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You're My Miracle

Chapter Text

Ava had been sitting in bed for thirty minutes, drinking wine, and trying to relax. She had a long week; yesterday was especially hard and the last thing she needed tonight was put unnecessary stress on herself by replaying the conversation she had yesterday afternoon with her boss, in her head.

******************************

"Absolutely not! That is a terrible idea!" Ava exclaimed upon hearing what her boss just said.

"We could use her help, Ava. She's a great private investigator with exceptional skills, and maybe an outside help might get us closer to finally getting Damien Darhk."

"We don't need civilians anywhere near this case, Rip. We don't have time to train them. Everyone here has already enough on their plate. My team and I are already up to our neck with building a stronger case against Darhk. Anything less and he'll definitely walk. Again. Not to mention, we still have to find him. The bastard is in the wind."

"That's what I want to tell you, Ava. If we want to take down Darhk, we need to be open to explore every avenue available. Miss Lance doesn't need training. She's extremely resourceful, incredibly smart, and has a knack for thinking outside the box. Plus, she can more than handle herself. Trust my word for it."

When Ava didn't say anything, Rip continued.

"She also has a personal history with Darhk, and I have a feeling she knows things about him that even we don't, which is why I want her to be a part of your team, working as a civilian consultant to the FBI."

"Personal history? How do you mean?"

"That's not my story to tell. Work with her and you can ask her yourself," Rip said as he opened a drawer and pulled out a folder. He slid it across the table towards Ava.

"What's that?"

"Files on Miss Lance. Everything you need to know about her is in that folder. Read it and-"

"I don't need to read it," Ava said, cutting Rip off. "I know who Miss Lance is."

Rip seemed to be surprised by the agent's admission.

"How?"

"Like you said, she's a private investigator. I've heard some of my cop acquaintances mention her name on a few occasions. According to them, Miss Lance makes them look like complete idiots at their job."

For a second, Ava thought she saw a look of pride in Rip's face at what she said, but she thought nothing of it.

"And... I am also not... unaware of her... reputation."

Rip smirked at that before lowering his gaze, looking contemplative.

"Why do I have a feeling that you know this Lance woman on a personal level?" Ava raised one eyebrow, challenging Rip to answer a rhetorical question.

Rip took his time before he gave Ava an answer.

"Sara and I.. We know each from we were younger. She would often come with Laurel, her sister, to hang out with me and some other friends."

"Wait. Laurel? You mean Laurel Lance? Sara Lance is her sister, and you were friends with them?"

"Yes to everything."

Ava couldn't hide the disbelief in her face and voice.

"THE Laurel Lance? As in District Attorney Laurel Lance? The same Laurel Lance who-"

"Yes." Rip cut Ava off before she could say what he knew she was going to say.

Ava noticed the sadness in Rip's response, and knowing now that he was close with DA Lance, she could understand why. She waited for him to continue.

Realising he hadn't said anything for a while, Rip cleared his throat.

"Anyway," Rip continued, "That's how I met Sara- through her sister. She was four years younger than Laurel. Sara looked up to her; would do everything Laurel did."

From the look on his face, Ava knew that at the moment, Rip was remembering the sisters with fondness. She didn't dare interrupt him.

"...Laurel, on the other hand, would dote on her little sister. She adored Sara, which is why she would always let her tag along. High school went by and the three of us only grew closer. The day before Laurel and I were to leave for our respective university, Sara barely got out of her room. Laurel rang to tell me to come over and help her cheer Sara up. Sara eventually came out of her room, and the three of us reminisced on their deck about the past and talked about things including how I was going to be a federal officer, Laurel, a lawyer, and Sara, a doctor. That was the dream- the three of us; we were all going to make it big out in the world. That night, Laurel gave Sara a present- it was a necklace; a canary. Told her that it would watch over her in her absence. Sara hasn't taken it off since."

Ava noticed how Rip's eyes started to water, but she still didn't say anything because if she was being honest with herself, she wanted to know the rest of the story. In all the years they had been friends, Rip rarely talked about anything extremely personal, especially if it had something to do with his past. Ava wasn't going to do or say anything that would make Rip close himself off this time. If he was aware that Ava noticed how he started tearing up, he didn't make an effort to conceal it. Ava waited for Rip to gather his thoughts.

Again, Rip cleared his throat.

"So yeah, Laurel and I went to university. She went to law school, passed the Bar, and became one of the youngest in history to ever become a district attorney. I went straight to the Academy after graduation, and the rest, as they say, is history."

"And Miss Lance?" Ava asked after feeling that Rip wasn't going to continue.

"Laurel was always the one able to stay Sara's hand. In her absence, Sara became quite rebellious. She would often find herself in trouble especially during high school, to the utter frustration of their parents; their father, especially. Laurel made sure to call Sara often and visit home every chance she got. Sara may have been a rebel but she's incredibly smart. She graduated high school, went to an Ivy League university, but dropped out with only a year left. We stayed in contact after a while. But communication became less and less in the next few years. We completely lost touch after that. Well, until recently. That's it. End of story."

Ava squinted her eyes at Rip, feeling like there was more, a lot more, to the story than everything he just told her; but she knew better than to push. Instead, she used something she heard to persuade Rip not to let Sara into Darhk's investigation.

"A troublemaker, huh. Like I said, not a good idea. Working with her might compromise everything my team and I worked so hard for for months, and I'm not willing to risk that. Neither should you."

Ava crossed her arms in defiance and stared Rip down.

"This is not a request, Agent Sharpe." Rip figured it was time to stop talking like Ava's friend and mentor, and start being her boss. "You and your team are going to work with her whether you like it or not. And you know how I know you're going to do just that? Because of that." Rip pointed at his office door. "The sign on that door reads 'MICHAEL R. HUNTER, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR', and that means I am your boss. In fact, not only am I your boss, I am your boss's boss, and you, you do as you're told." Rip finished, closing any room for further argument.

Ava pursed her lips and clenched her jaw.

"Fine. I'll work with Sara Lance, but if she gets in the way of this investigation, if she sabotages even just one small mission, if she makes it harder for the team to do our job, especially mine, she is done. She's out.

Rip only raised his brows in response.

"Okay, look, I know you're my boss- my boss's boss, and I'm aware that I can't actually kick Miss Lance out because I don't have the authority, but you were the one who told me that a team only works as good as the people who are on it."

Rip thought for a second before sighing.

"I suppose that's fair. Alright then. Go home and enjoy your weekend. Sara will be here on Tuesday so we can get her up to speed with what's happening. And by we, I mean you. You're dismissed, Agent Sharpe."

Ava stood up to leave but Rip's voice stopped her before she reached the door.

"Aren't you forgetting something?"

Ava furrowed her brows at this, and after following where Rip was looking, she understood what he meant.

"Right. Miss Lance's files."

"Take it home with you and make sure to read everything. You think you know Sara, but I can assure you, Ava, you don't. As thick as that whole file is, it barely scratches her surface, but I'm hoping it's enough for you to at least give it to her."

"Give her what?"

"A chance, Ava. A chance to let you realise that she is so much more than what she seems on paper. The same chance I gave you when you were just starting at the Academy. And look what I got because I did- now you're my daughter's godmother, and besides Laurel and Sara, the closest thing I have to a sister. Who knows what you might have if you just give Sara that same chance."

Ava didn't find anything in response to that so she just stood there for a few seconds before softly nodding and taking her leave.

******************************

Ava shook the memory off and once again found herself looking at the file that was resting on her bedside table. She hadn't opened it; not even after she left Rip's office yesterday. Today's Saturday, and weekends were supposed to be spent relaxing. So when she woke up this morning, she decided to ignore the files and just went on about her day. But now that it was late and she had finished the documentary she was watching, she had no excuse to not start reading through what Rip ordered her to read.

She wasn't lying when she told him she knew who Sara Lance was. Or at least, she knew of her. And from everything she had heard so far, she knew the woman was trouble. She was borderline alcoholic, had questionable work ethics, and had a penchant for flirting her way in and out of anything.

She checked the time and saw that it was half past 10. Reading the files tonight would just give Ava a headache, so she decided to finish her wine and call it a night.

Tomorrow. I'll read the files tomorrow, Ava thought to herself.

She had no sooner closed her eyes than she started thinking about the other things she had heard about Sara. Her cop acquaintances said that as much as it pisses them off, Sara Lance was good at her job; so good that sometimes, she got to be hired by the police department in different cities to be an undercover investigator to help them with certain suspected or confirmed criminal activities. Ava had thought that private investigators were only good for catching cheating spouses in the act. They laughed at that and told her that Sara used to do lots of cheating spouse cases, but had accepted fewer numbers over time because the spouse who hired her would get somewhat obsessed with her after Sara had slept with them, and Sara had never been one to let anything go anywhere past a one-time thing.

Ava hadn't seen Sara in person, but if she really was Laurel Lance's sister, Sara must have looked like her- blonde, green eyes, average height and built. And considering what she heard from her friends about Sara's sexual conquests, she figured Sara Lance is one hot wom-

"Son of a bitch." Realising what she almost thought, Ava cursed and sat straight up in bed.

She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. It occurred to her that sleep wouldn't come soon, so she decided to do what she had been putting off, and picked up the files from her bedside table.

There's a label on the folder that reads: SARA LANCE. CONFIDENTIAL.

"Alright, Sara Lance. Let's get to know you," Ava said to herself, and after taking a deep breath, opened the folder.

Birth Certificate. School Applications. Acceptance Letters. Award Certificates. School Essays. Medical Records. Arrest Records. Interview Transcripts. Her parents' divorce paper. Therapy Notes. And are these detention slips?

Jesus, Ava thought, wondering how Rip could possibly have gotten his hands on all this stuff. Or what lengths he had to go to get it.

After flipping through everything, Ava started with the first paper on top.

"Sara Lance. Born December 25, 1987, to Quentin Lance and Dinah Lance," Ava read out loud and notes that she was three years older than Sara. Her father was now the captain of Star City Police Department. Her mother was a History Professor at Central City University. Over ten years ago, when the incident happened, Capt. Lance was just a police detective, and his wife was a college professor at Star City. After a few years, the couple divorced and Dinah moved to Central City. Ava didn't have to think hard about what could possibly have started their marriage to fall apart.

Ava started to browse through childhood and family photos. She picked up a close-up of the sisters. They were both still kids in the picture. Laurel looked no more than 10, and Sara looked even younger. It was then that Ava realised that the only thing the sisters shared in terms of physicality, was that they were both blondes. Other than that, they couldn't have been any more different. Sara had blue eyes. The icy kind. And while Laurel had a long face, Sara had an angular one. Ava held the photo closer to her face and noticed the dimple on baby Sara's chin.

Ava smiled and thought, Aww. She looks adorable. She heard herself take a sharp breath after realising what she thought.

"Nope. No, no, no, no, no," Ava almost yelled as she shakes her head. "Right. All kids are adorable."

She looked at more photos of the sisters, and in each of them, the two look a bit older than the previous ones. The most recent photo of them together was during Laurel's law school graduation. According to the records, Laurel graduated top of her class, and Ava could almost feel the joy the sisters must have felt that day, coming off the photo. One arm wrapped around each other, while their other arms were extended up. Sara was wearing Laurel's graduation cap and medals, and they both had big smiles on their face. Objectively speaking, Ava thought that they both grew up to be good-looking women.

Ava read through the school records next. The notes from the guidance counsellor revealed that Sara would often find herself in the guidance office due to the troubles she would get herself in, either from punching someone, pulling the fire alarm, initiating fights. The list was long. Rip said Sara was smart so Ava wasn't surprised when she saw that although Sara was a school menace, she didn't fall behind her academics. Ava had to admit, Sara's report cards were impressive.

Sara got accepted to three Ivy League Schools: Brown, Columbia, and Dartmouth. She chose to go to Columbia.

I did, too. I wonder if we ever crossed paths on school grounds and not know it.

Ava forcefully shook herself out of the thought.

Nope.

She started going over the therapy notes. Reading them formed a dull ache in Ava's chest that she chose to ignore. The notes were all from after Laurel's death, which meant Sara went to therapy to probably deal with grief. The therapist mentioned Sara's hostile behaviour and unhealthy coping mechanisms. After just a few sessions, Sara stopped coming in for counselling.

It took Ava a while to read through almost everything, and now the only thing left unread was the clump of pages that she had been dreading to read. Not because she didn't know what they were, but because she knew exactly what they were-- crime scene photos, witness testimonials, interview and interrogation transcripts, medical reports, newspaper clips. There were even three discs which Ava could only assume contain video files. Everything with even the slightest reference to the brutal death of District Attorney Laurel Lance.

Ava was at her parents' when she heard the news about the DA's death. She had been home in D.C. after graduating from the Academy at Quantico and was just waiting to leave for her first duty station assignment. Star City was far from D.C. but Laurel's popularity extended far beyond her home city and state; not only because she was, as Rip said, one of the youngest lawyers to ever become a DA, but also because at the time of her death, she was working to prosecute the very man Ava and her whole team are now hell-bent on trying to put behind bars- Damien Darhk.

From what she heard from the news, Laurel was stabbed multiple times and was left to die on a street in Star City. The police captain at the time released a statement that upon initial investigation, evidence pointed to robbery resulting in homicide. No mention of a witness was made at the time, but the captain said that Laurel's wallet and cellphone were missing.

Ava was not able to follow the progress on the case because two days after hearing the news, she left for her station assignment. It's been a decade and she hadn't really heard anything else about Laurel Lance which is probably why she didn't immediately connect Sara to her until Rip mentioned Laurel yesterday.

Ava braced herself for what she was about to find out. Slowly, she lifted the paper that has written LAUREL LANCE, DA. off and stared at the firsts of the crime scene photos.

They were shots of the scene while Laurel's body was still on the concrete. It was gruesome. She looked at a few more pictures- from the crime scene, and those taken of Laurel's wound by the medical examiner. The official medical report said that she was killed with a single stab to the heart, although there were other multiple random stabbings in other parts of Laurel's body.

Whoever did this is a monster, Ava thought.

Ava picked the 'Witness Testimony' to read next. When she heard the news all those years ago, the captain mentioned that witnesses had yet come forward, which was understandable considering it was only a few hours after the crime happened.

She started reading and her breath got caught in her throat when she saw whose testimony she was about to read.

SARA LANCE.

Oh, no.

The testimony read that Sara and Laurel had gone out for late dinner and were on their way back to their parents' house. They decided to just walk instead of taking a cab, since it was a nice evening and it wasn't that far. It was after the two of them had turned into an empty street when Sara was hit with something hard against her head. She fell against the ground, and she heard a struggle between Laurel and the man who hit her. According to Sara, after a few seconds, she blacked out. And the next thing she knew, she was at the hospital. Further reading into the testimony stated that Sara didn't recognise the man who hit her and stabbed her sister to death.

Sara, Ava realised, was 20 years old when it happened. Which was how she knew it was the reason Sara dropped out of university even if she only had a year left before graduation.

Ava leafed through everything, including news reports Rip included in the files.

It was half past 2 in the morning by the time Ava finished watching the videos that were on the discs. They were of every media coverage of the case and the video recordings of the interviews of the people Laurel worked with, her friends, and her parents. But what really got to Ava was the clips Sara was in. She looked so small and broken in all of them. Gone was the girl with bright eyes and radiant smiles that she'd seen in all the photos of her and Laurel growing up. Ava didn't realise when she started tearing up until she felt a painful lump in her throat.

Lying in her bed a few minutes after she settled in, Ava felt a string of emotions. She felt anger for the man responsible for Laurel's death, and she felt sympathy for her parents. Her heart broke for the 20-year old Sara who had to carry on with her life without the big sister whom she practically worshipped. As for the Sara now, Ava wasn't quite sure what emotions the younger Lance sister evoked from her. But maybe, just maybe, she had a little more understanding of her now than she did before today.

And it was with that thought that Ava was finally able to sleep.


Monday came and it was mid-afternoon when Rip summoned Ava into his office. She knocked on his already-opened door when she saw Rip reading something from his computer.

"You wanted to see me?"

"Yes." Rip motioned for Ava to come in and take a seat.

As soon as she settled in the chair, they heard a beeping sound so loud it could probably be heard throughout the whole building.

Rip stood up quickly and he and Ava went out of his office to inquire about what was going on.

"Somebody tell me what the bloody hell is going on!" Rip's yell could be heard from across the whole floor. "Agent Gideon, please tell me this is just some glitch or system reboot and that nobody is actually bold and stupid enough to try and hack the FBI."

"Already on it, Sir. It's probably nothing. If someone was really hacking us, I would've known about it even before they passed through the first layer of our firewalls."

After a few seconds of entering codes, speed-typing and whatnot, the obnoxious sound finally stopped.

"There," Agent Gideon said, "See? All's well, Sir."

"Alright then. Get back to work," Rip ordered everyone on the floor then motioned Ava back to his office.

When they were both seated, Rip went straight to the point.

"Did you manage to read everything on Sara's file."

"Yes, Sir." Ava doesn't look at him as she said this, and Rip smiled because she only ever calls him 'Sir' when it was just the two of them and she's pissed about something. Ava, apparently, was still gutted about the whole thing.

"And?"

Ava finally looked up to meet Rip's eyes. She wasn't about to say that Sara intrigued her and that maybe there really was something more to her than what she initially thought. But seeing the smug look on Rip's face, she wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of hearing her say that maybe he was right.

"And I still stand by what I said the last time we spoke," Ava said flatly. "We don't need help with our investigation on Darhk; much less than from a civilian with Sara Lance's work ethics."

Rip was looking towards the doorway when Ava saw his eyes widen. She assumed it was because of what she just said so she continued, and Rip didn't try to stop her, either. In fact, Ava could swear she could see a faint smile on his face, but she didn't think anything of it.

"Sara Lance is a reckless person. She has high disregards for the law for someone who sometimes works with the police; if the constant troubles she gets herself in from defying it, is any clear indication. She exhibits violent behaviours judging from all the assault charges filed against her, and I know for a fact that she drinks while she's on a job and working a case. Oh, and did you know she sleeps with her clients? Clients, Rip! She sleeps with them! Who does that?!"

Rip chuckled as he turned his eyes towards the door.

"I take it she isn't a fan of mine then?"

Ava froze when she heard a voice behind her.

"Sara," Rip said, smiling. "You caused that alarm, didn't you? That's how you got in without anyone noticing."

"I didn't cause it, but I know who did. And I'd tell you who if you promised not to arrest them."

"You were supposed to come here tomorrow, Sara. If you had just waited one more day, you could've walked in here without committing a federal offence."

"Well, yeah. But where's the fun in that?"

Rip just smiled at that and motioned Sara to come in.

"Come in, Sara. I want you to meet someone."

Rip stood and walked towards Sara and stopped near where Ava was seated.

Ava just sat there through the whole exchange. She still hadn't moved or even made an effort to acknowledge Sara's presence. It occurred to her that Sara must've heard everything she said, and Rip knew she was standing there, judging by the expression she saw in his face earlier, and that he didn't say a word.

Bastard.

"Sara." Rip's voice pulled Ava out of her thought. "This is Special Agent-in-Charge Ava Sharpe. She's leading the team you're going to be a part of." Rip then looked at Ava but the agent was still looking straight ahead. "Agent Sharpe, this is Sara Lance."

"Pleasure to meet you, Agent Sharpe. I heard good things about you." Ava heard Sara say, and from her peripheral vision, she could tell Sara extended a hand for her to shake.

There was no way she was going to be flat-out rude, so she closed her eyes for a second, clenched her jaw, and stood up to face the woman she wasn't thrilled at all to meet.

Ava was about to raise her hand to shake Sara's hand when her eyes finally met Sara's. For the second time in the last five minutes, she froze. Because right now, she was staring at what probably are the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

GOD FUCKING DAMN IT, Ava thought.

Sara Lance, for all her faults and shortcomings, was absolutely breathtaking; and Ava had no idea that she was looking at the woman who was going to change her life forever.

Chapter Text

Startling blue.

That's how best Ava could describe the woman's eyes. She stood frozen in place as she scanned Sara's face. When her eyes dropped to the latter's lips, Sara noticed, making her raise an eyebrow, and pull her mouth into an amused smirk. It was then that Ava remembered how to breathe and speak.

She cleared her throat, then clasped her hands behind her back.

"You broke at least a dozen federal laws by doing that stunt you pulled to get into this building, Miss Lance. Your reason for doing so better be more than convincing."

Sara, realising that Ava wasn't going to shake her hand, dropped it to her side. Her lips once again quirked in a smirk.

"Well, aren't you friendly."

Ava clenched her teeth, narrowed her eyes at Sara. The latter turned her face towards Rip, smiling.

"Man, you weren't kidding when you said this one was a stickler, Rip."

Ava whirled her head towards Rip, eyes questioning. The latter, for his part, just shook his head.

"I'll take Miss Lance to the conference room while you get everything we have on Darhk. Show it to Sara th-"

Ava may have agreed on having Sara be on her team, but that didn't mean the woman could get her hands on everything they had on the case, especially information that was highly confidential.

"With all due respect, Sir, but I don't think it's wise to show a CIVILIAN everything we have on the case so far."

She made sure to put a stress on the word, turning her face towards Sara as she did so. Sara, as it appeared, was completely unaffected by her hostility, seeing as she still hadn't wiped the smirk off her face.

"We've talked about this, Agent Sharpe. My mind's made up. Please get the files and come to the conference room so you and Sara can.." Rip paused. "..start getting acquainted."

"Whatever you say, Sir," Ava said through gritted teeth.

