering everywhere - everywhere except straight at Sara.
“How... are you?” Sara asked, her tone light, trying to disguise the confusion she was feeling. The formality felt strange in her mouth.
“I’m fine, thank you.” Ava didn’t look fine.
“You don’t look fine,” Sara said, crossing her arms. “You look stressed.”
Ava waved this off. At the same time, her face twisted. She wasn’t a good liar. Or maybe Sara was getting better at reading her. “It’s nothing.” She paused, looking away from the screen. “Almost nothing.”
“Almost nothing isn’t nothing,” Sara said.
Ava coughed, clearing her throat, then spoke slowly, as if choosing her words carefully. “I’m afraid your team can’t deal with the Stanford University anachronism.”
“That’s not nothing,” Sara replied, an arch in her eyebrows. It was a testament to how far they’d come that she didn’t simply shut off the communication right there. “But you’re too late. We’re already here. It’s a Level 3. Nothing serious. JFK in 2002 instead of 1942. We find him, put him back. Easy. I don't think he’ll pose much of a threat.”
“You need to leave, Sara.” Ava’s voice didn’t betray anything, her face still a blank slate.
“You’re going to have to give me a reason, Agent,” Sara said, her voice dropping at the last word.
Ava rolled her eyes, ignoring Sara’s attempt at a tease, ever professional. Sara was going to break that down one day.
“I thought we were past that,” Sara said. There had been an unspoken agreement between them ever since Beebo - they didn’t keep secrets anymore. It wasn’t helpful for anything. “If you want us to stay out, you’re going to have to give me a reason.”
Ava’s face shifted, clearly conflicted. She opened her mouth, and Sara leaned forward. Ava closed it again, apparently having made her decision.
“I’m not at liberty to tell you at this moment.”
“Is it about Mallus?”
“Then you can tell me.”
“What about ‘I can’t tell you’ don’t you understand, Sara?” Her tone, one that would’ve once pissed Sara off, that she would've once regarded as condescending, was simply weary. She shook her head as she said it, and Sara thought she almost saw a rueful smile.
“Apparently all of it. If it’s not Mallus, I don’t see why you would need to hide anything.” Sara stood her ground, pushing further.
Ava refused to budge. “Does my word mean nothing to you?”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Sara said, and Ava had the nerve to look affronted. “If you can give me one good reason why we should leave, then I’ll call Ray and Nate back.”
Ava’s eyes widened. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Sara smiled. “Did I forget to mention I’d already sent them out for recon?”
“Yes,” Ava said, her teeth gritted. “You did.”
“Oops,” Sara said. “My bad.”
Ava sighed, shaking her head. It seemed like she was about to say something, and then the comms in Sara’s ear buzzed into life. She held up a finger to the screen, one hand going to her ear, turning away slightly.
Nate’s voice came through, the sheer delight in his voice hardly concealed. “Sara, drop whatever you're doing. You have to see this.”
Sara turned back to the screen. “I’ve gotta go,” she said, ending the call, the screen freezing on Ava’s face, ever indignant. She didn't feel too bad about it. If it had been important, Ava would've told her. She had to believe that, otherwise she'd feel bad, and she didn't like feeling bad.
Didn't like feeling like Ava had gotten under her skin.
She left quickly, sure that any second a portal was going to open and Ava was going to step out and stop her from finding out whatever had got Nate so excited.
She assumed he would’ve told her if they had already found JFK, so it had to be something to do with Emma Marsters, a senior who had just posted on a forum that she was pretty sure she’d seen a young JFK wandering around the campus.
Nobody on the forum had seemed particularly convinced, which was unsurprising, since JFK was supposed dead. He’d been dead for forty years; hadn’t walked the campus at Stanford for almost sixty. Sara had sent Nate and Ray to check the student out - it was unlikely she knew much, but it was worth seeing if she knew anything more than what she had posted online, because, somewhere, JFK was roaming the campus, and they had to find him before he could cause any damage.
They had set their arrival to less than a minute after the post was uploaded, but there was no knowing how long ago he’d been seen.
She found Ray and Nate hovering outside the dorm, wide grins on their faces.
“So you found something helpful?” Sara asked.
They shook their heads. “Not really.”
Sara sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose between her fingers. “And you failed at the one job you had because?”
“Single-sex dorm,” Ray said. “Her roommate wasn't particularly accommodating to our questions. Especially since it's so late at night. Shoved us right out of there. Kinda scary.” He paused, exchanging a glance with Nate. “You should try though. You might be a bit more successful.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” Sara asked, exasperated. They were clearly hiding something.
She sighed. They clearly weren't going to say anything else. She probably could've made them talk, but she frankly didn't have the energy, she so she left them behind, entering the dorm with purpose. It was late enough that everyone seemed to be in their rooms. The halls were quiet.
Eventually she found Emma’s room. She knocked, unsure of what she was going to find on the other side.
She heard an audible groan from inside, and then the sound of a muffled voice. “If it's those guys back again I'm going to kick their asses.”
The voice was familiar.
She didn't have time to think about why before the door opened, and she found herself staring at a woman who was more than just familiar.