Leaving his office, Rip walked Sara to the conference room.

"So, this Agent Sharpe, she's the one you told me about?"

"Yes. Although I would appreciate it if you didn't tell her that."

Sara chuckled.

"Doesn't matter what I say. I think your favourite agent is already set on hating me."

"She isn't set on hating you, Sara. Agent Sharpe is just..." Rip trailed off.

"Uptight? Bossy?" Sara filled in.

Rip huffed out a laugh and led Sara into the room.

"She just likes rules and has respects for the law, Sara. So she isn't particularly happy with people who break them."

Sara snickered. "Yeah, I kinda figured that out when she was freely badmouthing me."

"Ava may not be the friendliest person, but she's a great agent. The best of the bests. And I know that you weren't too thrilled either about working here, but I really believe that you, Agent Sharpe, and her team all working together on this case will give us a better chance at getting Darhk."

"Rip-"

"I promise you, Sara, we will get him."

Sara just nodded and took a seat.

"Okay, well, I have a few calls to make. I'll come back after you and Agent Sharpe are done talking. She should be with you in a little bit. You can ask her anything about the case. She's under strict orders to be forthcoming."

Sara huffed out a laugh.

After Rip left, her phone pinged. She checked it, seeing a message from her best friend.

    ZARI: U get in alright?

Smiling, Sara typed out a reply.

    U know I did, Z. Talk later. Don't do anything I wouldn't.

Laughing to herself, she typed up another message.

    Disregard that last part. I meant don't do anything I WOULD.

Sara put her cell back in her pocket, and as her eyes started roaming across the huge conference room, she was reminded of how she got here and was brought back to the time Rip found her all those months ago.

******************************

"Zari! For the love of God, will you please get the door!" Sara yelled as the knocking continued.

She let out a frustrated groan when she didn't hear any movement from the living room.

"God damn it, Tomaz." Sara muttered to herself, closing her laptop as she stood.

She stepped out of her study and walked across the living room, pulling out a few dollars from her pocket before opening the door.

"How much do I owe you?"

Zari ordered pizza a few minutes ago, and Sara figured the person who knocked was the delivery guy.

When she looked up, Sara froze. Standing at her door was the last person she expected to see and whom she hadn't seen in a really long time.

"Rip?"

"Sara. Hi. May I come in?"

Sara just stared at Rip, eyes a little wide with disbelief. After a while, Rip cleared his throat, pulling Sara out of a trance.

"Right. Sorry. Yes, please, come in."

Sara moved back to let Rip in, and then led him to the living room.

"Here, have a seat."

"Thank you."

Sara, however, remained standing. It had been years since she had last seen Rip. After Laurel died, everything in her life just fell apart. She dropped out of university, her dad became an alcoholic and workaholic, and her parents divorced because her mum just couldn't take it anymore. She, like her dad, also turned to alcohol to try to deal with her grief. She did a lot of unhealthy, borderline dangerous, coping mechanisms, and started pushing people away, Rip included. So seeing him now after all these years, she didn't know what to say.

The silence had started to grow between the two, and it was in that moment that Zari chose to appear.

"Where's my pizza, Lance?"

She stopped short when she saw that Sara wasn't alone.

"Oh. Sorry. I didn't know you had company."

"That's okay, Z. This is Rip Hunter. Rip, Zari Tomaz."

Zari turned to Sara.

"Rip? As in childhood friend Rip?"

Sara smiled a small smile.

"Yeah. That would be him."

Rip stood up and extended his hand towards Zari who shook it.

"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Tomaz."

"Please, Zari is fine. And good to meet you, too. It's nice to finally put a face to the name, after all these years."

Rip looked at Sara.

"I may have mentioned you to her once or twice."

Zari turned to look at Sara.

"I'll leave you two alone to talk. Can I use your study? I should probably get a head start on the Matthews case."

"Yeah, sure. But don't you dare touch my stuff."

Zari laughed, and as she was walking away, Sara called after her.

"I'm serious, Tomaz!"

Sara turned her head back to Rip, and cleared her throat.

"Zari and I run a private investigation partnership."

"Really? That's.. That's great, Sara."

She narrowed her eyes a little. Thinking of her suspicion, she shook her head.

"You knew. Of course you did. You're FBI. You've probably been looking into me all these years."

Rip's face was a picture of guilt.

"How have you been, Sara?"

Ignoring the question, Sara asked, "What are you doing here, Rip? And how did you find me?"

"I just wanted to know how you were. And I found you because, like you said, I'm FBI. Besides, you weren't exactly hiding."

"We hadn't seen each other in ages. If you wanted to know how I was doing you could've reached out a lot sooner. So, why now? Why are you really here?"

"I did reach out. I tried. Multiple times. You were the one who completely cut me off."

Sara's face was in a combination of shock and guilt.

"Sorry. I didn't mean.." Rip paused. "..look, Sara. Will you please sit down? If you really want to hear why I'm here, you're going to need to take a seat."

Sara did.

"Listen, there's no easy way to say this, so I'm just gonna say it. The FBI is onto Damien Darhk."

Hearing the name, Sara sucked in a sharp breath.

"I have a team tasked on tracking him down. We're looking into everything- his known associates and partners, properties he owns, businesses, legal or otherwise. Everything. We have a strong enough case to finally put him behind bars, Sara. The FBI just needs to find him first."

Sara, face twisted in pain, confusion, and anger, still has not said a word. Her head was turned away from Rip.

"Sara-"

"I don't know what you want me to say, Rip."

"Telling you the FBI is onto Darhk isn't the only reason I'm here. I also wanted to ask if you maybe would want to come work with us. With me. Work as a consultant. Be a part of the team I assembled."

Sara whipped her head towards Rip, confused.

"And why the hell would I want that, Rip? Why would you even bring up something like that?" Sara's voice started to rise. "I already put everything behind me. I'm trying to forget. I drowned myself in trying to-"

Sara hated crying in front of people, she really did, but she couldn't stop the tears from falling this time.

"I deluded myself into thinking that I-" Sara paused. "I was stupid to even think that I could do something, and it almost ruined my life."

When she spoke again, her voice broke.

"Laurel.. She.. She wouldn't have wanted me obsessing over something like that. She would have wanted me to live a full, happy life. I owe it to her to at least try."

Rip moved towards Sara and took her hands in his.

"I'm so sorry, Sara. I didn't mean to upset you. That's the last thing I wanted. I know what it would mean to you if Darhk got caught. I just thought that maybe you would want to be a part of that; that maybe you would want to be there when it happened. If you don't want to work with me, then that's fine. You don't have to. But I had to ask, okay?"

Sara nodded, wiping her tears with the palm of her hand. Rip stood up to leave.

"It's late. I should let you rest."

Leading him out, Sara asked, "Where are you staying?"

"I booked a hotel room. I'll leave tomorrow morning."

The two stopped when they reached the doorway. Sara looked uncomfortable, almost nervous.

"Listen, Rip. You were right about me being the one who cut you off. It's just- at the time,"

Rip, sensing Sara's discomfort, moved to cup her shoulders.

"Sara, hey, you don't have to explain. I completely understand."

"I know. But I want you to know that I'm sorry. It's important to me that you do. It wasn't just me who lost Laurel. You lost her, too. She was your friend- your best friend. And in my grief, I pushed you away. I shouldn't have. I wanted to reach out, I did, but I wasn't sure if you wanted to see me again after the way I pushed you away."

"People process grief differently, Sara. I don't blame you for how you dealt with yours. I never did. You don't have to apologise to me for how you mourn your sister."

Sara smiled softly.

"I know things will never be the same. Not like before. Not without Laurel. But can I- can we, maybe, catch up? One of these days? I can go to D.C. I mean, if you're not busy, that is. I know you're a big hotshot now."

Rip laughed.

"I would love that, Sara. I'll come back in a month, maybe?"

"Yeah, that sounds good. I'll see you then."

Locking the door, she had a smile on her face.

When she turned, Zari was standing in the middle of the living room, waiting for her.

"What's got you all smiley?"

"Nothing. Just caught up with Rip. He and I had a talk."

Zari walked up to Sara.

"Yeah, I know. I heard. You okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay. Thanks, Z."

Zari, not completely convinced, launched herself towards Sara, pulling her into a hug.

Sara groaned. She didn't like being hugged. When people moved to hug her, she'd pull away. Zari, being her best friend, was an exception. She lets Zari hug her on occasion, but never once had she hugged back.

Sighing, Zari released Sara and walked away, holding up a finger.

"One of these days, Lance, you are going to hug me back. I will not rest until you do. Mark my words."

Sara laughed.

-----

True to his words, Rip returned a month later to visit Sara. They caught up in each other's lives, telling the other about everything that had happened since after they lost contact. Rip told her about his job at the FBI, the people he worked with; that he had since married, had now a 4-year old daughter called Joanne, and that his wife died of cancer two years after ago.

Sara, for her part, told Rip how she met Zari five years ago, about her job and how she loved doing it, and how she and Zari started their business. When Rip asked how her parents were, Sara said that they were good and that she talks to them every once in a while. She saw her father more often than she did her mother since Sara would sometimes work with the Star City Police Department.

Months passed and Rip's visits became a constant thing. He and Sara even drove to Star City together one time to check on Quintin. Rip's latest visit was a week ago. He and Sara were talking about the time Quintin caught him trying to deface his police cruiser, and how she and Laurel and had to literally hold their father back so Rip could get away. After coming out of a laughing fit, Sara's face turned serious.

Rip noticed.

"What's wrong?"

"I, uh, I talked to Zari the last time you were here."

"Okay..?"

"I've come to a decision."

"What decision?"

"I-" Sara hesitated. "The offer you had months ago... You know.. To let me work with you. Does it still stand?"

If Rip was surprised, Sara didn't see any sign of it.

"Yes. Of course, Sara."

"Then I accept."

"That's grea-"

Sara cut Rip off.

"But I have conditions. And you have to agree to all of them. Otherwise, just forget we ever had this conversation."

"Okay. These conditions, what are they?"

Sara told him.

"Let me have a think on it. But I'm almost certain I can make that happen."

"Well, let me know then before I completely agree to slave myself away to the FBI."

Rip laughed.

"May I ask what made you change your mind?"

Sara took a deep breath.

"Like you said, I want to be a part of it. When you find Darhk, when you put him in handcuffs and read him his rights, I want to be there. I want him to look me in the eye knowing that his life is over, and that I had something to do with it; that I helped make it happen."

Rip reached out to hold Sara's hand.

Sara smiled and huffed out a breath.

"Okay, well, how does this work? This whole FBI thing."

"Well, for one, you will have to leave here."

Rip took his wallet out, pulled out a card, and handed it to Sara.

"Be at the Bureau Tuesday next week. Call before you come so I can apprise the security and give you proper access. I'll help you get settled. Find you a nice place to stay. You know, the usual stuff."

"Okay, then. I'll see you next week. Boss."

Rip laughed.

******************************

And here she was, in a very fancy room, feeling like a fish out of water in her skinny jeans and simple black top and seaweed-coloured jacket.

Sara was brought out of her thoughts by the sudden opening of the door.

"Let's see. Disorderly conduct. Resisting arrests, Petty thefts. Vandalism. Assaults."

Her brows furrowed in confusion. She was just about to open her mouth to ask when-

"You've got quite a rap sheet for a renowned private investigator, Miss Lance. Not to mention, the daughter of a highly respected police captain, and distinguished professor, and sister of a-"

Sara realised Ava knew who she was. At least enough that the latter knew of her 'criminal' past. Enough to know who her family was. Who her sister was. Hearing Ava tell her whose sister she was, Sara sucked in a sharp breath. She felt her body tense and her chest tightened. It lasted a second before her brain conditioning took effect. She had years practising- perfecting even- switching that part of her brain off so she doesn't get sucked back into a dark headspace.

She gave Ava a knowing smirk when she noticed the woman staring.

"I see you did your homework. Already trying to impress me, Agent Sharpe? Although I think you missed the part where they happened ages ago and the charges were dropped. Every time. So as far as I'm concerned, my record's clean."

Sara's smirk was replaced by a smug grin, and she was rewarded by an annoyed scoff from Ava.

"Yeah, and I'm sure your father had nothing to with it, did he?"

Sara shrugged.

"If you think there had been a miscarriage of justice, Agent Sharpe, and if it makes you feel any better, I'll be more than happy to let you cuff me." Sara leaned a little over the table, sending Ava a smirk and a wink, and biting her lip. "My safe word is Beebo."

Sara used 'The Lance Method', as Zari liked to call it, expecting Ava to fall for it, but she saw her jaw clenched instead.

Huh. That usually works.

"This whole flirt and charm thing that you've got going might work on your clients and people with half a brain, Miss Lance, but not on me. So I sugge-"

Sara hummed, leaning back in the chair while crossing her arms; her face still wearing a smirk.

"I don't know, Ava. A lot of," Sara made an air-quote gesture "straight women have said that to me before and yet..." Sara trailed off.

Sara saw Ava's teeth grind together.

"It's Agent Sharpe to you, Miss Lance."

"Ooohh. So you have a title kink then. I'll keep that in mind... AGENT."

She was really starting to enjoy watching the way Ava's nostrils flare, and her teeth clench in response to whatever she said. She was hoping Ava would fire back, but instead, the agent just slid the papers she was carrying when she came in, towards her.

"Files on Darhk."

Sara's smile slowly dropped, and her eyes fell to the files.

"I don't know why Director Hunter is so keen on having you work with us on this case, Miss Lance, but if you're going to be a part of my team, you need to be useful. Read up on everything we have on Darhk. If you know things about his operations that we don't, I don't care how small the information is, you are under obligation to tell me. Is that understood?"

"I haven't completely agreed to work with you people. I told Rip what my conditions are and he hasn't acquiesced."

"Conditions? What are you talking about?"

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Ava still had her jaws clenched even as he was leaving Rip's office to get the files he asked for. She really believed giving a civilian unrestricted access to all information about a case as big as Damien Darhk's was not a good idea. This was the first time the team was asked to work with a consultant but she was pretty sure this wasn't how it worked. She would have to ask Rip what was so special about Sara Lance, what her connection was to Damien Darhk, and how such a connection would lead them to catch him.

Files in hand, Ava walked up to the conference but paused at the door. She didn't know what the best way was to carry a conversation with Sara, or how to approach the situation. But she was the authority here. She also knew things about the woman that the latter probably wasn't aware that she knew. Sara's knowledge about her was most likely only limited to professional nature. She had the upper hand. Armed with newfound confidence, she took a deep breath before pushing the door open and walking in.

"Let's see. Disorderly conduct. Resisting arrests, Petty thefts. Vandalism. Assaults."

Without looking in Sara's direction, Ava recited all these, making a show of reading them off of a folder as she sat down.

"You've got quite a rap sheet for a renowned private investigator, Miss Lance. Not to mention, the daughter of a highly respected police captain, and distinguished professor, and sister of a-"

Ava was cut off by a sharp inhale. She looked up to Sara; seeing a mix of shock and pain flicker in her eyes, she realised what she said and was about to apologise when Sara's face switched back to neutral so fast Ava wondered if she'd just imagined the look she saw in her face. She must have been staring at Sara for longer than necessary because the latter's mouth curled into a smirk that Ava really is starting to hate.

"I see you did your homework. Already trying to impress me, Agent Sharpe? Although I think you missed the part where they happened ages ago and the charges were dropped. Every time. So as far as I'm concerned, my record's clean."

Ava scoffed.

"Yeah, and I'm sure your father had nothing to with it, did he?"

The way that Sara seemed to be so nonchalant about the whole thing gave Ava another reason to be irritated.

"If you think there had been a miscarriage of justice, Agent Sharpe, and if it makes you feel any better, I'll be more than happy to let you cuff me. My safe word is Beebo."

If this had been someone else, Ava's cheeks might have flushed a little at the innuendo, however, this was the woman whom she heard could dazzle even a damn lamp post. But not her. So instead of being charmed, the effect of Sara's blatant flirting was the opposite. Sara Lance had her seething in anger.

"This whole flirt and charm thing that you've got going might work on your clients and people with half a brain, Miss Lance, but not on me. So I sugge-"

Ava was cut off before she could put more words in.

"I don't know, Ava. A lot of straight women have said that to me before and yet..."

Straight? Where?

Any other day and Ava wouldn't have let someone go on thinking she was straight. Because she wasn't. She was gay. Gay as shit. And that the only thing straight about her was her back. But right now, she didn't care if Sara thought she was straight. She'd let her assume she was one of the hets, because the woman had just called her by her name as if they were friends, and she was rather more inclined to correct Sara about what to call her than she was about her sexuality.

"It's Agent Sharpe to you, Miss Lance."

"Ooohh. So you have a title kink then. I'll keep that in mind... AGENT."

Ava's teeth gritted. She wanted to say something back but she didn't want to give Sara one more thing to prod her with, and she really wanted this conversation to be over as soon as possible. So instead, she took a deep breath before pushing a number of thick files across the table towards Sara.

Ava saw Sara's face fall at the mention of Darhk's name. Earlier in Rip's office, she could've sworn she saw her body tense next to Rip when he asked her to get the files on Darhk.

She narrowed her eyes at Sara, brows slightly furrowed in curiosity.

"I don't know why Director Hunter is so keen on having you work with us on this case, Miss Lance, but if you're going to be a part of my team, you need to be useful. Read up on everything we have on Darhk. If you know things about his operations that we don't, I don't care how small the information is, you are under obligation to tell me. Is that understood?"

"I haven't completely agreed to work with you people. I told Rip what my conditions are and he hasn't acquiesced."

Ava failed to hide the surprise in her face.

"Conditions? What are you talking about?"

Rip made it sound like Sara was more than willing to work with the FBI, so hearing that she not only hasn't agreed but that there were also conditions, had Ava confused.

Both women stared at each other, both equally confused- Ava not knowing about the conditions, and Sara thinking Ava knew what her conditions were because surely, Rip must have told her. Sara was about to reply when Rip opened the door.

"Sara, Agent Sharpe, I trust you two are acquainted by now?"

"Oh, yeah. Quite intimately. Wouldn't you agree, AGENT Sharpe." Sara put a stress on the title, and gave Ava a knowing smirk, fully aware that she would get her meaning.

Ava's jaw clenched. Her patience was really starting to thin out.

"Director Hunter, Miss Lance mentioned that she hasn't agreed to work with us because HER CONDITIONS HAVE NOT BEEN MET."

Ava said that last part quite harshly, giving Rip a look that said he should've told her about it.

"Right. The conditions."

Ava shook her head quickly at Rip, silently asking him to continue. Rip, on the other hand, turned his face towards Sara.

"I have three. One, I get access to every information, intel, what-have-you, that we find. If we're working together, I get to have the same clearance as anyone on the team does. You're not hiding anything from me."

"I thought that was already a given seeing as you had ordered me to show Miss Lance everything we have on Darhk, Sir. I suppose that would include what we'd find from here on out." Ava turned to Rip who then nodded.

"Alright then," Sara continued. "Earlier I said I know who triggered your alarm and that I would tell you their name if you promised not to arrest them."

"What does that have to do w-"

"You have my word." Rip ignored Ava and motioned for Sara to continue.

"It was Z."

"Zari? I thought you said she was your business partner."

"Yeah, and what did you think it is that she does, Rip? Bring me coffee in the morning and lock up the office at night? "

Ava, feeling completely left out, was done just watching the exchange between the two.

"Who exactly is this Zari and why is she important in this conversation?"

"Zari Tomaz. Best friend. Business partner. Computer genius, coder and hacker extraordinaire." Sara said smugly.

Ava rolled her eyes.

"I'm still waiting for you to tell me what your second condition is, Miss Lance."

"Second condition, I come with Zari."

"What does that mean?" Ava turned to Rip, "What does she mean?"

"It means, Agent Sharpe, that Sara will work with us if Miss Tomaz does, too."

Ava scoffed.

"Good luck getting Gid to agree with that."

"Who's Gid?" Sara asked, turning to Rip.

"Agent Gideon." Ava answered, her voice laced with pride. "She's a part of my team. Lead Technical Analyst. The best in the world."

It was Sara's turn to scoff.

"Right. The best. And yet Zari got past all her firewalls in a matter of seconds, but yeah. I'm sure this Agent Gideon is the best in the world."

Sara held up a hand, gave Ava the 'okay' sign, and winked at her.

Ava glared at Sara, jaws clenched, eyes blazing.

Sara gave her a wry smirk, then turned to Rip.

"Look, Rip. Zari can do a lot for you and this team. She's already proven herself by hacking your whole system and your best technical analyst didn't even notice it was happening. If that doesn't convince you, maybe the fact that she's mostly the reason I have all the information about.." Sara paused. "All the information about him, might."

Both Rip and Ava knew Sara was referring to Darhk. Ava looked at Sara, wondering why the latter's body suddenly became tensed again.

Rip mulled it over for a moment then sighed.

"Alright. But Miss Tomaz will be working under the supervision of Agent Gideon. I've only known her for a few months, Sara. I don't know her as well as you do. Pardon me for not fully trusting her not to access sensitive and confidential information completely unrelated to the case Agent Sharpe and her team are working on."

Sara thought about it for a second before saying yes.

Ava, growing impatient, started tapping her foot.

"And the third condition?"

"I go out on the field with you. Every time you're on a mission, big or small. I go where the action is."

Ava's eyes went wide.

"Absolutely not! Out of the question! There is absolutely no way that I- Rip," Ava turned to Rip. "Director Hunter, Sir, you cannot possibly agree to this?! She's not trained to be on the field! I can't have my head on a mission if I'm babysitting Miss Lance! Something could go wrong, and people might get hurt, or worse, killed!"

Sara took offense at Ava's outburst.

"And who the hell told you I would need a babysitter, Sharpe." Sara started raising her voice, too. "I don't need you looking out for me while we're out there. I can handle myself alright."

"Okay, enough! Both of you." Rip intervened. "I agree to all your conditions, Sara."

"But Sir-"

Rip raised a finger, prompting Ava to stop talking.

"You will go with the team during missions,"

Sara moved to pump a fist in the air but was stopped when Rip continued.

"..but Agent Sharpe is still the leader of her team. She will be your commanding officer. I trust her judgment, so if she thinks you need to be pulled out of the field or be completely benched for whatever reasonable cause she may deem fit, then you will do as she asks."

Rip turned to Ava. "Reasonable cause, Ava."

Ava nodded. Rip turned to Sara.

"Is that clear, Sara? I can't have you getting hurt out there."

Sara pouted. If Ava hadn't already decided to despise this woman, she might have found it adorable.

"Fiiine."

"Agent Sharpe is also right about you not being trained." Rip continued. "You have zero field experience. Even the most experienced agent could get hurt on a mission, let alone, an untrained one. So from now on, you will join the team during whatever training courses they may have. As for any individual training, I will leave it to Agent Sharpe to train you."

"What?" Both Ava and Sara said it at the same time.

Rip ignored them.

"We have a huge gym in this building, three floors up. You may use it anytime as long as you're not doing anything urgent. As for the firearms, Agent Sharpe knows where the gun range is. You can drive up there on the weekends. Any questions?"

Oh, Ava had a lot alright, but she figured Rip had already decided on everything and that any question or complaint she had was of no point.

"When can I meet the team?"

Surprised, Ava turned her head towards Sara. She didn't expect her to be thrilled even the slightest to meet her team. In fact, Ava didn't take Sara as someone who works well in teams.

"Friday, maybe? If you've settled in your flat by then." Rip answered.

"Yeah, about that. We quite literally just got here. Zari and I will be temporarily staying at a hotel, but she probably has booked us a room by now. Hopefully, we find us a place soon."

Rip took a set of keys out of his pocket and dangled it in front of Sara.

"You have now."

Sara's brows knitted.

"Miranda and I shared a small place in a nice neighbourhood before we bought a house when she got pregnant with Jojo. My wife wanted to keep it."

Sara gave him a look.

"When you said you were going to help me get a place, I thought you meant you'd drive me or something. You failed to mention you were giving me YOUR place." Sara shook her head. "I can't accept that, Rip. You know I can't."

"Yes, you can and you will. Look, Sara, that place has been paid years ago. No one is using it anyway. It has two bedrooms. I'm sure Zari will be thrilled to know she can use her rent money to buy donuts instead."

Sara laughed.

"And besides," Rip continued, smiling mischievously. "I already had the place ready days ago. Had some people to clean it. Fully stocked and everything. You will only be paying for the water and power bill every month."

"And what would you have done if I had ended up saying no to working with you."

Rip huffed out a laugh.

"I was always going to agree to your conditions, Sara. So I knew you were going to say yes."

Sara narrowed her eyes at Rip, sighed, and took the keys from Rip; smiling softly.

"Fine, then. Thanks, Rip."

Rip had a teasing smile on his face.

"So..... would you also like a car?"

"Rip!" Sara exclaimed, before curving her mouth up into a huge smile.

Rip threw up his hands, laughing.

"Alright, alright! I was just kidding! I'm not trying to baby you, okay? You've always hated that. And I haven't actually forgotten that you don't really like being just handed things."

Ava was just watching their exchange the whole time. For a second, she was grateful for Sara because she hadn't seen Rip this carefree and relax ever since Miranda died years ago. She couldn't even remember the last time she heard him laugh, so she was glad to hear it again.

She was just thinking about how she would perhaps be willing to tolerate working with Sara if it meant she could have a carefree, laughing Rip often, when she heard him call her name.

"Ava?"

"Sorry. What was that, sir?"

"I said I promised your goddaughter I'd be home early tonight, so could you give Sara a lift?"

Ava's brows dipped in annoyance.

"Can't she just get an Uber or something?"

Rip opened his mouth to respond but before he could, Sara beat him to it.

"Rip, I'm good. I promise. I'm not new to this city. I know my way around. And I have to go meet Zari, anyway. Who knows what that one may have gotten herself into if left unsupervised for too long. Agent Sharpe is right. I should just take Uber. And besides, her place might even be out of the way."

Ava looked at Sara, surprised. She wasn't expecting her not to antagonise her seeing as the woman has started to make a habit of it; much less to say that she was right.

"It's not. Her place and now-yours are on the same side of the city. Ava passes by it every day on the way to her house. Which is exactly why I asked if she could give you a lift. It shouldn't be a bother, should it, Ava?

Ava gritted her teeth.

"No, Sir."

"Then it's settled. Call Zari and share her the news. Tell her to meet you outside so Agent Sharpe can pick her up on the way out."

------------------------------

Zari was already waiting when Ava's car pulled in. Before she got off in order to help Zari load their bags, Sara turned to Ava.

"Will you pop the boot?"

Ava did so without a word.

After chucking their bags inside, Sara and Zari both climbed in the back seat. Seeing that it wasn't Rip driving them, Zari turned to Sara.

"Where's Rip?"

"He had to leave early."

Zari's eyes darted between her and Ava. When Zari gave her a look, Sara introduced them.

"Zari, this is Agent Ava Sharpe. Team Leader. Agent Sharpe, this is Zari Tomaz."

"Good to meet you, Agent Sharpe. I'd shake your hand but you're driving."

Ava looked at Zari through the reflection in the rearview mirror.

"So you're the one who hacked the FBI."

Eyes wide, Zari whipped her head towards Sara.

"Sorry, Z. I had to tell them it was you. I wanted to show them a glimpse of what you can do. Otherwise, how else would they know you're the best in the world?"

Ava bit back a snarl, knowing that was another one of Sara's dig at her.

Zari turned her head at Ava.

"Yeah. I suppose it was me."

"You ever do something like that again and I'll make sure you never get to touch another computer for the rest of your life. Do I make myself clear?"

Zari mock-saluted. "Yes, ma'am."

Turning to Sara, she mouthed, 'Wow'.

Sara snickered. Catching Ava's eyes in the rearview mirror, she gave her an overly feigned smile. Ava glowered at her.

Zari and Sara had been talking during the rest of the drive and only stopped when Ava pulled the car in front of a nice-looking house.

"Be at work by 8 A.M. on Friday. Do not be late." Ava said while looking straight ahead.

Sara nodded before motioning to Zari to get out of the car. She had barely closed the door when Ava sped away, feeling a sharp rush of air across her skin.

"God. What a bitch."

"Took the words right outta my mouth, Z." Sara put an arm around Zari's shoulders and turned to look at their flat. "Let's go check our new place."

------------------------------

Hours later, after the duo had put away their things, and properly checked the whole house, Zari went out of her room and found Sara in the living room, enjoying a bottle of scotch.

"Really, Lance? First night in our new place and you're already on your first attempt at death by alcohol poisoning? I need to have a conversation with Rip about encouraging your disgusting hobby by stocking liquor in this house."

Sara waved her off.

"Oh, don't be dramatic, Tomaz. I'm just celebrating. Like you said, first night in our new crib. Plus, we have a cool new gig."

Zari narrowed her eyes and plopped herself on the couch next to Sara.

"We need a car."

Sara hummed. "I agree. We'll get one soon."

Zari watched Sara as the latter chugged her drink, then looked at her with a knowing smile on her face.

"So..." A pause. "What's the deal with Miss Pantsuit?"

Sara feigned ignorance.

"Who?"

Zari rolled her eyes. "Agent Sharpe."

Sara snapped her fingers.

"Ah, her. Well, I don't really know her, except that she's Rip's protégée, and that they're really close. He has nothing but good words to say about her." Sara poured herself another glass. "In case it has escaped your notice, Z, I just met her today, too."

"And?" Zari asked expectantly.

"And what?"

Zari rolled her eyes again.

"What do you think of her? You always have a strong opinion about people even after you've just met them. It's how you decide whether you're going to sleep with them or not." Zari smirked. "And you always choose to 'Lance' them."

Zari had coined the word 'Lance' to refer to Sara taking someone to bed.

"I'm not going to sleep with Agent Sharpe if that's what you want to know."

Zari gave her an amused smile. "No?"

"No!!" Sara exclaimed. "She's not my type. She's too.." She searched for a word. "..stiff for my taste. Too bossy. Too uptight. And besides, the woman clearly hates me; has formed a whole opinion about me even before she met me, and wasn't even a bit shy about voicing it, too."

Zari opened her mouth to say something but was clamped shut when Sara continued.

"She said I was a reckless person." Sara started ticking her fingers off. "She practically called me belligerent, an outlaw and an alcoholic, incompetent, a child who needed to be babysat. And ooh, my personal favourite- a slut. I mean, who does the woman think she is."

Zari's face had grown increasingly amused. She decided to push Sara a little.

"And why does it bother you so much that she has such low opinion of you?"

"It doesn't!!" Sara blurted out defensively.

Zari raised an eyebrow, the amused smile still in place.

Sara cleared her throat and glanced up to Zari grinning at her.

"So you don't find her attractive? At all?"

Sara glanced down on her glass, swirled her drink, and shrugged.

"She's alright."

Zari hummed.

"Whatever you say, Lance."

------------------------------

Meanwhile, several miles from Sara's place, Ava had just settled in bed, back against the headboard, when her thoughts involuntarily wandered back to what transpired this afternoon. She wasn't expecting to meet Sara a day earlier than she was supposed to.

Ava didn't like surprises. She hated being caught off guard, no matter the circumstances. It's her almost-pathological need for control that made her dislike the way her body reacted to Sara- how her breath got caught in her throat the second she saw her face, or how her eyes seemed to pull Ava in because it was almost like looking at an ocean, the water so clear you could see what lay at the bottom. She especially hated the way her heart stopped when she saw Sara gave Rip a genuine smile, and even more so how she couldn't understand why.

She was also not one who was quick to anger. She'd always prided herself in having her emotions in check, capable of reigning in whatever intense feeling she was experiencing; but today, she found herself clenching her teeth in anger more times than she ever had in her entire life, that for a minute, she actually thought her jaws would unhinge. All because of Sara fucking Lance- her arrogance, her conceit, her smug demeanour, and that stupid smirk that seemed to only aggravate Ava even more.

Ava may have known her for only a few hours, but she just knew that Sara Lance was going to be a massive pain in her ass, and she had a feeling that wasn't even the worst of it.

Regardless of how Sara seemed to get under her skin so easily, Ava still had a job to do, and that is to find Darhk so he could finally be put behind bars. If Rip believed they had a bigger chance of making that happen if they had Sara's help, then so be it. She was willing to go to work every morning to work with her, no matter how much the woman riled her up.

Chapter Text

Rip was by the team's working area on Friday morning, and was reminding them about Sara and Zari joining them as civilian consultants, when the two walked in.

"Ah, speaking of whom." He motioned for the two to join the group. "Team, these are your new members. Sara Lance and Zari Tomaz."

Everyone present exchanged friendly smiles. Gideon, keeping her face neutral, looked between Rip and Zari.

"Zari Tomaz?"

"Yes. You know her, Agent Gideon? Rip asked.

"No. No, I don't. I just- uh, I just thought I've heard her name somewhere before. It's probably not it."

Zari gave Gideon a small smile, which the latter returned.

"Alright, then." Rip replied. "Miss Lance, Miss Tomaz, this is Agent Sharpe's team. Dr. Raymond Palmer, Tactical Analyst and Engineer."

"Please call me Ray." Ray held out a hand to shake Sara's and Zari's. "It's a pleasure to meet you both. Glad to have you on board."

"Thank you." "Good to meet you, too."

Rip continued introducing the team, one by one; Sara and Zari, shaking their hands.

"This is Dr. Lily Stein, Lead Forensic Analyst. Dr. Nathaniel Heywood, Behavioural Analyst."

"Is there anyone on this team whose professional title isn't doctor?" Sara asked, as she looked around her new teammates, eyeing them curiously.

Everyone laughed.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, there are." Rip said, and motioned to Gideon. "This is Special Agent Gideon Allen, Lead Technical Analyst."

Gideon held out a hand to shake Sara's and Zari's hand, giving the latter a knowing look. Zari's brows furrowed in confusion.

"And this is Supervisory Special Agent Amaya Jiwe, Liaison Officer."

Amaya shook Sara's hand and then Zari's.

"Good to meet you, and welcome to the team. If you need anything, just let any of us know."

"Thank you. Good to meet you, too."

Zari tucked her hair behind her ear, ducked her head down, attempting to hide her blush. Sara, catching this just smirked, and raised a brow at Zari.

"Not one god damn word, Lance." Zari whispered through gritted teeth.

Sara huffed out a chuckle before turning her attention back to Rip.

"Anyway,"Rip said. "As I was saying before Miss Lance and Miss Tomaz arrived, I created this task force months ago with one main goal. You all know what that is. And I chose each and every one of you because- and not to make your heads bigger- all of you are the best in your field. You have a lot to offer to this team, as do Miss Lance and Miss Tomaz. With their addition to this team, there is no doubt in my mind that you will achieve said goal. It might take a while, but with all of you working together, there is nothing this team can't do."

Rip looked around as the team all nodded in agreement.

"Okay, then. I have quite a busy day." Rip turned to Sara and Zari. "Should either of you have any concern, I'll be in my office. I will leave it to Agent Sharpe to tell you what today's agenda for the team is."

With that, Rip left. And as if on cue, Ava came out of an office and started walking towards the team.

"You're late."

Sara smiled.

"Heeeyyy, Sharpie. You're looking.... sharp today." Grinning, she flickered her gaze between the team.

"Get it? Sharp because..."

Sara trailed off as everyone suddenly tensed except for Zari who not-so-subtly chuckled. Lily, Amaya, and Gideon looked slightly uncomfortable, while Ray and Nate let out a nervous laugh. When Ava glared at them, Ray turned his face serious, while Nate cleared his throat.

"I- Th- Not fu- That wasn't funny at all." Nate shook his head. " Nope."

Ava turned her attention back to Sara and Zari.

"When I tell you to come at a certain time, you do it. We do morning briefings here every day, and this team cannot be held up because you two decided to sleep in and move at a glacial pace."

Zari leaned in to Amaya, and grumbled under her breath.

"Jesus. Is she always this mean in the morning?"

"Maybe it's that poly-blend pantsuit that's got her so grumpy." Sara kept her eyes on Ava, giving her a shit-eating grin. "Did you buy five sets of them, Sharpie? One for each day of the week, maybe?" Sara gasped and feigned excitement. "Oooh, did you get discounts?! I bet you did."

The team became increasingly tensed as they listened to Sara, shocked at their new team member's boldness. Ava, for her part, glared at her, and clenched her jaw, before speaking.

"Do you wanna get shot? You do know I'm wearing a gun, right?"

Sara gave Ava a look, and bit her lower lip. "That's hot."

Ray's eyes widened. Nate coughed, while Amaya and Zari exchanged a look.

When Ava gave her a pointed glare, Sara feigned seriousness, holding her hands up in surrender.

Taking a breath, Ava held out some thick files.

"You two won't be able to keep up with us if you don't know everything that the team does. So read up on this, both of you. I don't care if it takes you the whole day to finish it. Just make sure that you do. We haven't set-up a desk for you yet so you can just sit anywhere, or take the conference room. When you're done with that, go there." Ava pointed at an area on the floor where a console and a number of monitors were. "That room right there is the Console Room. Also Agent Gideon's work space. She's been advised as to what to show you."

Sara accepted said files. When she saw DAMIEN DARHK. CLASSIFIED on the front, her body tensed. Zari, seeing this, discreetly elbowed her in the side and gave her a look that said 'you okay?'. Sara gave her a nod.

Having given the folder to Sara, Ava turned to the rest of her team.

"As for the rest of us, we all have our own thing. Let me know if something comes up. I'm right in my office if anyone needs me."

With that, Ava left, leaving the Nate and Amaya to return to their respective desk. Gideon walked towards the Console Room, while Lily and Ray went back to their respective lab.

Zari's eyes followed Gideon before turning to Sara.

"I'll be right back."

"Yeah, okay."

After Zari walked away, Sara turned to Amaya.

"Hey, Agent Jiwe, may I sit here?" Sara pointed to a seat not occupied. "I'd rather do the reading here than in the conference room. It's so.." Sara paused. "..big."

Amaya smiled. "Please call me Amaya. And yeah, sure."

------------------------------

Zari walked towards the Console Room, and knocked on the open door.

"Hi. Agent Gideon?"

Gideon spun her chair around to face Zari.

"Miss Tomaz. Come in. Can I help you with something?"

Zari was nervously swinging on the balls of her feet before responded.

"Um, earlier, you seemed like- I don't know- I just- Do you know who I am? Have we met before?"

Gideon crossed her arms, squinted her eyes at Zari, then smirked.

"Zari Adrianna Tomaz, a.k.a. Andrea Thomas. Member of the hacker community. Leader of Hackers Unified. Known in the dark web as Isis. Your group has been hacking companies and businesses you suspect of engaging in criminal activities, for the purpose of exposing them. It's a noble cause, really, but still a crime."

Zari, while listening to all this, was frozen in place, eyes wide with fear.

Gideon gave her an amused smile.

"The FBI has been trying to identify you and your people for years. "

"I-"

"Don't worry, Miss Tomaz, your secret's safe with me. I was a hacker, too, you know? Well, I still am. Sort of." Gideon laughed. "On occasion. I just do it in the name of the law now. Once a hacker, always a hacker."

Zari chuckled nervously.

"I won't roll on you. Hackers code, right?"

Zari breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing this, finally releasing the tension that built up in her shoulders.

"Thank you. And for the record, I'm not with the group anymore. I left that life a long time ago. I haven't done any hacking in a while."

Gideon raised her eyebrows.

"I mean, hacking for the purpose of exposing shady companies."

Gideon laughed.

"Two things, though. The alarm last Monday, it was your doing, wasn't it?"

Zari smiled nervously, guilt evident on her face.

"Yeah. Sorry."

"No one has ever hacked the FBI since I became the Lead Technical Analyst here. No one until you, that is. I coded the firewalls myself and it's almost impossible to get past any one them, let alone all. Not even the NSA or the CIA has that kind of mainframe security installed. I have to say, Miss Tomaz, that was quite impressive." Gideon squinted her eyes. "I may have to keep an on you."

Zari laughed. "Uh, thank you?" A pause. "You said two things. What's the other one?"

"Show me how you did it."

Zari chuckled.

"Yeah, sure. But can I do it some other time, though? I have some readings to do. And I really don't want to give Agent Sharpe another reason to hate me."

Gideon laughed.

"I'll hold you to it."

Zari smiled, and started walking away to join Sara.

 

------------------------------

 

It was around 12 noon when Sara and Zari started feeling the strain of reading non-stop. Sara gently massaged her nape and stretched her neck, eyes closed as she did so.

Zari, on the other hand, resorted to groaning.

"Sara, this is killing me. I don't even think I had to read this much in university. My eyes are about to pop out. My back hurts. And my ass actually feels numb from sitting for hours!"

Amaya, who was about to pass by where they were seated, heard Zari's sentiment, making her laugh.

"Why don't you guys take a break? The boys and I are going to grab some lunch. There's a diner not far from here. If you two want to come..?" Amaya trailed off.

Zari turned her head towards Sara, eyes almost pleading. Sara, in turn, smirked. When she spoke, her voice was teasing.

"What do you think, Z? Should we join Amaya?"

With her back on Amaya, Zari pursed her lips at Sara, giving the latter a look that said 'shut the hell up'.

"I mean, we gotta eat at some point, right? Might as well."

Amaya's eyes lit up, and she smiled.

"Great! Let's go, then."

 

------------------------------

 

Lunch had given Sara the chance to get to know her team mates. She and Zari learned that Gideon used to be a CEO of a small tech company until she found a higher calling and joined the Bureau. Ray finished university at a very young age, and like Lily, is also a scientist, and that he has four PhDs. He was recruited by the FBI for his brilliant inventions, a skill he now uses to design and build weapons and technology. His best friend, Nate, has a doctorate in Psychology, is a Forensic Psychologist, and can speak six languages. He comes from a long line of Heywood men who made a name in the FBI. His father, Hank Heywood, is the sitting Deputy Director. Amaya had a promising career in Archaeology and Anthropology before she decided to join the FBI. And that people at the Bureau call them Team Legends because each of them was a living legend in their own right- Gideon in Computer Science, Ray in Technology, Lily in Forensics, Nate in Psychology, Amaya in Communication, and Ava in Leadership.

Sara noticed the way Zari was listening so intently to Amaya, and how her face would turn slightly pink when the latter would accidentally brush her arms against Zari's. Her best friend made an effort to hide her face but Sara knew her so well. She was thinking of a way to tease Zari about it when Ray accidentally slipped that Amaya and Nate used to be together. She turned her eyes towards Zari who ducked her head down, but it wasn't quick enough that Sara saw how her smile fell. Nate and Amaya both looked a little tense, Ray looked uncomfortable in his seat, and the silence was getting a little awkward. She was just about to break it when Amaya looked over her shoulder and waved to whomever she just saw.

"Ava! Hey! Come join us."

Ava walked up to their seats.