She was blonde, her face folded into a frown that Sara knew well, and she was quite unmistakably Ava Sharpe, just considerably younger.
Her hair was piled on top of her head messily - more unkempt than Sara had ever seen Ava. A few strands fell over her face - too many to be artful or intended. This Ava, apparently, wasn't quite such a stickler for a harsh hairstyle. She wore a loose plaid shirt, the sleeves pushed up to her elbows. Pyjama shorts hung below the hem of her shirt.
Sara gaped for a second, unable to stop herself from staring. Ava leant in the doorway, her arms crossed. There was a splash of ink across one of her forearms - a tattoo.
Sara had never taken Ava to be the type to have tattoos. She wondered briefly if Ava still had it - if there were more - her mind wandering off in directions that it shouldn't.
But that was a question for the future, because the Ava right in front of her was staring back at her, her eyes narrowed. She looked down at Sara. As tall as the Ava of now, she didn't seem to have grown into the height yet. She didn't wear it quite as well. There was an uncertainty in her posture that was never there with the Ava that Sara knew.
“What do you want?” The tone of her voice was familiar, even if everything else about her was different.
Sara cleared her throat. Right. She was here for a reason. “I was wondering if your roommate was in.”
“Oh.” Sara paused, leaning slightly to peer into the room. “It just sounded like you were talking to someone a second ago.”
Ava moved her body to block Sara’s stares.
“So you were listening in on our conversation?” she asked, her tone getting more and more confrontational as time went on. Sara had to resist the urge to get pissed off. This Ava was fifteen years younger, making her… twenty? Twenty-one? Truth be told, she had no idea how old Ava was, had no idea about most things about her. But this Ava was young, that was for sure, and she couldn't be expected to be reasonable.
Sara certainly hadn't been reasonable at twenty. Not before the Gambit, at least. So she just calmed herself, trying to be a little bit more mature. “I wasn't listening on purpose. You're just loud.”
It came out slightly less mature than she had been going for, a hint of petulance in her voice. It seemed that Ava, of any age, had a knack for rubbing her the wrong way.
Ava gave her the sort of withering look only a young person looking at an adult they had utter disdain for could pull off, then, after a couple of seconds seemed to decide in favour of Sara. Sara felt old. “My roommate isn't in, because this isn't my room.” That explained why Gideon hadn't given her any warning about who else other than Emma the Legends might find in her room. “It's my girlfriend’s room.”
Her voice was defiant as she said this, and Sara had to remind herself how much things had changed in fifteen years. Ava's eyes were blazing, almost a challenge. And yet, behind the challenge, there was uncertainty. Her eyes flicked downward briefly, before raising back up to meet Sara’s, a mask reinstated.
“And is she in? Emma?” Sara asked, trying to keep her voice steady, her mind still twisting more than a little. She knew it took awhile for the timeline to solidify, that Ava wouldn't remember this yet, but it still felt strange, like she was reading her diary.
Ava sighed, fidgeting slightly, her face screwed up. “I suppose so.”
“So, can I come in?” Sara asked. If the Ava she knew was unhelpful, then this one was taking it to the max.
“Not until you tell me why you're here. We don't just let random strangers into our dorm,” she said, her arms still crossed. She glanced up and down at Sara, not trying to hide it her roving gaze. “Even if they happen to be hot.”
The brazenness felt a little too much like an act. Sara knew it well. That had been her, before she'd learnt not to hate herself.
Sara didn't know what to say, what the correct response was when your kinda-friend-kinda-coworker’s younger self was flirting with you, so she ignored the last part and dragged her mind back to the mission.
“We're here about some posts Emma made online.”
Ava's eyes narrowed. “What are you? Campus security? The police?” She sighed. “If Emma was posting online again about wanting to stage a coup against the president, she was only joking.”
“What? No. I don't care about the president. Well. Not that president.”
At the sound of her words, she heard footsteps, a small brunette appeared next to Ava.
“Is this about JFK? Because I definitely saw him.”
Ava turned to who Sara assumed was Emma. “Babe. You didn't see JFK.”
Emma turned back to Sara, her face as stubborn as Ava’s. “I saw him. I'm doing my thesis on him. I know what he looks like. Even if Ava thinks I'm going crazy.”
Sara smirked, feeling far too good about proving this poor college student Ava wrong. She couldn't help it - her Ava was always right.
“I've got some good news for you, Emma.”
Sara just explained everything. It didn't really matter. They'd be erasing both of the girl’s memories soon enough, and it was far easier to work with people when you weren't lying to them.
They wouldn't have really needed anyone to help them, but the campus was a maze, and they needed this sorted as quickly as possible.
The less people they had to memory wipe, the better.
Ava was skeptical the whole time. Sara wasn't surprised. Eventually, she seemed to give in.
Sara was unceremoniously shoved out of the room so the girls could get changed.
She took the opportunity to page the rest of the team. She didn't tell anyone else about Ava, simply split them all up, sending them out from the Waverider in various directions.
As she finished her instructions, a call from Ava (her Ava, as she'd found herself thinking) came in. She ignored it.