"Thanks, but I actually called ahead." She help up a hand, showing a bag of take-outs. "I'm just here for a pick-up. But I'll see you guys back at the Bureau."

She looked around the table and was trying very hard not to look at Sara. But somehow, her gaze still ended up settled on her.

Sara smirked a little. "Sharpie."

Ava ground her teeth together, took a breath, and turned to address everyone at the table.

"Be back at the Bureau soon."

Sara twisted her body, eyes following Ava's movement as the agent was walking out of the diner. Zari leaned in to her a little and whispered.

"On, yeah. I can see how you really don't want to 'Lance' her."

Sara rolled her eyes and smacked Zari's arm with the back of her hand.

"Shut up, Z."

When she turned her face back at the team, Sara looked up to see Amaya giving her an intrigued look, brows quirked up.

"So what did you do to piss Ava off? Aside from making fun of her suit, that is."

Sara frowned, feigning innocence. "I did nothing. She just decided that she hates me."

Amaya smiled then hummed.

"What's her story anyway?" Sara asked, trying to look and sound nonchalant. "And why does it seem like you're all afraid of her?"

Amaya chuckled. Nate and Ray both shook their head.

"We'd be here for days if I told you Ava's story." A smile. "Maybe you can ask her yourself."

"Right. Cause we're such good friends."

"You could be."

"Yeah, Sara." Zari said, her voice teasing. "You could be."

Sara scoffed. Amaya smiled.

"As for your second question.. We're not afraid of her. We respect her, and she inspires and motivates us. Ava's a great leader. The best commanding officer I've ever worked under. She's not one of those people who like to remind you every chance they get that they're the boss. To her, each of us is as much of a leader as she is." Amaya said, her voice a little proud.

"You won't meet a more dependable leader than Ava." Nate said after emptying his iced tea. "She's got better judgment than anybody I've ever worked with in my entire FBI career and her remarkable ability to make split-second decision has saved more agent's lives than I could ever count. If you're with her, know that she's got your back, no matter what."

Sara and Zari both listened with attention.

"She's also incredibly loyal." Amaya continued. "Agencies like the CIA, NSA, DHS, and USMS have tried to poach her, but she said no to all of them. She also rejected a promotion in Pentagon." Amaya held up two fingers. "Twice."

"And," Ray added, his voice chirpy. "she's also up for a promotion. Deputy Assistant Director."

Nate nodded in agreement. "That's right."

"Geez. It takes a lot to impress me, but I gotta say, THAT is impressive." Zari exclaimed, and turned to Sara, her voice teasing. "Don't you think so, Sara?"

Sara shrugged, but from the look Zari gave her, she knew that Zari could tell she was maybe a little impressed, too.

Amaya kept her eyes on Sara, a knowing look on her face, then smiled.

"We'd tell you what an excellent leader Ava is, but sadly, we have to head back to the Bureau. And besides, now that you're a part of our team, I'm sure you'll see that soon enough."

Sara shrugged again. Amaya motioned for them to leave.

"Also," Amaya said when they were out of the diner. "I kinda have no choice but to like Ava. She is, after all, my best friend."

Sara whipped her head towards Amaya, eyes full of genuine surprise.

"Ava Sharpe?! Ava Sharpe is your best friend?!"

Amaya nodded. "Uh-huh. We trained at the Academy together. We've been best friends ever since."

"But... you're so nice. And she's...not."

With that, Nate and Ray laughed. Sara and Zari followed. Amaya just smiled and shook her head.

 

------------------------------

 

Both Sara and Zari continued on with the files after getting back at the Bureau, only stopping to go the bathroom. Hours later, the same data were shown to them on screens by Gideon, but it was a more detailed, more organised, more laid-out, more complete information on Darhk. Zari tried and failed to not geek out or look impressed by the technology. By the time Sara left the console room, Zari had already learned how the consoles worked, which button and key to press, and whatnot.

Sara was back at the desk she was temporarily occupying, and was willing herself not to be overwhelmed by everything she had just learned about Darhk's operations. Since she last heard about him, the man had extended his criminal ventures to a number of financial crimes, corporate crimes, organised crimes, drug-related crimes, and terrorism; not to mention, public corruption and all other crimes Sara knew he was involved in. Thinking about Darhk always led her to feeling a familiar ache in her chest; one which would once again be a constant thing since she was now working with the FBI to apprehend him.

Sara shook herself off before her mind could bring her to some dark thoughts. She pressed a finger on the bridge of her nose, then gently massaged her temples with her fingertips when she felt the onset of a migraine. She glanced around to look for Zari to tell her they should head home since it was already after-hours, but she found her best friend happily chatting with Amaya at the latter's desk. She decided she wasn't going to earn herself a punch from Zari later by interrupting them.

With nothing else left to do, she found herself looking in the direction of Ava's office. It having glass walls, Sara had an unobstructed view of the agent from where she was seated. Since meeting her last Monday, she hadn't had the chance to really study Ava. Without fear of being caught staring, Sara fixed her gaze on her.

When Rip told her she'd be working under the command of a woman, she thought said woman would be at least middle-aged. What she didn't expect though was for Ava to be younger than she had expected; even less to look like the way she did- tall, honey blonde hair, cupid bow lips, angular cheekbones, eyes the color of the sky during a summer storm.

It's always the eyes that get her. Sara thought Ava's were mesmerizing.

When she had finally taken a look at Ava that first meeting, it almost knocked the wind out of her. She felt something strange in her chest- a pressure of some kind with which she wasn't familiar. She wasn't going to let it settle in her chest as she was looking at the agent, so she chose instead to shove it away.

Watching Ava now had Sara feeling that same strange stirring in her chest again. She was contemplating on whether she should process it or not, when the thing that had been subtly flickering in the back of her mind since she met Ava came rushing to the forefront. The realisation hit her so hard and had her jolting herself out of her seat, so fast that she knocked over some of the things on the desk, and racing towards Rip's office.

She stormed into it, not even bothering to knock.

"Oh sure, by all means, enter." Rip said sarcastically, as he looked up from what he was reading.

Rip didn't like it when people just burst into his office, but there was something in Sara's expression and about the way her body is a little tensed, that stopped him from reprimanding her.

"Sara? What is it?" Rip asked, his face had a trace of worry on it.

"Did you tell her? Does she know? Does the team?" Sara asked, her hands fidgeting a little.

Rip's face twisted in confusion. He was about to ask what Sara meant when she spoke again.

"Rip, does Agent Sharpe know? Did you tell her?"

After a few more seconds of confusion, Rip huffed out a breath in a way that told Sara he just understood what she meant. When he spoke, he did so softly.

"She knows what most people do."

When Rip gave her a look, Sara breathed a sigh of relief. Her throat felt tight and her eyes had started feeling hot.

Seeing Sara's face, Rip stood and walked around his desk to stand across from her, butt leaning against the edge of it.

"When you're ready-" He paused. "IF you'll ever be, you'll tell her yourself. You don't have to, of course. But whether you tell Ava or not is entirely up to you, Sara. That's your decision. It was never mine to make."

Sara cleared her throat, and nodded.

Rip went to give Sara a hug, because even though he knew she wouldn't hug back, he had a feeling she needed it just the same.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

 

Ava had just about finished her paperwork for the day when she looked around the floor space from her glass wall; seeing her team had still not gone home. Amaya was laughing at something Zari just said, while Lily, Gideon, and Ray had joined Nate. She felt a small smile tug on her lips watching her team. As she scanned that part of the workplace, her eyes found Sara. She had a far-off look in her face, and her hand was fiddling with her necklace. Ava had been staring at her for a little while when Sara started rubbing circles on her temple, and for a moment, Ava felt a guilty for making her read those files the whole day.

Her eyes and head must hurt.

When she came in for work this morning, she didn't know what to expect- the team had been told two days prior about two consultants joining them, and one of the things that made Ava adamant about not getting outside help was how they would react to it. Hearing about the arrangement, though, her team seemed fine with it. Ray actually looked a little overjoyed about the thought of having more people on the team- but she at least expected Sara and Zari to come in on time on their first day of work, but the clock hit 8 A.M., and the two still hadn't arrived. By the time she left her office, it was 20 minutes past 8 and Rip had already introduced Sara and Zari to the team. Walking towards them, and seeing Sara, she felt that same slight jolt she had in her chest the first time Ava saw her. She would've considered sorting it out for later had she not been annoyed by the fact that the two came in late. She figured making them read all day was a reasonable punishment. Her annoyance quickly escalated to anger when Sara started openly mocking her, and said a lewd remark, in front of her whole team. And then just as quickly, Ava had the same curiosity she had when she saw Sara stiffen at the sight of Darhk's name. That curiosity grew when she saw Zari discreetly elbowed her and gave Sara a look, to which the latter just nodded.

Ava shook the memories away, and took another glance at Sara in time to see her body go suddenly rigid, and the next thing she knew, Sara was sprinting towards Rip's office. The manner in which she stood up caught the attention of some people on the floor, and it was the subtle hint of worry that she saw appear in Zari's face that had Ava getting up of her seat, and out of her office.

Zari and the rest of her team were looking in the direction of Rip's office by the time Ava joined them.

"What is going on?"

Hearing Ava's voice, Zari turned her head towards her, and shrugged.

"You never really know with those two."

From where she stood, Ava saw Rip stand up from his seat and stand across Sara whose shoulders, Ava noticed, were a little slumped. When it looked like Rip was moving to hug Sara, Ava heard Zari mumble to herself.

"Ooh, I wouldn't do that if I were you, Rip." A pause, and then, "Huh."

Sara's arms were just hanging slightly awkwardly on her side. Rip had just broken the hug when Nate spoke, attracting her attention.

"Hey, why don't we all go to The Waverider tonight? We're not working on something urgent; it's after hours, it's Friday, and it's a perfect opportunity for the team to get to know Sara and Zari?" Nate looked around everyone. "Come on! Team bonding? What do you guys say?"

Ray and Amaya both nodded.

"It's a great idea!" "I'm in if everyone else is."

Ava found her team looking at her, waiting for her to respond. She was about to when Sara, who was looking a little glum, popped up next to Zari.

"Can we leave now?" Sara asked.

Ava didn't realise she had been staring at Sara and that it was her at whom Sara's question was aimed, until Amaya said her name.

"Ava?"

"What?"

"Sara asked if they could leave."

She turned her head back to Sara, cleared her throat, and clasped her hand behind her back.

"Yes, you can. You two still need to sign your contract, but you can just do that on Monday."

Sara had just turned to leave when Zari spoke.

"Sorry, guys. We won't be joining you tonight." Zari looked at Amaya. "Next time?"

Amaya smiled and nodded. "Yeah, of course."

Sara, hearing this, turned back around.

"Z, you don't have to come home with me. You should go with them. I'd join you guys but.." She hesitated. "..my, uh, my head is killing me." As if to prove it, Sara brought her hand up to rub her forehead.

Zari gave her a look that told her she wasn't buying it. Before she could reply, Nate spoke.

"That's okay, Sara. We'll just go next time. It's not really a team bonding without the two new members of the team."

Ray and Amaya nodded. Sara gave a little smile, and Zari moved to leave.

"See you all Monday."

After the two left, the rest went back to Nate's desk. Amaya, however, hadn't moved. When Ava turned to her, her best friend had a knowing smile on her face.

"What, Amaya?"

Amaya help up her hands. "I said nothing."

Ava rolled her eyes, then walked back towards her office.

 

------------------------------

 

A few hours later, back at their place, Sara had started teasing Zari about her 'very obvious crush' on Amaya.

Zari sneered.

"Crush? What are you, twelve?" Amaya said defensively. "Besides, she's straight. And Nate is obviously still very much in love with her."

She took a mouthful of pizza, then continued. "And even if he wasn't anymore, do you know what my number one rule is? Don't ever fall in love with a straight girl."

Sara held up her hands.

"Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah! Who said anything about falling in love? I just said you were CRUSHING on Amaya." She teased. "God, you are such a lesbian."

"And what about it?" Zari said, proudly tilting her head up a little.

Sara chuckled, then tried her best to look serious.

"Amaya may not be straight, you know. There's this thing, Z. You may not know about it, but I'm telling you now. It's a top secret, okay? So don't go around spilling it to everybody." Sara placed an open hand to the side of her face, and whispered, "When someone is attracted to more than one gender? It's called bisexuality."

Zari smacked Sara's arm. "You're an ass."

Sara laughed, and give Zari a mischievous smirk.

"You know what they say, if you want a woman to dive in the lady pond, you have to make her want to dip her fingers in it first." Sara winked.

"Literally no one has ever said that." Zari said, straight-faced.

After letting a moment passed, Zari asked what went on in Rip's office. Sara told her.

"So he didn't tell them?"

"Nope." Sara shook her head, and popping the 'p'.

"Are you going to?"

Sara, who was about to shove pizza in her mouth, stopped mid-bite.

"I don't know, Z. I mean, it took me a while before I told you."

Zari snickered.

"You didn't tell me. I.." She said as she dramatically put a hand over her chest. "..found out after doing extensive investigative research."

It was a little over a year into their friendship when Sara started asking Zari to look up people. One at a time. At first, Zari didn't ask questions, because they all seemed to be regular folks doing regular boring jobs with an even more boring search history. She thought it was Sara's first gigs investigating. It wasn't until Sara asked her to look up Damien Darhk that had her curiosity piqued. She knew who Darhk was. Everyone did. So after Sara had her looking into some more people who had somehow connections to Darhk, she did the one thing she promised herself to never do- to look up a friend. The look on Sara's face when Zari casually asked if her looking into Darhk was personal in nature and not professional told her what she needed to know. Sara, for her part, realised that Zari checked up on her, and that the way she was looking at Sara told her she knew. When she asked how she figured out, Zari's response was that she was actually a genius masquerading as an imbecile so people would put their guards down around her, and that it was a power move.

Sara huffed out a laugh at the memory.

"True. But still." She paused. "I don't think them knowing would change anything. I mean, we're still helping them regardless, right?"

Zari, being Zari, proffered a different reasoning, a huge smirk plastered on her face.

"Or maybe you just don't want them-" She help up a finger. "and by them, I meant Agent Sharpe- knowing because if she did, she'd realise just how close you are to the case and that could her lead her to decide to boot you out of the team."

Sara opened her mouth to say something, but Zari cut her off.

"And you don't want that because although you won't admit it, you like her face."

"Wha- I do not."

"Oh, don't even try to deny it, Sara. Did you really think I didn't notice how you kept staring at her today?"

"I wasn't!" Sara said defensively.

Zari ignored her. "Tell me again how long we've been best friends. I know every look your ridiculous face makes. And the one you had while looking at Ava told me it's only a matter of time before you 'Lance' the woman."

"Oh, Jesus. This again." She tucked her leg out from under her, and got up from the couch. "You're being ridiculous. I'm going to bed."

Sara heard Zari laughing and calling after her as she walked towards her room.

"Only a matter of time, Lance."

Chapter Text

Ava was having one of the worst days in a while. Her car broke down and she had to wait until it got fixed, she got caught in the morning rush hour making her almost late for a meeting in which she had to deal with difficult and arrogant white men; and it wasn't even her only meeting for the day.

Being a Special Agent in Charge, the highest rank a field agent could earn, she had a lot of responsibilities in her hands, and the pressure of her job had started to weigh on her for the first time since she joined the Bureau. Her mood turned even more sour because developments on the Darhk case had been scarce, if not totally non-existent. The team had hit a wall. Ava had grown increasingly frustrated over it, and it would be nice if they got a break on the case.

Now back in her office after her last meeting for the day, she had started to feel the full strain of the headache she'd been enduring since she came in for work this morning. Over the last two weeks, Ava's headaches had become quite alarmingly frequent. After going to her doctor to get herself checked, she was advised to take a fews days off of work, because the headaches she had been having were both psychosomatic due to high-level of stress, and because of insufficient sleep. She had told her doctor that she hadn't really been sleeping well lately. Ava, however, couldn't afford to take even just a day off, both because of her responsibilities, and because things didn't go well for her if she wasn't doing anything. What condition she has causes her mind to quite literally get stuck in the past.

Hoping to get rid of her headache before she went home for the evening, Ava took her pill box out of her purse and had just popped an Advil in her mouth when she heard a crashing sound from outside her office, making her jump in her seat. She looked up to check what it was and saw Amaya pick up a chair that had fallen off the floor, while Nate, Zari, Ray, and Sara were bickering as they threw paper planes and trying to hit one another with it.

Since the addition of Sara and Zari, the dynamics within the team had changed drastically. Sure, her [old] team still did what was expected of each of them, and was still as competent as ever, but now, with Sara and Zari, they all seemed to have loosened up. A LOT. Especially the boys. Ray used to spend his time holed up in his lab, and obsessing over whatever weapon or technology of the month was. Nate, who was one of the most serious profilers she had ever work with at the BAU, would often be found writing his book or reading something of importance. Nowadays, those two would often be caught doing something absolutely preposterous, that Ava thought for a second aliens had abducted the real Ray and Nate, and had replaced them with doppelgängers.

The atmosphere on the whole floor had become- what Ava can say objectively- lively; lighter and more active. Such change wasn't just evident on her team, but seemed to have extended to everyone- agents and non-agents alike, because Sara liked going to people's desk and striking up conversations with them whenever she felt bored, and apparently, the woman felt bored all the time.

Since developments on the case had been slow, both Ava and Rip had told Sara on her third day with the team that she and Zari didn't have to come every day, and that they could still continue to do their private investigating job if she wished to. Sara, however, was more than happy to come to work every morning, armed with whatever mischief, shenanigan, and/or unprofessional conduct she had in mind that would always end up with Ava being angry, and thus, leading to her and Sara engaging in rather intense verbal spats.

Part of her wanting to be in control of things is having them arranged in a systematic way- her office included, especially her desk. She liked it neat, organised, and lined up, without anything on it out of place. Every day on her first week on the team, Sara would make a point of skewing something.

They were subtle ones for the first two days, but as the days went by, they became even more and more noticeable. The Friday of that week, after arriving from Quantico with Rip, Ava had come back to her office, with her desk and everything else in total chaos. She had to intimidate Ray and Nate into disclosing that it was Sara who had been messing with her space the last five days. Sara, however, was no longer in sight, as she and Zari had already gone home.

On her second week, Sara had placed a small bluetooth speaker in the HVAC duct above her head, and for two straight days, Ava would hear a faint sound of Gregorian chant every two and a half hours. After hearing it the first few times, she had looked around her office wondering where it was coming from, only to find nothing. By the end of the day, she was half convinced she was going crazy, because it seemed like no one else but her could hear it. By the end of the second day, she just gave up, and let the thing play without her looking up from whatever she was reading. She only found out it was Sara's doing because the next day, she went to Amaya's desk and asked her if she had been hearing it too for the last two days, but before her best friend could reply, Sara, who was seated at a desk nearby, snorted.

After Sara had fessed up, Ava asked her to take the speaker out of the vent, and had warned her never do something 'childish' again, or they would have a problem. Sara's defense was that she liked listening to Gregorian chants because they give her a sense of peace, and that she put it in Ava's office because according to Sara, her 'glass prison of an office', as Sara had adapted to calling it, would make any music sound better, and she thought it would have a calming effect on her, too. It took Ava an incredible amount of restraint to keep her anger in, especially after Sara said "You seemed so stressed out, Sharpie. I was only trying to help." with that aggravating smirk of hers plastered on her face.

Sara had somehow found out that Ava was scared of clowns and snakes, and sometime before she got to Bureau this morning, Sara had talked Zari into unlocking her computer, so she could replace her wallpaper. Needing to send an email before leaving for her morning meeting, she had to key in her computer log-in, and almost had a heart attack when she saw a photo of a very hideous-looking clown with a snake wrapped around his shoulder, staring back at her. When she looked out from her office, she saw Sara pretending to be busy reading something and was trying very hard not to burst out laughing. Ava would've confronted her about it had she not been running late for her meeting.

If Sara wasn't personally subjecting her to petty office pranks, she was getting Nate, Ray, and Zari to do ludicrous antics with her. Every day for the last two weeks, Ava felt like a single mother who had to deal with four hyperactive children. And looking at Sara, Zari, Nate, and Ray now, it seemed like today wasn't any different.

Ava could feel her anger building up. She closed her eyes, ground her teeth together, and pinched the bridge of her nose, before she left her office to stop whatever it was that was happening outside.

She marched towards her team's work area, eyes already blazing.

"WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!"

The four of them froze. Even Lily and Amaya who Ava knew weren't involved in the ruckus, had stopped talking and stood up. But while Nate, Ray, and Zari looked at least guilty, Sara didn't even attempt to look apologetic. In fact, she had a taunting smile on her face that made Ava's blood boil.

The lack of response from the four didn't help alleviate her anger.

"Paper planes, really?! Are you all children?! Or have you all lost your damn minds?!"

When Ava was once again met with silence, she asked who started it. Nate, Ray, and Zari simultaneously held up a finger, and pointed at Sara. Sara, for her part, just raised an eyebrow, and smirked.

Ava sucked in a breath, clenched her teeth, and closed her eyes, before speaking again.

"This is a place of work, Miss Lance. Would it kill you to practice even the tiniest hint of professionalism around here? I don't know how you did it back in.." She paused. "..wherever Rip found you, but right here, we have standards of professional conduct, and you seem to be incredibly failing them."

Sara just huffed out a laugh, making Ava even more mad.

"Relax, Ava, w-"

"It's Agent Sharpe!"

Sara gave her a knowing smile that made Ava ball her fists.

"Agent Sharpe. We we were just having a little fun."

"The next time you want to have a little fun, go to an amusement park instead!" Ava snapped.

"Perhaps I might." Sara said, still smirking.

Ava narrowed her eyes at her, and looked between the members of her team.

"I don't want this happening again, am I clear? Because this.." She said, gesturing around. "all this is giving me a headache."

"Maybe it's that tight bun you always wear that's giving you a headache. Have you tried to let your hair out of it?" Sara held up her hands. "Just a suggestion."

Hearing yet another one of Sara's mocking remarks, Ava could no longer hold her anger in.

"You know what, I've just h-"

She was just about to advance on Sara, but was stopped when Gideon called out her name.

"Ava!"

All heads turned towards Gideon who was motioning for them to come.

"Come. All of you."

Ava ran towards the console room, the team trailing not far behind.

"What is it, Gideon?"

"Okay, remember when you had me tapped the phones of Darhk's known associates, partners, allies, mercenaries, henchmen, secretaries, assis-"

Ava held up a hand. "We get it, Gideon. You tapped everyone's phone. And?"

"Well," Gideon had a smile on her face. She motioned for them to look at the screen, before pressing something on her tablet. "These are all the numbers previously used by those bastards. I thought maybe one of them will be dumb enough to use it again, so I didn't trash them, and thank god I didn't because.." Gideon tapped a key and a series of number on the screen got highlighted. "one them had just been switched on."

Before Gideon could continue, Ava cut her off.

"Whose is it? Whose phone?"

"One of Malcolm Merlyn's."

Everyone in the room knew who Malcolm Merlyn was, even Sara and Zari. Being Darhk's long-time partner, information about him was included in the files Ava had them read. And even before then, the two had known about Merlyn. They probably knew about him more than the team did.

"Merlyn." Ava said to herself. "Okay, go on, Gideon."

"Right. So anyway, if the phone is switched on, it means it's only a matter of time before Merlyn calls someone, or someone calls him and this phone-"

Just then, they heard someone phone's ringing.

"..rings." Gideon finished.

You could hear a pin drop with how quiet they all turned. Everyone in the room looked at each other, then turned towards the screen when a woman's voice answered.

"Woah. That is definitely not Malcolm Merlyn." Ray said as he chuckled.

"Anybody know who that is?" Nate asked, eyes glancing between her teammates.

Sara and Zari, upon hearing the voice of the woman, exchanged a look, and spoke at the same time.

"Thea." "That's Thea Queen."

Everyone turned their heads towards Sara.

"Who's Thea Que-" Ava asked but was cut off by Sara.

"Shush!!"

Everyone stood still, and didn't say anything for a while, even Ava, who hated being 'shushed' because she thought there were other more polite ways to get people to stop talking, continued listening in to the phone conversation.

After the parties on the line had exchanged their pleasantries, the man started talking in Arabic. So did Thea.

"Ah, crap." Lily said dejectedly.

"Nate, what are they saying?" Ray asked, turning his head to look at Nate.

"I don't know. Why are you asking me?"

"Don't you speak six languages?" Zari asked.

"Well, yes. But Arabic is not one of them. What about you? Can't you understand them?"

"I'm Iranian. I speak Farsi, not Arabic, you idiot."

Nate, Ray, and Zari started talking a little loudly over each other.

Gideon was about to interject to tell them she was recording the call and could just have someone translate it later, when Sara, who had been straining to hear what was being said by the parties on the phone over her team's voices, yelled.

"EVERYBODY, SHUT UP!!!"

Nate, Ray, and Zari stood still. None of them had spoken again until after the call had ended. When it did, everyone had looked at Sara, expectantly. Ava spoke first.

"Well..?"

Sara rolled her eyes at her.

"I don't know who the man was, but the woman was Thea Queen. Malcolm Merlyn's daughter."

Ava, obviously surprised, quirked her eyebrows up.

"Merlyn has a daughter? How did we not know that?" She looked around her team, then at Sara. "And how do you?"

"I'm a private detective, Agent Sharpe. I detect. Maybe if you did such a good job at detecting as I do, you would've known Merlyn had another kid, too."

Ava clenched her teeth, and glared at Sara.

"Do you want me to continue, or are you just gonna glare at me to death?"

Ava motioned for her to go on.

"Thea is Merlyn's son with another woman. He's known this whole time, but it's only recently that Thea found out. Merlyn brought Thea into the family business after his son, Tommy, died in an accident, hoping that it would make them closer. It didn't. Thea hates her father because who wouldn't? The man is a huge son of a bitch."

Before Sara could continue, Nate interrupted.

"What about the phone call? What did they say?"

"I'm getting there."

"I didn't know you spoke Arabic. When did you have time to learn that? Zari asked.

"Well, I-" Sara hesitated. "Nyssa."

Zari huffed out a breath, and threw up a hand.

"Of course. Of course she taught you Arabic. That woman taught you to do everything."

Sara and Zari held each other's gaze long enough that Ava could've sworn she sensed a little tension between the two.

Who's Nyssa? Ava thought.

Nate looked between Zari and Sara.

"Who's Nyssa?"

Ignoring Nate, Sara continued.

"Thea had gotten her hands on sensitive files on some of Darhk's businesses. It makes sense. Darhk and Merlyn are long-time partners, after all. Anyway, she's selling it to someone. Probably one of Darhk's international rival or something. We don't know. We would know more if we had the buyer's name, which we don't."

"Wait. I don't understand." Ray said, face tinted with confusion. If this Thea hates his father, can't we just- I don't know, maybe she'll give the files to us if we ask her really really nicely?"

Zari chuckled and patted Ray on the shoulder.

"Ray, you're adorable. She may hate her father, but Merlyn IS still that- her father. She's not going to serve him up on a plate to the FBI. Maybe she just wants to kick his old man out of business. End his criminal career. Who knows what her real motivation is, but whatever it is, it's not important. What matters is how we're going to get our hands on that files without attracting attention to ourselves."

Zari turned to Amaya. "Right? That's how undercover operation woks?"

Amaya gave Zari a soft look, smiled, and nodded. "Pretty much, yes."

Zari smiled back before turning to Sara, nodding at her to continue.

"There's going to be a trade-off at 9:30 P.M. two days from today at The Cavalry Bar inside The Providence International Hotel. We need to be there when it happens. The man on the phone will be sending another man to get it. Thea will be sending a woman. We should be able to recognise her based on how Thea described her- tall, redhead, will be in a black dress, will be at the bar counter, and carries a hard drive with her. The man will be in a blue coat, brown tie."

Sara took a deep breath.

"Now," She looked around everyone, smirking. "who among you Legends has a plan on how to get whatever's on that drive?"

Chapter Text

"It's been a day, people! We have yet to come up with a solid plan," Ava, tired and frustrated, started massaging the back of her neck, hoping to release the tension that had built up. "We've all gone to undercover missions before. This isn't our first time, for Christ's sake."

Ava turned her head to look at Sara. "At least for most of us."

Sara rolled her eyes.

"I think I got something." Nate said.

The team, excluding Gideon and Lily, was currently in the conference room, brainstorming about how best to do the mission. Nate, Ray, and Zari mostly were the ones giving suggestions, all of which had Ava, Sara, and Amaya either shaking their head, or pinching the bridge of their nose, or both.

"We're listening." Zari encouraged.

Nate stood up from his seat, and started walking around and talking animatedly.

"Gideon will be our eyes and ears at the hotel. You know, do the technical stuff. She can do that from here, of course. The six of us will be out there. Ray poses as a barkeep. Amaya as a waitress. Ava, Sara, Zari, and myself as guests. I go to the bar. Flirt with the target, and while she's busy being charmed by me, you, Zari, will do your thing. You said you just need to be near the device so your, th- De-"

"DRC. Data Reader and Cloner."

"Right." Nate snapped his fingers. "That. You just need to be near the external hard drive so your brilliant invention can do its magic. Once it's done, we all leave, and bob's your uncle."

Sara hummed.

"That could work," She paused. "Except for one problem."

Ava impatiently looked at her in a way that said, 'what?'.

"What happens if the man comes first before the woman? He's supposed to approach her, right? As soon as he sees her, he'll go up to her, and they'll do the trade right there and then. There'll be no time for Z to read and clone whatever's on that drive."

"Well," Nate said, then looked thoughtful. "then YOU charm him. Keep him occupied. Block his view of the entrance if he's facing it. When the woman gets to bar, we go execute Plan A."

The team glanced around everyone.

"Huh." Sara exclaimed.

"That's actually not half as bad as all your previous plans." Ava said.

Amaya nodded, smiling. "Yeah, I think that can work."

"Okay," Ava stood up. "We go with Nate's plan. We get there earlier than the scheduled trade-off. That way, we have time do some quick recon. Get the lay of the land. I know Gideon will have that covered, but it never hurts to have a back up plan." A pause. "We had been waiting for a break on this case for a while. This is our first big one in months. And we only have one shot at this. If we do this mission right, it's a step closer to getting Darhk."

As she said this, Ava made sure she was looking at Sara, who had been staring absentmindedly at the table and fiddling with her necklace. And just as she expected, the woman had once again tensed at the mention of Darhk's name, although it only lasted a second.

"We cannot screw up."

Ray shook his head. "We won't."

"Okay, well, if there's nothing left for you to do today, you may all head home."

Sara was halfway through the doorway when Ava's voice stopped her.

"Miss Lance. A word?"

Sara sighed, turned around, and spoke with obvious impatience in her voice.

"What's up?"

When everyone had left the conference room and Ava had still not spoken, Sara narrowed her eyes.

"If you're thinking of putting me on the bench, Sharpe, that's not happening."

Ava opened her mouth to say something, but Sara cut her off, her voice already rising.

"I specifically remember Rip saying you can only pull me out of a mission, or bench me, if you have a reasonable cause. You don't. This is a simple mission. We go in, we go out. That's it." Sara crossed her arms defiantly. "You can't bench me."

Ava, who had just been staring at Sara the whole time, face void of any emotion, clasped her hands behind her back.

"It's your first mission. I was just gonna say good luck for tomorrow."

Sara's scowled face quickly morphed into one of surprised, then feigned nonchalance.

"Oh." A pause. "Well... Okay."

"Okay, then. See you tomorrow."

Ava unclasped her hands, then started walking towards the door. She heard Sara said "Tomorrow" as she headed back to her office. Sara, for her part, stayed behind, a mix of confusion and disbelief on her face.


The six of them- Ava, Sara, Zari, Amaya, Nate, and Ray were at the console room, all looking like their individual cover. Nate was a regular coat and tie-wearing businessman, Ray and Amaya had on what looked like the dress code for hotel staffs, Zari was in a sundress looking every bit uncomfortable, Sara looked more like her regular self- fitted jeans, heeled ankle boots, a shirt, though she traded her jacket for a blazer. And Ava, well, Ava who came in the room last, tried to spice things up a bit by wearing a similar pantsuit of a different colour.

When Ava walked in, Sara bit back a snort.

"Oh, wow, Sharpie. I almost didn't recognise you in that burgundy pantsuit of yours. Nobody would ever mistake you now for a government stiff."

"I do not have time for your quips today, Miss Lance." Ava said, pokerfaced, then looked around everyone. "Alright, team. Let's go over the plan one last time."

And so they did. When they were done, Ava had once again reminded Sara and Zari of her mission rules. Sara was grumbling, asking Ava why she would only get to engage if they had to do the side-plan; Zari, however, would surely get to do some real action. Ava had countered that it was because the DRC was Zari's design, making her the best person to actually work it; to which Sara pouted sulkily. Ava had to look away because she SHOULDN'T find a pout cute on a full-grown adult. Especially not on Sara Lance.

Nope. No, no, no, no, no.

Ava was shaking the thought away when Gideon spoke.

"Uh, guys. She's early." Gideon pointed at the screens in front of her. "Look. That's her, right?"

Gideon had hacked into the security system of the hotel; and true enough, a redhead wearing a black dress and was carrying a purse big enough to fit an external hard drive, was currently at the bar.

Ava spoke first.

"Okay, well, a little change on the plan. Ray, we can no longer sneak you in to pose as a barkeep. You have your tablet. Just stay in the car and act as another eye for us in there. But keep your comms on, of course. Amaya, pose as another guest. Just put on a business blazer over your shirt. We also don't have the time to do some recon, but we do have Gideon."

"Damn right, you do." Gideon replied.

"Everybody know what to do?" Ava asked.

After everyone nodded, Ava turned to Sara.

"Miss Lance, you stick by my side unless we need to do the contingency plan. You remember, right?"

Sara gave Ava a look, then smirked.

"If you don't want me out of your sight, Sharpie, all you have to do is politely ask." A wink.

Ava pointedly glared at her.

"Alright, alright, Jesus!" Sara rolled her eyes. "I remember. How could I possibly forget? You only had to remind me a hundred times since I came in this morning."

Ava ignored her, motioning for everyone to head towards the lift.

"Wheels up, now."

"Showtime!" Nate exclaimed, clapping his hands together once a little forcefully.

The team took two separate SUVS. Nate and Ray drove together, while Amaya, Zari, and Sara rode with Ava. They parked the cars a block from the hotel.

Excluding Ray, they walked the rest of the way to the hotel. When they got to the entrance, Ava spoke.

"Alright. Comm check."

"Check." One by one, the team confirmed that their comm device was turned on.

"Miss Lance and I will go inside The Cavalry Bar first. Amaya and Miss Tomaz next. Then Nate. We shouldn't walked in all together."

"Copy." Nate answered.

Sara and Ava walked into the bar, looking around to check the place. They saw Amaya and Zari come in and take their position. Nate followed after a full minute, taking a seat at the bar counter on the far right, a few seats down their target.

"Everyone's in position. You're up, Nate." Ava could be heard over their comms.

"Show me what you got, Heywood." Sara said, her voice teasing. "You do know how to flirt with a woman, right?"

Amaya huffed out a laugh. "I wouldn't be too sure, Sara."

"What? And you're telling us that now?!" Sara said a little loudly.

"Miss Lance! Keep your voice down." Ava warned.

"Relax, Sara. I got this." Nate said through gritted teeth. "You just watch and learn." A pause. "Approaching the target now."

Nate stood up from his seat, walked towards the woman, and sat down next to her; striking up a conversation by introducing himself as "Nick".

The rest of them discreetly watched as Nate and the target engaged in a conversation.

"Uh-oh." Sara exclaimed.

"Uh-oh? What do you mean uh-oh?" Ray asked.

"The woman is clearly displaying signs of disinterest. Didn't even turn her body towards Nate when she hook his hand. Doesn't laugh at his jokes. Gives short answers. I mean, she's barely looking at him. Look." Sara said, keeping her eyes on both the target and Nate.

"Okay, listen. Nick, is it?" The woman rubbed a finger on her temple. "You seem like a really sweet guy, but.." She paused. "..you're not exactly my type."

"Oh, boy." Sara exclaimed, pinching the bridge of her nose. After a few seconds of contemplation, she spoke again.

"Okay, Nate, listen to me very carefully and do exactly as I say."

Sara saw Nate subtly nod.

"Be a little arrogant. She will shoot you down again, and when she does, try touching her right shoulder or arm. You know, like a man who can't take no for an answer. We'll go from there."

Nate's brow knitted. Ava kept glancing between Sara and Nate and the woman at the bar.

"Where are you going with this, Miss Lance?"

"You guys need to trust me, okay? I'm improvising. Nate, do it now."

Nate cleared his throat, fixed an offended look on his face, before responding to the woman.

"Not your type? What do you mean I'm not your type? I'm everybody's type. I mean, have you seen this," He made a gesture around his face. "Brad Pitt would weep if he saw my face."

Zari let out a laugh and tried covering it by coughing.

The team could hear the woman scoffing, start snapping at Nate.

"Okay, try to touch her." Sara instructed.

Nate did.

"Good job. Now, follow my lead and play along." Sara said, then got up from her seat, and started walking towards the bar.

Ava's eyes widened. She tried to catch Sara's arm, but missed, as Sara had already taken a few steps.

"Miss Lance, what the hell are you doing?! You're gonna blow this whole mission up! Get back here! Right now!" Ava hissed under her breath. "Lance!"

Sara ignored her.

Ava gritted her teeth, then sighed in resignation.

"We are so screwed." She said, shaking her head.

When Sara was almost at the bar, they heard the woman tell Nate to let go of her arm.

"I believe the lady told you to fuck off, cumquat." Sara said, then subtly shook her head at Nate.

Zari let out another laugh. Amaya glared at her. Nate, on the other hand, got Sara's message.

"Yeah? And what would you do if I didn't?"

With that, Sara grabbed Nate by the wrist and twisted it, making him cry out in pain.

"Never touch a woman without her consent. You hear me?"

"Loud and clear!" Nate nodded his head rather vigorously. "Please let go of my hand and I promise 'll leave."

Sara did and while her back was on the woman, she mouth ""Sorry" to Nate, who proceeded to walk away and towards the exit, after Ava told him to join Ray back in the car.

After Nate left, Sara turned her head back to the woman.

"You okay, Miss?"

"Yes. Thank you." The woman answered, keeping her eyes on Sara, an impressed look on her face.

"Okay then. I'll let you enjoy your drink." Sara smiled then started walking away.

"What are you doing? I thought you had a plan! We don't have the files yet!" Ava said, panic obvious in her voice.

"Relax, Sharpie. Watch." Sara said, smiling smugly as she walked away from the woman. "3..2..1."

"Wait." The woman called after Sara.

Gotcha, Sara thought.

Sara stopped, and gave Ava a smirk, tilting her head a little, giving her a look that said, "See?"

Ava rolled her eyes.

When Sara turned around to face the woman, she put a feigned confusion on her face.

"Everything okay?"

"Oh, yeah. I just thought that since you valiantly saved me from that creep, the least I could do is buy you a drink." A flirty smile.

Sara let a few second pass before answering, eyeing the woman.

Game on.

"I mean, who am I to say no to a beautiful woman." Sara said, her lips curled up in a flirty smirk.

Ava rolled her eyes again. Zari snorted, while Amaya looked amused.

"What are you having?" The woman asked, as soon as she sat down, her body facing towards Sara.

"Whisky. Neat."

The woman quirked an eyebrow up, lips turned up to an impressed smirk. "I like a woman who can hold down the hard stuff." Her smirk turned into a full smile.

The woman ordered up, then turned back to Sara.

"My name's Isabelle." She held out a hand. "Isabelle Angelo. Belle for short."

Sara shook her hand. A few seconds passed and she huffed out a laugh, gaze still holding Belle's.

"What?" The woman asked, smiling.

"You know, your name literally means beautiful angel." Sara still hadn't let go of the woman's hand. "One suited for the woman who owns it."

Zari snorted again. Amaya looked highly entertained. Nate, Ray, and Gideon could be heard chuckling.

Ava, on the other hand, couldn't stop herself from commenting and looking completely done.

"Oh, for the love of God." She said, rolling her eyes, then pinched the bridge of her nose.

"Are you going to tell me your name or..? The woman trailed off.

"Right." Sara said. "Sorry. I'm Ava.."

"I swear to God, Lance, if you give her my name, I-" Ava warned.

"Emsley." Sara cut her off.

Belle smiled. And Sara still hadn't let go of her hand.

"And what does your name mean?"

"Well, in Hebrew, Ava means life. Emsley means god's gift."

Belle looked thoughtful. After a moment, she nod once.

"If you think about it, that's kinda fitting, too. You did save me. So in a way, you're God's gift to me."

Ava scoffed. Nate and Ray say exclaimed 'ooh' at the same time.

"This woman's got game! I think she's giving you a run for your money, Sara." Zari commented.

"So do you just happen to know the meaning of every name there is?" Belle playfully squinted her eyes.

"No." Sara chuckled, finally letting go of Belle's hand. "I just think a person's name can tell you something about them." A pause. "Also, I used to read a lot."

Belle hummed, giving Sara a look.

"Heroic. And smart. Just my type."

Zari snickered. Ava thought she was going to groan her way through the entirety of the conversation. Sara glanced between Ava and Zari, and subtly cocked her head to the side, before taking her drink.

Getting the message, Ava signaled Zari that she was up.

As Sara and Belle continued to talk, Zari walked towards the bar and sidled up to the woman. She strategically slid the woman's purse towards her, but stopped when she didn't feel anything that could remotely look like a hard drive.

"Fuck." She cursed under her breath.

"What is it, Miss Tomaz?" Ava asked, a frown formed on her face.

Zari got off the seat and started walking back towards the one she was previously occupying.

"It's not there. She doesn't have it in her purse. She must have left it in her room. She had to have booked one, right? Because I don't think I can clone the data if she happens to be hiding the drive strapped to one of her legs. Unless Sara somehow finds her way between them. Which, by the way things are going, wouldn't be too hard." Zari said, her voice sounding highly entertained.

Ava clenched her teeth, pursed her lips, and closed her eyes before speaking.

"No one is getting between anybody's legs. Gideon, would you please?"

"I'm on it." Gideon said.

After a few seconds, her voice came on the comm link.

"Isabelle Angelo. Premier Room 774. Second floor."

"Do we know if that's even her real name?" Ray asked.

"We don't know. And we don't care." Zari said flatly.

"We're gonna go up to her room and check for the drive. Miss Tomaz, you're with me." Her eyes settled on Amaya. "Amaya, stay here with Lance and make sure she doesn't hump the woman right there at the bar." Ava snarled, making her voice just a little bit louder.

Amaya, who had her glass up to her mouth, snorted right in her drink. When Ava turned to glance at Sara, the woman was smirking in hers.