Five minutes later, Emma and Ava appeared outside. The shorts were gone, replaced with jeans. She'd thrown on a hoodie over the shirt. She looked strange; Sara was still adjusting to the idea of Ava in anything but a suit.
The night was cold, and their breath steamed up in front of them. Ray and Nate were gone. Sara was glad that they'd followed instructions - she didn't trust them to keep their mouths shut around Ava.
Truth be told, she didn't trust herself around Ava.
There were so many questions she wanted to ask. She wanted to know everything, but it felt like cheating to get it from this girl who, despite literally being Ava, didn't feel like the real thing.
It wasn't just fifteen years of experiences that she didn't have. This Ava, despite everything she was trying to show the world, was obviously delicate. Sara was pretty good at reading people, and she could tell that this Ava was close to falling apart.
You wouldn't have noticed it if you didn't know her. But there was something behind her eyes, an urgency. As they walked, she leaned into her girlfriend, and it didn't seem like it was for comfort - it was a need. At the same time, she was restless. That was obvious enough.
The Ava that Sara knew was the epitome of put together, sure of herself and where she was going. This one seemed aimless. It wasn't how she would've imagined a younger Ava, but then, who stayed the same through fifteen years?
Sara certainly hadn't. She had done nothing but change. It wasn't surprising that Ava had changed since she was a college student.
Another call came in from Ava. She ignored it, again.
Sara wasn't really sure where they were going, wasn't even sure that they were going anywhere in particular, and then they stopped in front of the library.
“I saw him here. He was going inside.”
“Thank you very much,” came a voice from behind Sara. Sara winced.
She turned around. Ava was staring at her, her face not betraying a single emotion. Behind her were multiple Time Bureau agents.
The girls turned around as well, shock slowly registering as they took in the woman in front of them, very clearly someone very familiar.
Ava's face, as she took in her younger self, momentarily betrayed something. Then she held up a memory wiper. “I suppose you should turn away, Sara,” Ava said, her voice resigned, as if, had she had a choice, she would've used it on Sara as well.
Sara heard the flash, closing her eyes. When she turned back, the girls were being led away, their faces confused. Sara watched their retreating figures sadly, pulling her gaze away when she felt Ava’s eyes on her.
Ava opened her mouth, as if she were going to say something, and then closed it.
Sara, for once, didn't have anything to say.
Ava inclined her head towards the library, a wordless question. Sara nodded.
JFK wasn't hard to find. He was wandering around the lobby, apparently having been there for the past half an hour. Nobody was around to see him, and, as Sara had predicted, he was pretty easy to take in. Once they located him, it was simply a matter of the Time Bureau taking him back to where he belonged.
Ava didn't go with the rest of the agents, instead following Sara back to the Waverider.
The rest of the team had returned once they had heard that the president had been found, and the bridge was deserted.
They sit down in silence. Awkwardness hangs in the air.
“You could've told me,” Sara said, finally breaking the silence, hardly looking at Ava.
Ava sighed. “Because telling you that if you investigated this anachronism you'd run into the 19-year-old version of me would've made you leave?”
Sara inclined her head. “Okay. Maybe not.”
Silence fell again.
Ava turned to Sara. “I didn't want you to see me like that.”
Sara didn't have to ask what she meant. There had been a vulnerability there that she wouldn't have wanted anyone seeing if it had been there.
Sara didn't push, but Ava kept going, her voice low. “I wasn't in a good place back then. I was weeks from dropping out. If the anachronism had been a month later, I wouldn't have been there for you to find.”
“You dropped out?” Sara tried unsuccessfully to hide the shock in her voice. Ava didn't seem like the sort of person who ever quit anything.
“I was a mess. So I joined the army. Never looked back.” Ava stared straight ahead, her face blank, but her fingers twisting in her lap. “Nothing quite like boot camp to make you forget about all your problems.”
Sara still didn't say anything. It had hardly been an hour since their first conversation, and yet it seemed like everything had changed.
Ava turned to her, her eyes questioning. “Did you ask her anything? I wouldn't remember it if you did.”
Sara shook her head. Ava smiled a weak smile.
“Don't be thinking I'm all moral now. I wanted to,” Sara said. “It just felt weird. She wasn't… you.”
Ava’s gaze stayed fixed on Sara. Her lips parted, one long breath escaping.
Her eyeline moved, flicking downwards, then back up. Sara shifted in her seat, suddenly hyper aware of every movement she made.
She couldn't tear her eyes away from Ava. Ava broke the eye contact again, her eyes going lower.
It was almost too much to bear.
It was a relief when Ava closed the gap between them, when her mouth found Sara’s. Her touch was light, too light. Sara’s hands found Ava’s waist, pulling her closer. The kiss deepened, Ava's mouth getting more insistent.
When they broke apart, Sara smiled. “Just one question,” she says, her mouth still inches from Ava’s.
“Oh?” Ava asked, her voice low.
“Do you still have the tattoo?”
“Not that one,” Ava said.
“That's so hot,” Sara said, and what looked like a real smile broke on Ava’s face, the first one Sara had seen all day.
“What can I say?” Ava said, shaking her head. It wasn't quite disbelief, because she was clearly used to Sara by now., but, instead, something like endearment. “I contain multitudes.”