Ava and Zari slipped out of The Cavalry Bar, and went their way to the second floor. Walking towards Belle's room, Zari spoke.

"Um, Ava, how are we gonna get inside?"

"Gideon, do you think you can take care of that?"

Gideon scoffed. "Frankly, Ava, I'm quite offended you even had to ask."

Just as she said that, the electronic keycard lock on Belle's door flashed green.

"Thanks, Gideon." Ava said. "Come on, Miss Tomaz. We have to be quick."

Ava and Zari stepped inside, and started looking for the hard drive, carefully placing everything they touched back to how and where they found it. Meanwhile, Sara continued to chat up Belle, and just asked what her favourite lipstick was, to which the woman just answered whatever Sara was wearing.

Zari let out a not-so-quiet 'ooohh, damn', while Ava rolled her eyes and groaned, before turning off her comms.

She looked up to see Zari looking at her with a knowing smirk.

"Everything okay?"

"Peachy," Ava said, her lips in a tight smile. "Keep looking."

After a few minutes of digging through Belle's things, Zari found the hard drive tucked in a secret pocket in the luggage.

"Jackpot! We found it guys." Zari exclaimed.

She brought out her DRC and started pressing some keys. She let out a curse when her device didn't work even after several attempts.

"Jesus Christ, Sara. I can't think while listening to you literally schmooze your way into 'Lancing' that woman." She said before turning off her own comms.

After a two more tries, the DRC beeped.

"There! We just have to wait until the screen says 100%." Zari said.

Back at the bar, Sara and Belle's flirty verbal exchanges had escalated to include light physical touches. After a while, Belle held Sara's gaze, eyes not hiding her intent.

"You know, I booked a room in this hotel." She threw Sara a seductive smile.

Before Sara could respond, Belle grabbed her arm and dragged her out her seat and of the bar.

"Oh, crap." Ray, Nate, and Amaya all said at the same time.

Amaya brought a finger up to her ear before speaking.

"Ava, Zari, target's on her way up. Get out of there!" A pause. "Ava. Zari. Come in." She waited a few seconds for either of them to respond but neither Zari nor Ava had spoken. "Shit."

"I believe both Zari's and Ava's comms had been turned off." Gideon said.

Sara, who was falling a few steps behind Belle, heard what Gideon said; dread rising in her chest.

"Fuck." She cursed under her breath.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

They were a few metres away from Belle's room when Sara saw the lock turn green. Thankfully, Belle had her head down looking for her keycard in her purse. In a state of panic, and seeing no other way, Sara yanked Belle's arm before the woman could see Ava and Zari come out of her room, pushed her against the wall, and started kissing her fervently; Belle kissed back after a moment of surprise, hands running up and down Sara's back.

It was what greeted both Ava and Zari when they opened the door. Zari, to keep herself from laughing or commenting, put a hand over her mouth . Ava, on the other hand, froze in place. After she recovered, she sucked in a breath and clenched her teeth, before motioning Zari to move.

When they walked past Sara and Belle, Ava heard a moan, not sure from whom it came.

Turning her comm back on, Ava gestured to Zari to do the same.

"We're on our way back there, Ray." A pause. "Lance, get yourself off that woman and get back to the car. RIGHT NOW."

When she looked back, she saw Sara and Belle stumbling their way into the room. She gritted her teeth before addressing Gideon.

"Gideon!" Ava, looking entirely pissed, yelled quite roughly. "Trigger the fire alarm."

Zari, who had a knowing smirk on her face, risked a glance at Ava.

"As you wish, boss." Gideon said, her tone smiling and slightly amused.

Zari and Ava were almost at the entrance when the fire alarm blared across the whole hotel. They walked their way back to where they had the car parked. When they got inside, Ava, still seething, plopped herself behind the wheel. Getting in the back seat, Zari caught Amaya's eyes, and the two exchanged a look.

It took a few minutes for Sara to finally join them. Once she got in the car, she turned around to face Amaya and Zari.

"Mission accomplished." She said, quite proudly.

As soon as Ava knew Sara had buckled her seat belt on, she drove off.

Sara turned her head to look at Ava but the agent just kept hers straight ahead, a dour look fixed on her face. Remembering she still had her comms on, Sara put a finger up to her ear.

"Nate, you still on?"

"Yeah." Nate replied.

"How's your hand?" Sara asked.

"It's okay. I'm not so sure about my ego, though."

Sara chuckled. "Oh, come on. Don't take it personally. The woman was clearly into women."

"So?" Nate said rather petulantly.

"Nathaniel," Amaya said, her tone warning. "don't be an entitled jerk."

"Sorry," Nate mumbled.

"I'll see you and Ray back at HQ." Sara said, laughing, then turned her comms off.

Sara turned to look at Ava again and waited, but the woman seemed to be refusing to even acknowledge her presence.

Zari, feeling the tension in the car, attempted to defuse it.

"Man, that fire alarm must have been a real bummer for you, Sara."

Sara turned her face towards the back seat, and laughed.

"Hey, you got a little something on your," Zari gestured around her own mouth, and then her neck. "and here, too."

Sara started wiping her mouth and neck. "What? It's like a badge of honour, Z."

Zari snickered. Amaya lightly smacked her in the arm, before turning to find Ava clench her jaw and tightening her grip on the steering wheel.

Sara risked another glance at Ava who still hadn't spoken since they left the hotel, and wasn't just looking very displeased, but also pissed, despite the obvious success of the mission.

Sara let out a frustrated sigh.

Great. What the hell did I do this time?

Chapter Text

Getting off the elevator and walking across the floor, Zari, Amaya, Nate, and Ray were trailing behind Ava, giving one another meaningful looks. Sara, however, was completely oblivious to whatever silent conversation her friends were currently having.

The entire drive back to HQ took about 15 minutes, but seeing as it was already late, there were only a few number of people left on their floor, Lily and Gideon included, both of whom congratulated them for the mission, as the two walked up to join them.

Amaya was staring at Ava almost the entire drive, wondering what was going on in her best friend's head. Having a strong feeling that she knew what was going to happen, Amaya tried to get Ava's attention as they were nearing her and Nate's desk.

"Av-"

"Lance. In my office. Now." Ava said as she walked towards her office, her voice firm.

"Oooh, you're in trouble." Zari sing-songed.

Sara rolled her eyes at her before walking away.

She found Ava standing on the far side of her office, the agent's back to her, head's a little down, one hand on her hip and the other, Sara assumed from the angle, was up to her face. Before Sara could even close the door behind her, Ava turned around, a mix of irritation and frustration evident on her face.

"You know, I've heard things about you, how you-" Ava paused. "..operate. But I've got to say, Miss Lance, now that I've seen you in action with my own eyes, you are even worse than I imagined."

"Did you ask me to come here just so you could insult me?" Sara's face turned hard. "Again."

Ava ignored her. She could feel her anger flaring in her chest and it almost hurt from her having to reign it in.

"What the hell were you thinking back there?"

Sara's brows knitted in confusion. "Uh, completing the mission?"

"Completing the mission," Ava said, still with a controlled voice, nodding her head. "I see. And that just had to include you getting your tongue down the target's throat?"

Sara looked at her incredulously.

"I had to think on my feet, okay? You and Zari were obviously going to be busted. What did you expect me to do?"

It was the way Sara pettishly threw the question at her that had Ava finally snapping.

"I expect you to act accordingly whether you're in here or out in the field!"

"I had to improvise, alright?! If anything, you should be thanking me for stepping up instead of yelling at me as if I didn't just save the mission!" Sara yelled back.

"Oh, you had to improvise?" Ava said, mockingly. "I'm sure you were completely miserable while you were sucking the target's face."

Sara's brows drew together, disbelief written clearly across her face.

"Are you fucking kidding me? We got what we needed, didn't we? So what the hell is your problem?"

"What's my pro-" Ava cut herself off, face painted with utter incredulity. "Are you really so full of yourself that you seriously fail to see the impropriety of your action?!"

"As far as I'm concerned, I did nothing wrong." Sara said indignantly. "And while we're on the subject of doing something wrong, why didn't you respond when Amaya was warning you that Belle and I-"

Ava huffed, cutting Sara off.

"Belle? I see you're on a first-name basis with the target, now. That's great. Did you leave her your number, too?" Ava said sarcastically.

Sara ignored her.

"Why didn't you respond when Amaya was warning you that I and the TARGET," Sara said, stressing the word. "were on our way up to her room? What, did you turn your comms off? After you had repeatedly reminded me to always keep the damn thing on."

Feeling her anger sear through her chest, Ava ignored Sara's question.

"The FBI does not go around fraternising with the mission's target, Miss Lance! But you just couldn't help it, could you?"

"Oh, I'm sorry?" Sara said, her tone patronising. "Were you not in the conference room yesterday when we were all brainstorming? Or did everything we talked about just completely go over your head? This was an undercover mission, Agent Sharpe. We were literally banking everything on me, or Nate originally," Sara made an air-quote gesture. "fraternising, as you like to call it, with the target."

"That's not what I meant and you know it! We have rules, Lance! We have protocols that we need to follow!"

"We? No." Sara shook her head. "Nuh-uh. The FBI has rules. YOU have protocols. I don't. I'm not FBI. Isn't that what you always like to remind me? That I'm just a civilian?"

Ava clenched her teeth and balled her fists. She could feel her face turn hot with anger and the vein in her neck pulse.

"You signed a consulting agreement, Lance. And that means whenever you're in this building or out in the field doing missions, the FBI is attached to your name. Your actions reflect on this agency. Do not disgrace or insult it by behaving in unprofessional or deplorable manners! If that is so hard for you to grasp, if you can't abide by the simple stipulations in your contract," Ava held out a hand and pointed it in the direction of the elevator. "the elevator is right there. You can pack your things, leave, and do not come back!"

Sara huffed, the built-up anger spreading in her chest, it was almost overwhelming.

"If I hadn't done what I did, you and Zari would've gotten caught. And considering what the target had in that room, what she came to the hotel to do, I can tell you with absolute certainty that she would've gotten the police involved. You would've been forced to identify yourself. She, on the other hand, could've just easily said you were looking for something else. You had no subpoena. She was under no obligation to produce anything. FBI or not, you were in that room illegally.

You all started working on this case months ago, so I suppose the court order for that wiretap had long since expired. We practically committed a federal crime listening in to that phone call. We also didn't go to the hotel armed with a search warrant. You had absolutely no legal ground to go searching in there, let alone take something. It would've created a whole mess that I'm sure your bosses, Rip included, wouldn't have been thrilled to clean up."

Ava opened her mouth to say something but closed it again when Sara continued.

"Tell me something, Agent Sharpe. Would you have done things differently? If I was the one in that hotel room with Zari, and you were with the target, with only a second to spare, what would you have done once you saw we were about to get caught?"

"I certainly wouldn't play tonsil hockey with the target!" Ava yelled.

"The hell you wouldn't!" Sara snapped back. "You know deep down that with the situation we were in, with the time I had-" Sara shook her head. "no, with the time I DIDN'T have, what I did was the most practical and logical thing to do; and you would realise that if you just pulled out the stick shoved so far up your own ass!"

Ava sucked in a sharp breath, clenched her teeth, and started advancing towards Sara, her fists curled so hard that her nails dug into her palm, and her eyes were flaming with anger.

"What did you just say?"

Amaya who, together with the rest of the team, had kept mum and been watching Sara and Ava the whole time, ran towards Ava's office, having finally decided to interfere between the two could possibly murder each other in rage.

"Guys," she said, placing herself a few steps behind Sara. "Please. Enough. You're both tired. You're obviously both angry. Why don't we all go home? Rip's gone home so our debriefing will have to wait until tomorrow. And then you two can talk about this when you've both calmed down."

"That won't be necessary." Sara said, her hard eyes still hadn't left Ava's. "I heard Agent Sharpe loud and clear." She turned on her heel, walked over to Amaya, and placed a hand on her shoulder. "I'm really glad I met you, Amaya. Thank you for making me feel so welcome."

With that, Sara left Ava's office and made a move towards where the rest was standing.

The implication of what Sara had said wasn't lost on Ava. It made her stomach and chest flash with something hollow and off-putting, but the anger she had been feeling was so intense that whatever it was got shoved down, before she could even process it.

"Sara," Amaya called after her.

"Z, we're leaving." she said, walking past the team and towards the elevator as if she hadn't heard Amaya call after her.

"See you, guys." Zari said to the team, then turned her head towards Amaya, and mouthed "I'll call you," while making a calling hand gesture.

Amaya nodded, then watched Zari's and Sara's retreating form. Once the elevator door had closed, she turned towards Ava who was earnestly tidying up her desk although it had always been nothing but immaculately neat.

"Ava-"

"Not now, Amaya." she said, cutting Amaya off before her best friend could say anything further, her eyes not meeting Amaya's gaze.

"Fine. But I'm sleeping over at your place tonight."

Ava, knowing Amaya would want her to talk about what just happened, had finally looked up, fully intending to say no, but there was something in her best friend's face that told her it wasn't up for discussion.

"Okay."

------------------------------

As soon as Zari had closed the door to their place, Sara went on a tirade, her anger still hadn't drained away.

"I cannot believe that stuck-up of a woman!"

Zari, feeling that she was going to have to listen to Sara talk for a while, plopped herself on the couch, and grabbed a throw pillow.

"She's had it out for me since the moment we met, Z." Sara said, pacing back and forth in front of Zari. "Actually, you know what, that's not right. She's had it out for me even BEFORE we met. You should've heard what she said about me that day. She said it with so much disdain that I had to think back if we had somehow met before and I had unknowingly given her a reason to warrant her hostility towards me. But no." Sara shook her head, her voice rising the more she spoke. "Ava fucking Sharpe just decided she hated me. What, because she'd seen my rap sheet, and in her eyes I'm a criminal? If that's all she sees me as, then she shouldn't have agreed with Rip to have me work with her on the case.

It's not like I begged her to let me join the team. Hell, I didn't even know there was a team in the first place until Rip told me. He was the one who asked me to work with them. I didn't want to. At least, not at first. But she should've said no when Rip brought us joining them up, with her. I mean, she has to have a say in decisions like that, right?"

Sara was talking so fast Zari wasn't sure if she caught all the words. When Sara stopped talking, Zari realised she was waiting for her to reply, though her best friend had not stopped pacing.

"I mean, I d- I ju-" She said, shrugging, while gesturing vaguely with her hand.

Sara must have not minded Zari's response, or the lack thereof, more to the point, because she started talking again.

"How were we supposed to know that Belle was gay? Nobody anticipated that. Nate sure as hell didn't. If it was him who had the job done, I'm pretty sure Ava would even pat his back. But because it was me who had, she foamed in her mouth. The mission obviously would've gone all the way to hell if I didn't step up. You couldn't because you had to be the one working the DRC. And Amaya.. Amaya's too.." Sara gestured with her hand, searching for a word. "..Amaya. I couldn't see her being able to bring out her sensual side just to distract Belle. Could you?"

"Amaya? Yeah, no." Zari shook her head.

"Right? And Ava," Sara huffed out a sarcastic laugh. "She couldn't seduce a woman wearing a flannel shirt and Doc Martens, and had a big sign on her forehead that said 'I'M A HUGE LESBIAN', even if she tried. She would've probably stammered her way throughout the whole conversation even is she wasn't straight."

Zari had known for a while that Ava was gay. Amaya had casually mentioned it once, when they were talking about the team hanging out together at The Waverider every once in a while, before she and Sara joined Team Legends. It had been quite amusing listening to her best friend go on about Ava being straight whenever she'd tease her about having 'unrealised' feelings for the agent; and she wanted to know how long it would take before Sara finally figured out the truth herself.

Zari craned her body forward. "Actually, Ava's n-"

She was about to tell Sara, but the latter just continued on as if Zari hadn't spoken.

"I didn't know Belle was going to invite me up to her room. The woman practically dragged me out of the god damn bar. And what was I supposed to do? Drag her too across the hallway and take her back to the bar? Cause yeah, that wouldn't have been suspicious at all. Or- or maybe Ava would've rather had me deck Belle in the head." Sara stopped pacing, and turned to face Zari. "You know me, Z. I would never hurt a woman." she said, then looked contemplative. "Not anymore, that is. Except in self-defense, maybe."

"I know, yeah. Uh-huh." Zari said, nodding her head a little vigorously to show her support for Sara.

"And I'm unprofessional?" Sara scoffed, then she resumed pacing. "As if she could've done a better job at averting the crisis. I would love to see her try." She stopped in her track, then turned to look at Zari. "Well, I suppose I won't have the chance now."

"What do you mean?" Zari asked, her face frowned in confusion.

"I kinda said I wasn't coming back." Sara said as she sat next to Zari.

"You did what?!" Zari exclaimed, sitting straight up on the couch.

"Ava told me to leave and not come back, so I told Amaya- well, I tacitly told her that it was exactly what I was going to do. Ava definitely heard it. I'm not going to grovel and crawl back to the Bureau after she had disparaged me like that to my face, then told me to piss off."

"I'm pretty sure that's not what Ava said. She said that if you c-"

"I know what she said, Z. I heard it. I was there."

Zari rolled her eyes.

"Look, will you sit your ass down for a second? My neck is starting to hurt looking up at you, and you're not even that tall."

"Fuck you," Sara said as she sat down.

"No, thank you. You're not my type."

"Oh, I know. Trust me, I know exactly what your type is. Or rather, wh-"

"Anyway," Zari cut her off, to which Sara snorted. "I'm just saying you were pretty mad back there. Both of you were. I mean, you were ready to quite literally bite Ava's head off. And between you and me, I don't trust the decisions I make when I'm angry, because chances are, I'll regret it." She paused. "Sleep on it, okay? Think about it, and tomorrow, when you're no longer angry, and you decide that you're really done working with the Bureau, then that's fine. I'll give the keys to this house back to Rip, and drag you back home to Chicago myself, if I have to."

Sara huffed out a laugh.

"My decision to leave the team doesn't have to affect you, Z. You're more useful to them than I could ever be. Hell, you're the reason I have all the information on Darhk. All I did was give you some names, and then you took it from there."

"That's not true. And even if it were," Zari held up a finger. "which it isn't, there's no one else on the team- not Rip, not even Ava- who has a stronger motivation or reason to want to see Darhk locked up, than you."

The rim of Sara's eyes started to feel hot. She ducked her head down, cleared her throat, and swallowed the lump that had started to form, before looking back up at Zari

"If you decide to not go back," Zari continued. "then I won't either."

"But Amaya-"

"Amaya and I will continue our," Zari cut Sara off but stopped when she saw her brow quirked up and her lips curled up into a smirk.

Zari rolled her eyes.

"Our friendship," Zari continued, glaring at Sara as she did so. "will continue even if I'm not on the team anymore. You and I," she smacked Sara playfully. "we're the OG team. Team Tomance-"

"How many times have I told you we're not calling us that?" Sara interjected, lightly smacking Zari back with a throw pillow.

Zari ignored her. "We're a package deal. So you're stuck with me."

Sara chuckled. "Thanks, Z."

"Now, enough with this serious talk. It's making my skin itch." Zari said as she stood up, and started walking towards the kitchen. "I'm freakin' starving. I would very much like to eat, if you're done being angry with the woman you clearly have the hots for, but have yet to realise it."

Sara grabbed a throw and threw it across the living room and at Zari. "I DO NOT HAVE THE HOTS FOR THAT HATEFUL WOMAN!"

Zari laughed sarcastically. "Yeah, sure. And I'm the bloody queen of England."

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

An hour after Sara and Zari left the Bureau, Amaya was seated in Ava's living room, listening to her best friend have a similar angry speech Sara just had with Zari, as she paced in front of her.

"I don't understand why Rip was so resolute about getting Sara on the team, Amaya. I don't get it. I really don't. We were doing just fine without her a-"

"Were we, though?" Amaya said, cutting Ava off, her eyes squinting a little.

Ava stopped pacing and turned to Amaya to glower at her.

"I mean... Obviously, we were fine." Amaya said, attempting to backtrack. "But you have to admit, if it weren't for her, we never would've known who Thea Queen is, and how she's related to Merlyn and Darhk. The team didn't know about her. I sure didn't. We haven't checked what's on that file, but I'm confident it will at least give us some leads on Darhk's operation."

"Just because she provided us with that one information, doesn't mean I don't have a problem with her." Ava said in a frosty tone, as she resumed pacing.

"What exactly is your problem with Sara? You never really told me."

"I told you sh-"

"You told me she ha-" Amaya cut herself off. "Will you please stop pacing, and sit down? I'm seriously getting dizzy watching you.

Amaya waited for Ava to sit next to her, before continuing.

"As I was saying, you told me she has a very colorful rap sheet. But none of those charges stuck, Ava. And even if they did, I've never taken you for someone who would judge a person so harshly based solely on their past. So what really is it?"

"Are y- are you serious?" Ava asked, looking at Amaya incredulously. "She's a diabolical menace, Amaya! She's like a thorn in my side! Sara has been pulling pranks on me for almost three weeks now. And it's just me she's doing that to. I have begun dreading coming into my own office, fearing what mischievous trick she's gonna play on me next. My own office, Amaya! I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack every time I come to work. The woman clearly has no respect for me or my job."

Amaya shot her a sympathetic look.

"I don't like her work ethics," Ava continued. "It's completely reprehensible. Some of her clients go to her for help to find out whether their spouse is cheating on them. And what does Sara do? She goes around taking advantage of their vulnerability and sleeps with them. Honestly, I'm surprised she hasn't tried to sleep with anyone at the Bureau."

Amaya's brows shot up, then she gave Ava a knowing smirk.

"Would you like to volunteer?"

"I would sooner practice celibacy than sleep with Sara Lance." Ava said with unconcealed asperity.

Amaya hummed, her lips curled up into a small smile, before shrugging her shoulders and speaking with feigned nonchalance in her voice.

"Yeah, I suppose you don't have to volunteer. Half of the agents on our floor alone want to sleep with her. I mean, you should see how Guinevere looks at her. Or Anne Marie. That woman has it so bad for Sara."

Ava's brows drew together. "Agent Maurice? Isn't she married? To a man?"

Amaya chuckled. "Was. I heard they got divorced. And bisexuality is a thing, Ava."

"Oh," Ava exclaimed. "I just always thought she was straight."

"Apparently not," Amaya said. "I think it would be safe to say that a number of straight women at the Bureau wouldn't stay that way for too long now, if I were to believe what you're saying about Sara."

"It wasn't me who said that about her. I just told you what I heard from the guys over at MPDC*. They also said something about her drinking habits; how Sara brings it on the job. Would you believe she could drink every cop there under the table?"

Amaya put on a teasing smile.

"Since when do you gossip with your friends at MPDC?"

"Well, they're not really my friends. They're more like acquaintances. Like what they are to you." A pause. "And I don't need to gossip. There are evidence. Those charges? Sara's investigative methods are unconventional. And by that, I mean downright illegal. Assaulting people, stealing and/or damaging things, breaking into places. I could go on."

"Oh, so we're still there? The charges? That were DROPPED?" Amaya said dryly, repositioning herself on the couch. "Okay."

Ava rolled her eyes.

"And you know what I don't understand? She's a complete jerk to me, but to everyone else, she's... genial; and as it turns out, she's won over almost everyone at HQ. Not just on our floor. I mean the whole building. I mean, how is that even possible? I've been working there for years, and I'm pretty sure I can count the people who like me, on my fingers. Sara hasn't been working with us for full three weeks, and everyone seems to already love her. How is anybody that likable? I seriously want to know, Amaya, because they all think she's cool and awesome and funny and charming and whatever. But I don't see it. All I see is a little shit who loves giving me a hard time."

Amaya looked at her inquisitively, a smile lingering on her face.

"Ava, have you actually talked to Sara? I mean, have a real conversation with her that did't involve work? Because I don't think you have." A pause. "You might even like her, you know. She's funny, smart, and quick-witted; and according to Zari, she's incredibly loyal. Something you and her have in common. If you give her a chance, maybe you'll realise that the two of you have more in common than you think. And if you tried, maybe you'd find that she's actually all those things people say about her."

"There are only three things Sara and I have in common." Ava said, then started ticking her fingers off. "One, we're both blondes. Two, we both went to Columbia. And three, we both want to put Darhk behind bars. Speaking of whom, have you noticed something about her every time one of us so much as mentions him?"

Amaya's brows knitted together. "Sara? No, why?"

"I notice how she freezes or gets tensed. Sometimes, her hand reaches up to her necklace. I don't even think she realises that she's doing it."

"Well, when you told me about Sara joining our team, you said her sister gave it to her, right? Maybe it's her security blanket. Frankly, Ava, I would've thought you'd know about that. You are, after all, a profiler." Amaya said teasingly.

"That's just the thing, Amaya. I've never met anyone who I can't immediately see right through. It may have taken me a while to figure you out, but back then, my isolationist tendencies were at their peak, and I had some serious trust issues."

Amaya's brow quirked up, her smile razzing. "Back then?"

Ava rolled her eyes. "I had stronger isolationist tendencies and a lot more trust issues back then THAN I do now."

Amaya hummed.

"My point is," Ava continued. "I find it easy to read people. Sara, on the other hand... I can't get a read on her. I look at her and it's like... looking at a concrete." Ava said, a slight irritation etched in her voice.

Amaya regarded her with a curious expression that then morphed into one of surprise and understanding. When she spoke, she had a huge smile on her face.

"Oh, my god," she exclaimed. "That's it, isn't it?"

"Is what it?" Ava inquired, her brows creasing.

"She's an enigma to you! An indecipherable riddle. Unlike those puzzles you always solve easily. Except, you're not able to solve Sara... And that frustrates you like nothing else ever has." Amaya said, her voice rising as her excitement grew. "That's why you have all these feelings for her."

"I DO NOT HAVE FEELINGS FOR SARA LANCE!" Ava exploded, prompting an amused smirk and quirked brows on Amaya.

"I didn't mean THOSE kind of feelings. I meant, all this animosity, your obvious aversion to her." A pause. "But it's rather interesting that you thought THOSE feelings are what I meant." she said, then wiggled her brows at Ava.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Ava said, crossing her arm defensively, brows knitted together. "You're right about me getting frustrated, though; but it's not because of the travesty that just came out of your mouth. It's because Sara Lance is an adult child who needs to be supervised all the time, because otherwise, she'll cause all kinds of trouble; therefore getting ME in trouble."

Amaya smiled a soft smile and shook her head.

"And oh, don't even get me started with how easily she had devilised Ray and Nate." Ava said.

Amaya chuckled.

"I'm serious, Amaya. Those two, it's like every time they're around Sara and Zari, they turn into children. And I'm the tired mother who has to keep her kids on a leash." Ava sighed. "Have you not noticed how Ray has been spending more time now at your work area? Before Sara and Zari, he barely left his lab. Back at BAU, if we weren't on a case, Nate would spend his free time buried in books. You know that. I don't have to tell you. And you-"

"Do not lump me in with Ray and Nate when you just referred to them as children." Amaya said, cutting Ava off, feigning offense.

Ava huffed out a laugh.

"I was going to say, you seem different yourself. You seem.. I don't know.. happier. I've never seen you smile as much as you have in the last three weeks. Although, I wouldn't attribute that to Sara. Zari definitely deserves the credit for that one."

Amaya rolled her eyes, then lightly smacked Ava's arm.

"Can we please turn our focus back on Sara?"

Ava took a deep breath, a resigned look on her face.

"I'm just exhausted, Amaya. And I don't just mean tonight." Ava brought up a hand and massaged her forehead. "I haven't been sleeping well in two weeks. I've been getting these terrible headaches and some other stuff. I'm so stressed. This case is getting to me. We have been working on this for months and we aren't even remotely close to finding Darhk. We have no idea where he is, or what his grand plan is. For all we know, he's plotting to destabilise the whole country."

"Exactly," Amaya remarked. "All the more reason we need Sara."

"I just don't think I can continue to have her on the team. You know me better than anyone else. I don't get angry. Not really. But lately, that's all I've been feeling and it's all because of Sara. You saw what could've happened the other day had Gideon not interrupted us. I was ready to attack her, Amaya. I really was. Consequences be damned. She's just so.." Ava trailed off.

She pursed her lips, held up her hands, and flex her fingers as if strangling someone, and groaned.

"..frustrating and annoying and childish and arrogant and conceited and smug and so full of herself and so infuriating and so-"

"Hot," Amaya said briefly, cutting Ava off and looking at her expectantly.

"Hot," Ava froze as soon as the word left her mouth, a spark of panic fluttering in her chest. When she looked up, Amaya had a brow quirked up, and a knowing grin on her face.

"Well, I've got eyes, Amaya." she said defensively, her voice noticeably sounded at least an octave higher. "And I'm not blind. I can objectively admit when a person is visually agreeable."

Amaya huffed out a quiet laugh and then shook her head.

"What?"

"Visually agreeable, really? You couldn't have said beautiful or attractive like a normal person?"

Ava gave Amaya a look. "You know I'm the farthest thing from normal."

"Touché."

"Anyway, me finding her vis-" Ava cut herself off when Amaya gave her a look. "or whatever, means nothing because Sara Lance is a troll. She keeps making fun of me, mocking me every chance she gets. I really believe she revels in seeing me silently rage, and is just waiting for me to go off."

"Well, I mean, you kinda did tonight." Amaya said, shrugging her shoulders.

"That's different. I went off on her because of how unprofessional she acted tonight, not because she was personally provoking me with her ridiculous and petty childishness."

Amaya hadn't responded. When Ava looked up at her again, her best friend's eyes were questioning.

"What, Amaya?" Ava asked, looking slightly exasperated.

"It's just- you were so mad, Ava. Really mad, like.. furious. For a second, I was genuinely scared for Sara's life." Amaya said jokingly. "I have never ever seen you be angry like that; not in almost 11 years that we've been friends. And please," She held up a finger. "before you tell me you hate unprofessionalism, let me remind you that there are other agents who have done a lot worse, and yet I don't see you admonishing any of them like you did Sara, even knowing that you could. You're an SAC- you outrank every field agent at HQ. So tell me, what really made you lose your cool tonight?"

"Those other agents aren't on my team. I may be an SAC, but I'm not their CO. It's Assistant Director Bennett or their Unit Chief who should discipline them. And like I said, sh-"

"I would like to know how you would've answered Sara's question." Amaya said plainly, cutting Ava off.

Ava's brows furrowed. "Which was?"

"Would you have done things differently? If you were in her shoes, what would you have done to keep the target from catching her and Zari snooping around in her hotel room?"

Ava opened her mouth, but clamped it back shut when Amaya spoke.

"If I was the one up there with the target instead of Sara, you would've been caught because I wouldn't have thought of anything. My mind would've blanked in a state of panic, as I'm sure Sara was in when neither you nor Zari responded when I said they were on their way up, and more so when she saw the lock flash green." Amaya paused, gauging Ava's reaction.

"Sara didn't have time to think, Ava. She did what I'm sure she believed would keep the target distracted long enough for you and Zari to get out of there undetected. Isn't that why Rip sought her help in the first place? Because she's creative and quick on her feet and has a talent for thinking outside the box? She was also right about you being in the room illegally. Can you imagine the kind of trouble we all could've been in if you and Zari got caught? Not only could we have lost this case to another team, we could've lost our badges, too. And probably be on our way to prison way before we could put Darhk there. Rip wouldn't hurt a fly, but he probably would've killed us all."

"Well, when you say it like that, Sara's action made sense." Ava said, almost spitting the words, and crossing her arms petulantly.

Amaya laughed.

"Ava, Sara said the same thing to you tonight. She just used different words, but you were so angry that you weren't really hearing what she was saying."

Ava was about to say something, but before she could get a word in, Amaya continued.

"So yeah, now that we've established that what Sara did was the best course of action given the situation, I don't think her acting unprofessionally, as you called it, was the real reason you got so mad tonight."

Ava's brows dipped in confusion.

"What other reason could I possibly have?"

Amaya gave her a soft look and a small smile.

"I think it's only a matter of time before you figure it out yourself."

When Ava looked even more confused, Amaya chuckled.

"We have to think of a way to get her to come back to the team, because I'm pretty sure she just said goodbye to me. And it wasn't the 'see you tomorrow' kind of goodbye, but more like the 'goodbye' goodbye. You know what I mean?"

"I heard what she said to you. And I know what that meant. I won't lose sleep over her not coming back." Ava paused. "Rules are put in place to be followed, not to be treated with blatant disregard. And I'm not going to apologise to Sara for wanting to stick to such rules, Amaya."

Amaya chuckled. "Of course you're not." she said. After a moment of looking pensive, a grin flickered across her face. "Leave it to me. I'll take care of it."

Amaya untucked her leg from under her and stood up. "We should get some sleep. It's awfully late."

"You go ahead. I'll just stay here for a couple more minutes."

"Alright then." Amaya said, before walking away.

"Amaya," Ava called after her. "Thank you... for not letting me stew in my anger alone."

Amaya smiled. "Of course." she said then headed upstairs.

After Amaya left, Ava thought back on what transpired hours before. One of Ava's rules every time they're on a mission, especially if it's a big or dangerous operation, is to keep their comms turned on at all times, because they also have a built-in GPS tracker, and switching them off meant they couldn't be tracked. So why had she turned hers off today? She told herself it was because the conversation was distracting her from going through the target's hotel room, and it was keeping her from doing the task quickly.

When she opened the door and saw Sara and the target kissing, a large part of her brain- the one that adheres strictly to rules- told her everything that was happening in front of was against protocol, and that was exactly what made her furious at Sara about the whole thing- her unprofessionalism. But now that she had time to cool off and think back, Ava was willing to acknowledge that when she saw Sara and the target together, she felt a flicker of something she hadn't felt before in her chest- something sharp and unpleasant; something she was sure was completely unwanted, something Ava couldn't put a finger on.

Ava had just decided she would file it away for later, when she realised something- she just admitted out loud for the first to herself and Amaya that she found Sara attractive. And now that she had, she was afraid that her stupid lesbian brain might take her to places it shouldn't go, ones she definitely does not want to go- places that led in the direction of Sara fucking Lance.

Because if it does, then it's only a matter of time before...

"Only a matter of time before.." Amaya's words rang in her head.

Oh, Ava thought.

Oh, no.

Chapter Text

Sara had given Rip's address to the Uber driver, and was a bit apprehensive in the back seat. She hadn't decided on what to tell Rip about the whole leaving-the-team thing, and was currently thinking about how to break the news to him. When he had called earlier, she thought that perhaps Ava had beat her to it and that he was going to have a talk with her about it. Instead he had called to tell her to come by his house around four in the afternoon if she wasn't doing anything pressing at work, which meant he wasn't at the Bureau and that he still had yet to know that she and Ava had yelled each other's head off the previous night. Rip said he had decided to stay home because Jojo was throwing a tantrum and couldn't be calmed down by her babysitter. He told Sara she'd been in D.C. for three weeks and she had yet to meet her daughter, so maybe it was time the two of them met.

She woke up this morning later than usual with a splitting headache and a nasty taste in her mouth. She had stayed up late last night, long after Zari had gone to bed, shamelessly consuming a bottle of scotch. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, her best friend had come out of her room to use the bathroom and had given her a light rebuke about her "drinking problem", to which Sara had only chuckled. Whenever she drank, which was almost every night, the one thing her thoughts would always bring her to, was Laurel. It had always been like that since after she died. But last night was the first time she didn't think of her sister.

Sara found herself thinking of Ava instead- the woman who had regarded her with such animosity- and her over obsession with following the rules, the way she commands the team's respect without even trying, and how she takes her job very seriously. Sara thought about the agent's compulsive need for control, or how she would clench her jaw and ball her fists when Sara was getting a rise out of her and Ava was trying to hold her anger in. She thought about the ridiculous tight bun Ava also wore and her dumb pantsuits and her stupid mouth that only ever criticised her and spewed words of resentment towards her.

Her mouth, Sara thought.

She shook herself off before she could start thinking about Ava in that way.

Nope. Absolutely not.

Ava was attractive, sure. Very much so. That was an irrefutable fact. Anybody who had eyes and wasn't blind could say as much. If it were someone else, Sara might have been all over her. Except this wasn't just someone else. This was Ava, and she and her were not just the exact opposite of each other, but also possessing such polarity in their personality that the clashing of which could be highly catastrophic, and Sara just wasn't too keen about that. There was also this one teeny-tiny detail that would hammer their difference home- Ava Sharpe was straight.

Zari would have argued that it hadn't stopped her before, but there was just something about the agent that told her Ava was not like any other woman she had met before- straight or not. Either way, none of that mattered anymore because by the time she had emptied the bottle of scotch the night before, Sara had decided she wasn't going back to the Bureau. She wanted nothing more than to put Darhk behind bars, but she wasn't somebody who had no pride. She wasn't willing to beg Ava to let her back on the case. If there was one thing she had learnt ages ago, it was that she wasn't going to stay in a place where she was unwanted; with people who didn't want her. And Ava.. Well, Ava had made it perfectly clear on more than one occasion that she didn't want Sara on her team.

Sara had told Zari in the morning about her decision not to go back to work with the Bureau, and reminded her once again that she could still go back if she wanted to, to which Zari only said that the only reason she was even with the FBI in the first place was because of Sara, and Zari going back without her didn't make sense. Zari, however, told her she didn't know the previous night that Sara had quit so she had left behind some of her stuff at HQ, and that she needed to get them. Zari left for the Bureau just before noon telling Sara she wanted to catch the team and eat lunch with them one last time. Sara told her to say goodbye to them for her and that to keep in touch.

Sara didn't realise she got lost in her thoughts until after the Uber driver told her they had reached their stop. She paid the driver, got out of the car, then rang the doorbell. She was let in by a friendly-looking old man who led her to the patio where Rip was currently reading something, while his daughter was playing a few feet away.

Sensing some movement, Rip looked up from whatever he was reading, and saw Sara walking towards him.

"Sara," Rip said as he stood, smiling. "You made it. And earlier, too. I'm impressed."

Sara rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, meeting my niece is a top priority." she said, smiling as she turned to look at a little girl with brown hair.

"Jojo, sweetie," Rip called out. "Can you come here for just a second, please? I want you to meet someone."

Jojo, who had been playing with some action figures, walked towards them, eyeing Sara curiously.

"Sweetheart, do you remember when you told me about your best friend and you asked me if I had one?"

"Mm-hmm," Jojo nodded.

"I said I had two," Rip recalled. "Do you remember?"

"Yes, daddy. I remember."

"Well, you're about to meet one of them. This.." Rip looked at Sara. "is your Aunt Sara."

Rip turned his head back at Jojo, gently guiding her towards Sara. "Go on, baby. It's okay. Introduce yourself."

Rip gave Sara a soft nod, then Sara crouched down in front of Jojo.

"Hi," Sara said, smiling. "I'm Sara. What's your name?"

Jojo was looking at Sara sheepishly. "My name is Joanne Laurel Hunter. Jojo, for short. I'm 4!" Jojo held up four fingers.

Sara, hearing what Jojo middle name was, snapped her head towards Rip who had a soft smile on his face. She could feel tears start to pool in her eyes, and a knot forming in her throat. Clearing it, she turned her head back at Jojo, a small smile on her face.

"You have a beautiful name, Jojo."

"Thank you. You do, too." Jojo said, before turning her head to her left, her eyes suddenly lighting up.

"Aunt Ava!" Jojo said as she ran up towards Ava.

Sara, hearing whose name Jojo called out, froze; her heart doing a little jump in her chest.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Ava came in to work on Thursday morning, just one minute short of being late. The Bureau didn't really have a strict schedule on what time to come, especially for a high-ranking agent like her, but she had made a routine of not coming in later than eight in the morning, for as long as she had been with the Bureau; and today wasn't an exception despite the lack of sleep and the heaviness her body was feeling.

She had stayed up late last night, just tossing and turning in her bed, trying to clear her thoughts of one Sara Lance, and willing them not to go there. Having admitted that Sara was attractive, Ava had been actively schooling her brain that just because she found the woman aesthetically pleasing, did not mean that she should allow herself to attribute something more to Sara than physical attractiveness. That just wasn't going to happen. It couldn't happen. Ever.

After spending about 15 minutes sending emails and answering those sent to her since after she logged out the night before, Ava looked outside to check on her team's desks and found that both Zari's and Sara's were unoccupied. She felt something flash in her stomach, and refused to dwell on it by shaking herself off. On their morning briefing, nobody on the team had commented on Zari's and Sara's absence or asked if they were coming back. She supposed that since they overheard her and Sara yelling at each other last night, the team knew that there was a chance that Sara would heed Ava's words, and really leave and not come back.

Ava spent the rest of the morning stuck at her desk doing paperwork, and if she hadn't heard her stomach growl, she wouldn't have known what time it was. She looked around the floor, and saw Nate's and Amaya's desk were empty, which meant they had probably all gone out for lunch just as they had been since Sara and Zari's arrival almost three weeks ago. During their debriefing with Assistant Director Wilbur Bennett, and their usual morning briefing, she couldn't help but notice the somber expression on her team's faces. She was also aware of the fact that Ray had only stopped by at Nate's and Amaya's desk once. The atmosphere circling around the floor had also turned gloomy because of the lack of what had become usual chatters and sudden bursts of laughter among the agents that, now that Ava had allowed herself to acknowledge the same, were usually Sara's doing.

She had just finished tidying up her already-spotless desk when the elevator dinged and she heard what she was sure was the sound of Zari's laughter. Ava's head automatically shot up at the sound, subconsciously craning her neck to have a better view of the people getting off. Her team filed out one by one; even Gideon and Lily who barely got out of their respective work space were with them. She had the same feeling she felt flickering in her stomach earlier, simmer up when the last person to got off was an agent from another unit, and not someone else Ava was most definitely not hoping deep down, to be.

Ava shook herself off and chalked up whatever she was feeling, to her being absolutely famished. When she looked back up, she saw Zari glanced her way and gave her a small smile, to which Ava only gave a nod.

Missing breakfast and it being already way past noon, Ava decided to grab some lunch and was on the way out of her office when her phone rang. Her phone display said it was Rip calling. For a second, she felt her stomach turn, thinking she was about to get a lecture for kicking Sara out of the team, until she realised he couldn't possibly know because she hadn't told him. None of her teammates would dare break the news about Sara's leaving to him, either. So she sat back down before answering the call.

"Rip," Ava said.

"Ava. If you're not busy, will you please come by my house? Perhaps around four? Your goddaughter was rather insistent about seeing you today. She had been pouting for ages about you forgetting her."

Ava laughed. "Tell Jojo I'll be seeing her later. And that I've got something for her."

"I'll see you, then." Rip said before hanging up.

Ava had a smile on her face when she ended the call. She wasn't the kind of woman who doted on kids, mainly because she didn't know how to act around them. There was also the fact that she wasn't much of a kid herself, on account of her having to grow up too fast. For her, her childhood was a big blur, so to speak. She could barely handle adult interactions, let alone ones with children.

It was, however, different with Jojo. From the moment she was born, Ava had been spoiling her rotten. She adored that kid so much, and it had, in fact, been a while since she'd seen her last. Working on the Darhk case had Ava's hands full, not to mention, she still had other responsibilities as an SAC, so her free time had been somewhat scarce. Having decided to go over at Rip's earlier than four if nothing important suddenly came up, she removed a paper bag from one of her desk drawers, grabbed her purse, and was about to stand up from her seat when Zari knocked on the already-open door.

"Agent Sharpe, hey." Zari said, standing a little awkwardly at Ava's doorway. "I'm just here to grab my stuff."

"Okay."

"Also to, um, thank you for letting me work with you guys. It's been an honour." Zari smiled. "I'm sure Sara would say the same."

Ava huffed out a soft laugh, her lips curled up in a barely-there smile.

"I doubt that she would, Miss Tomaz." A pause. "Thank you for your assistance. Last night's mission wouldn't have been successful had it not been for you and your design."

"Thanks," Zari said. "And I'm sorry things didn't work out."

Ava just nodded. Zari had just turned around to leave but was stopped by Ava's voice.

"Zari," Ava called after her. When Zari faced her again, Ava had a small smile on her face. "I hope your leaving doesn't affect your... friendship.. with Amaya. You're good for her, you know? And I can see she's fond of you."

Zari smiled, a hopeful look on her face. "Don't worry, Ava. It won't. Not if I can help it."

"Good," Ava said, now fully smiling, before grabbing her stuff. She walked out of her office and towards Amaya's desk; Zari, trailing a few steps behind her.

"Hey, Amaya. I'm going out for lunch. And I need to be somewhere so I'll probably take the rest of the day off. I'm leaving you in charge. Will you call me if something comes up?"

Ava left after having been assured by Amaya that she would handle things in her absence, but not before she saw her and Zari exchange a look. She could've sworn she saw a flash of mischief and something else in her best friend's eyes, but she figured it was just because Zari was around.

On her way to Rip's after eating lunch, her thoughts had once again involuntarily drifted to Sara and the undeniable mark she had left on her team and everyone else on the floor- all in the span of less than three weeks that the woman was working with the Bureau. Ava shook the thought away when she rounded the corner near Rip's house. She parked her car, grabbed her purse and her surprise gift for Jojo, and rang the bell. She was let in by the same old man who let Sara in.

"Ava. It's been a while." The man said, smiling.

"David, hey. Yeah, I've been pretty busy with work." Ava said, smiling back.

"Come," David said as he led Ava to the patio. "I'll bring you to Rip and Jojo. And their guest."

Ava's eyebrows slightly creased. "They have a guest?" she asked. "Who?"

Before David had a chance to answer, Ava heard a familiar voice the owner of which was unmistakable. Ava stopped in her tracks, her heart doing some weird twist in her chest. When she looked up, she saw Sara crouched down in front of Jojo.

"Hi. I'm Sara. What's your name?"

"My name is Joanne Laurel Hunter. Jojo, for short. I'm four!"

Ava saw the way Sara's head whipped towards Rip. She could only imagine what Sara must be feeling finding out Rip made his daughter her sister's namesake. When Sara turned her head back to look at Jojo, her face looked relaxed. Any traces of tension were gone, her lips were curled up into a small smile and her eyes seemed a little glossy. Ava didn't even think it was possible for Sara's eyes to get even more blue. And yet there they were, looking straight at Jojo in a way that was drawing Ava in and making her heart seize in her chest. She was transfixed by the look in the other woman's face because she looked...

Soft, Ava thought.

"You have a beautiful name, Jojo." she heard Sara say.

Ava wasn't aware how long she had been staring at Sara for, because the next thing she knew, Jojo was calling out her name, smiling as the girl ran up towards her with her arms outstretched, and pulling Ava out of thoughts, much to her gratitude.

"Hi, munchkin!" Ava said, smiling as she held her arms out, before crouching down to the girl's level to hug her. "I missed you so much! I'm sorry I didn't come to see you sooner."

Sara, who was standing straight back up, almost faltered because of the sight before her- Ava Sharpe was smiling. The disapproving agent whom she had only seen frown, glare, or glower, mostly at her, was actually smiling a full smile. And the thought of this new Ava- the smiling, almost-beaming one, caused something in Sara's chest to unsettle, and she didn't like it one bit.

"I missed you, too, Aunt Ava. And it's okay. Dad told me you were just busy being a superhero. " Jojo said as she pulled back, then craned her neck a little, looking over Ava's shoulder. "Where's Max?"

From where Sara was standing, she could see Ava's face turn somber and looking crestfallen for a second, before immediately schooling her features back into a smile.

Who's Max? Sara thought.

"Max is.. Max is away for work. But I'm sure you'll see each other again." A beat. "Speaking of superhero.." Ava pulled out the gift bag from behind her, and handed it to Jojo. "I got you something."

Jojo took the bag, reached in, and took out a Supergirl action, then gasped.

"Supergirl! She's my favourite!" Jojo exclaimed, then hugged Ava. "Thank you, Aunt Ava."

"You're welcome, munchkin." Ava said, smiling as she returned the girl's hug.

Jojo pulled back then ran back towards where Rip and Sara were. Ava got on her feet, but had not taken a step towards them.

"Dad, look!" she said, showing Rip the action figure. "Aunt Ava gave me this."

"That's great, sweetie." Rip said, smiling. "Why don't you take that back inside so you can play with it, huh? Dad has to talk to Aunt Ava and Aunt Sara. Okay, baby?"

Jojo nodded, then ran towards the house.

Rip looked in the direction of Ava who seemed to have been frozen where she stood.

"Ava, don't just stand there and come join us here."

Ava took a deep breath before straightening her back even more, and walked up to the two. When she got there, Rip crossed his arms over his chest.

"I think you two know by now why you're really here." Rip started. "Amaya called me this morning."

Ava huffed then shook her head lightly.

"Of course she did." Ava said dryly. This was what Amaya meant when she said she would take care of the Sara situation. She should've known.

"Now, shall we discuss what went on last night right now or would you rather have some snacks first?"

"I just ate," Ava responded almost immediately. "I should go play with Jojo."

"That can wait, Ava." Rip said, then turned to Sara and quirked up a brow at her.

Sara rolled her eyes. "I'm not talking about this shit on an empty stomach." she said, before walking up towards the living room.

After Sara left, Ava shot Rip a pointed glare, to which he only chuckled.

"If I had told you Sara would be here too, you wouldn't have come."

"You're damn right I wouldn't have!" she snapped.

Rip laughed then he and Ava followed Sara back into the house.

------------------------------

In the dining room, Rip sat at the head of the table and Sara was on his left. Ava, on the other hand, positioned herself as far away from Sara as the table could provide space. Ava gave Rip a rundown on their debriefing about the mission with Assistant Director Bennett. Sara, for her part, just sat there the whole time, quietly listening, and keeping her comments to herself.

As soon as Sara was done eating, Jojo came in and asked her father to play with her.

"Hey, kid. Your dad's still talking to that grumpy old woman over there," Sara said as she pointed in Ava's direction.

Ava pointedly scowled at Sara, while Jojo chuckled.

"Is it okay if I play with you instead?" Sara asked, hoping she could avoid the whole talk thing with Ava and Rip.

Jojo nodded.

"Cool," Sara said, smiling, then held out a hand for Jojo to take. "Let's go!"

After Sara and Jojo left the dining room, Rip turned to Ava.

"So..." Rip said, intentionally drawing the word out.

Ava rolled her eyes. "Whatever you want to say, Rip, just say it."

"You told Sara to leave and not come back."

"That's not what I said. What I said was if she couldn't stick to the terms of her contract, THEN she should leave and not come back. It's not my fault if that's the case." Ava declared, folding her arms in front of her defensively.

Rip shook his head then breathe out a sigh in resignation. "You're almost as stubborn as she is."

Ava, looking completely outraged, gave Rip a look as though he just said the most offensive thing to her. "Don't you align me with her."

Rip laughed then motioned for Ava to stand up. "If you're not gonna eat, let's continue this conversation on the patio."

The two of them came in to the living room to the sound of laughter and giggles. Sara was carrying Jojo, who had on a makeshift cape, on her back, while the girl was making airplane noises, one arm upstretched while the other was loosely wrapped around Sara's neck.

Ava immediately frowned at the sight.

How in the h..., Ava thought.

Jojo wasn't one of those children who would get easily taken by. She was a shy kid and it would usually take her quite a while before she could get comfortable around someone new. It took weeks for Jojo to even let Max hold her, and yet here was the kid, looking like she was having the time of her life giggling with Sara whom she literally just met. What it was with Sara that made people gravitate towards her with ease, was something Ava didn't think she would ever understand.

"Faster, Aunt Sara! Run faster!" Jojo exclaimed in-between giggles. When she saw Ava, she waved at her. "Aunt Ava, look! Aunt Sara is giving me piggyback ride" A pause. "Just like Max did."

Sara saw, more than she heard, Ava take in a sharp breath.

Okay, who exactly is this Max?

Ava forced a smile. "Yeah, munchkin. I can see that."

Sensing Ava's sudden discomfort, Rip told Jojo to go find David, and waved Sara over after she gently put Jojo down. When the three of them got to the patio, Rip told Sara and Ava to sit, and then he went straightforward.

"I understand things got heated between the two of you after your mission last night. A successful one, might I add. And I heard both of you had said some offensive, if not hurtful, things to each other, but I'm going to ascribe that to you both being tired and it being already late. Now, you need to clear the air so the the two of you can move on and get back to w-"

"I'm not going back," Sara said decisively, cutting Rip off.

Ava knew from Zari that Sara had quit, but actually hearing it straight from her made Ava feel something akin to when your stomach dropped, and th-

"..unless Sharpe here apologises for all the shit she said to me." Sara continued, immediately breaking Ava out of whatever funk she was just in.

Ava snapped her head towards Sara, her expression a combination of disbelief and anger.

"You have got some nerve, Lance." Ava said, almost like she was spitting the words out. " I'm not going to apologise for telling you to act like the professional you ought to be. But I guess that was just too much to ask, wasn't it?"

"Do you ever get tired of being on that high horse of yours all the time?" Sara fired back.

"Must be nice to a-"

"ENOUGH! Both of you." Rip said, before turning to Sara and pointing a finger at her. "Sara, you signed a contract. I don't care how long it takes but until the case is closed, the only way for you to be released from your contractual obligation is if the other party to the contract gives you their prior consent, that other party being the FBI; me, specifically. And you certainly do not have my consent."

"Rip-"

"I'm not finished," Rip said, holding up a finger. "You can leave, sure. If that's what you wish. But if the FBI sues you for breach of contract, then there's nothing I can do about that. Do you really want to subject yourself to a lawsuit against a federal agency?"

Sara stared defiantly at Rip. After a few seconds, she closed her eyes and sighed in resignation.

"Great," Rip said, then turned to Ava. "And you. I specifically remember you saying Sara's done IF she sabotages your missions. From what I heard, it's because of her that last night's mission was a success in the first place."

Ava heard Sara exclaim a sharp 'hmp' and could see the smug look she was giving her, from her peripheral vision.

"And you know I remember saying she's also out if she makes my job h-"

"Harder, yes. I remember." Rip said, cutting Ava off. "Had Sara, though?"

Ava huffed. She could tell Rip about the endless pranks and unprofessional conducts Sara had been doing, and all the headaches and stressed she'd suffered since Sara became a part of the team, but she had a feeling there was nothing she could say to change Rip's mind. He had made his decision and any argument she presented would just be thrown out.

"I'm not even going to bother, Rip. It sounds to me that neither Lance nor I have any say in this."

Rip grinned. "That's right." A pause. "That settles it, then. I expect to see you both at the Bureau tomorrow. And please try not to kill each other."

"Now, Rip." Sari said, a mischievous look on her face. "You know I never make promises I can't keep."

Ava turned her head towards Sara, her expression hard. "I'd love to see you try, Lance."

Rip shook his head.

"Here I thought I only had one kid. Turns out I have three." He looked between Sara and Ava. "That's all I wanted to talk about. You both can stay a while longer if you want to."

Ava stood up. "I'm gonna check on Jojo. Just because all this was just an elaborate ploy to get me and Lance here," Ava said, giving Sara an irritated glance. "doesn't change the fact that I came here to see my niece."

Sara sneered. "Your niece? Since when did you become MY niece's aunt?"

"Since when did YOU?" Ava fired back.

"You worried that the kid will end up liking me more than you?"

Ava huffed out a sarcastic laugh. "That's cute. Remind me again, Lance, how long has she known you?"

"Exactly," Sara exclaimed as she stood. "She just met me today. She's known you her whole life. And if I end up becoming her favourite, I wonder what it says about you." she said mockingly, her lips curled up in a smug smile.

Ava drew in a long breath and narrowed her eyes.

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Rip exclaimed, as he threw up his hands and pinched the bridge of his nose, then gestured towards the living room. "Ava, would you please?"

Ava turned on heel and went into the living room where Jojo was currently playing.

"Sit," Rip instructed Sara. When they were both sat down, Rip continued. "You need to lay off antagonising Ava, Sara."

Sara turned her head towards Rip and gave him an offended look.

"What are you telling me that for? Tell her that. She's the one who always bristles in rage for no reason at all."

"No reason at all, really?" Rip asked skeptically. "Because that's not what I've been hearing."

Sara looked a little a guilty. "Maybe just a little." A pause. "But still. She's just so..." she trailed off, her tone annoyed.

Rip sighed. "Must you keep pissing her off? What for?"

Sara looked at him incredulously.

"You're kidding, right? Her superiority complex is abrasive and she's incredibly annoying." she said pointedly, prompting Rip to quirk a brow up and give her an amused smile. "What?!"

"Nothing," he said, biting back another smile. "Look, Sara. You don't have to make Ava your best friend, but you can at least make her job a little easier by giving her a break. She's got so much on her plate already without you constantly trying to get a rise out of her."

Sara turned her gaze back to Jojo and didn't say anything. Rip took it as a sign to continue.

"I meant what I said about Ava being the best agent I've ever trained. The best the Bureau has ever had, in my honest opinion. I didn't say it just because I favour her. I said it because it's a fact. You'll see it soon enough. So please find a way to work together without feeling the need to strangle each other every time, because if there's someone who can help give you what you want, Sara, it's Ava."

"And what is it do you think I want Rip?" Sara asked, turning her head back towards Rip.

"Justice," Rip said flatly. "Isn't it?"

No, Sara thought.

I am way past wanting justice. What I want is vengeance.

Sara nodded.

Their conversation was cut off by the loud sound of Jojo's giggle. She and Ava were currently on the living room floor having a tickle war.

Sara's lips curled up in a small smile. "She would have loved her, you know?"

Rip turned to look at her and tilted his head a little to the side, eyes questioning.

"Laurel," Sara said without looking away from Jojo. "She would have loved your kid. And Jojo would've loved her."

Rip let out a soft laugh. "Yeah."

Sara turned to look at Rip, her eyes a little misty. "Thank you," she said. "For naming Jojo after her."

Rip gave Sara a soft look, then smiled.

"I couldn't have given her a much better name. I wanted to honour Laurel and I will continue to do so by making sure that Jojo grows up to be the kind of woman well-deserving of your sister's name."

Sara ducked her down as she nodded, finding it hard to talk with a painful lump in her throat. After clearing her throat, she smiled then stood up.

"I should head back and tell Zari you're holding us hostage at the Bureau until we solve the case."

Rip chuckled, then turned to find Ava walking up towards them.

"I told Jojo I'll see her again soon. I should go."

"Of course. Let me walk the two of you out." Rip, seeing Sara pull out her phone, caught her attention. "Sara, no need to book an Uber. Just ride with Ava."

"I can afford Uber, thank you very much." "Hell, no." Both Sara and Ava spoke at the same time.

Rip hold up a hand to rub his forehead, then shot them a pointed glare.

"Fine!" Ava exclaimed.

Rip walked them out of his house, and didn't wait for Ava to drive off before going back in. When they reached the car, Sara moved to open the door by the passenger seat. When Ava glowered at her, she went to open the door by the back seat, but Ava's voice stopped her.

"I'm not your paid driver, Lance."

"You don't like it if I sit in the passenger seat. You get offended if I take the back seat. Where the hell do you expect me to sit, Sharpe? On the roof? In the trunk?"

Ava shot her a scowl. "Just get in the damn passenger seat."

The two of them drove in silence. Sara had her body angled as far away from Ava as the seat allowed her to. Ava, for her part, just kept her eyes straight on the road, her face hard. When Sara couldn't stand the lack of noise any longer, she put the audio on but Ava was quick to turn it off.

"Come on, Sharpie. If you don't want the music on, can we at least talk? I do not like the silence."

"Do not call me Sharpie." Ava said through gritted teeth.

"Agent Sharpe, then, geez. You really do have a thing about titles, don't you?"

Ava whipped her head towards Sara and glared at her. Sara could've have sworn she heard the agent growl.

"If you don't keep your eyes on the road, we'll be bound to hit something. I refuse to die because of your inattentiveness and lousy driving."

Ava turned her head straight back, but not before Sara saw how the agent's body suddenly stiffened and her face froze with what Sara thought was a pained expression.

Sara shook her curiosity away. "Look, Agent Sharpe, I know you don't like me-"

Ava huffed. Sara ignored it.

"And I'm not particularly thrilled about you, either. But you and I are working together now, and if that's what it takes to take down that son of a b-" Sara cut herself off, and looked down at her hands as she clasped them.

Ava willed herself not to look at Sara, and decided instead to stare ahead out at the road. This curiosity she had about what history Sara had exactly with Darhk had been growing every time she would mention his name, or avoid doing so, more to the point.

She knew Laurel was prosecuting the cases against Darhk at the time of her death. She was aware that those cases were dismissed not long after. And maybe that was all the personal connection Rip said Sara had with Darhk. Perhaps Sara's helping the team on the case was motivated by some sense of duty to Laurel to somehow help finish what she started. Except Ava thought that wasn't just it. There had been this gnawing itch at the back of her mind that was telling her there was something she was missing and that there was so much than the fact that Sara's sister was supposed to have sent Darhk to prison.

"..to take down Darhk," Sara continued, eyes straight on the road, cutting Ava out of her thoughts. "then I'll do it. I'll work with you. I'll be willing to follow your lead. The sooner we get him, the sooner we can rid ourselves of each other."

Ava didn't say anything to that, and Sara didn't try to strike up another conversation, either. The rest of the drive was spent in silence with Ava focused on driving, and Sara fiddling with her phone.

When Ava pulled in front of Sara's place, the latter was the one to speak first.

"So I guess I'll see you tomorrow?" Sara asked, turning her head towards Ava.

Ava didn't respond, but was impatiently tapping her thumbs on the steering wheel.

"Fine. Be that way." Sara said abruptly, before getting out of the car, and slamming its door.

Chapter Text

Ava was briefing the team at fifteen minutes past eight on Friday morning when Sara and Zari got off the elevator. Amaya knew through Zari that the two would be back, but the rest of the team didn't. They hadn't noticed Sara and Zari's presence until someone called out Sara's name.

"Sara!"

Hearing her name, Sara stopped to see who called her. Seeing the redhead walking towards her with a big smile evident on her face, Sara smiled.

"Alex, hi." she said. "What's up?"

"Oh, nothing, really. It's just- you weren't here yesterday, and then I heard something about you possibly not coming back, and I- I'm just glad that you are. That you're back, I mean. I'm glad that you're back." Alex floundered, shifting her weight between her feet.

Sara, sensing the woman's nervous energy, gave her a reassuring smile. "Me, too."

"So I'll be seeing you around, right?" Alex asked, her eyes fixed on Sara's.

"Yeah, for sure." Sara said, her mouth curled up in a smirk.

"Great!" Alex exclaimed cheerfully, then placed a hand on Sara's arm. "Okay, I'll see you around then."

Meanwhile, Zari had gone up to the team, giving Ava a small nod, and Amaya a quick hug. She turned to find Alex walking up to Sara. Zari leaned into Amaya then cocked her head towards Sara and Alex.

"I bet you 20 bucks Sara will have Alex pinned somewhere before this day ends."

Amaya lightly smacked Zari's arm, laughing softly. "Alex is not even into women, Zari."

"Neither was I, until Audrey Espinoza wore a skimpy skirt in 7th grade and a whole new world opened up for me. We all gotta start somewhere."

Amaya shook her head, looking at Zari with a fond expression on her face. After a beat, she very discreetly turned to look at Ava. She found her best friend looking at Sara and Alex, with a deep frown on her face. Amaya lightly elbowed Zari to the side and moved her eyes towards Ava's direction. After taking a glance at Ava, Zari, who had a knowing smirk on her face, exchanged a look with Amaya.

Sara had finished her conversation with Alex and was walking up to the team when Nate and Ray moved towards her, both of whom cheering.

"Sara!" "Welcome back!"

Zari, seeing Nate and Ray holding out their arms rushed to grab the back of their shirts.

"Nope," she said, succeeding in halting the boys. "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

"What?" Nate asked, confusion appearing on his face. "We just wanted to give her a welcome hug."

Zari huffed out a laugh. "Exactly," she said. "Trust me, you don't wanna do that."

"Why not?" Ray asked, her brows creased.

"Sara here doesn't want hugs. Isn't that right?" Zari said as she looked intently at Sara.

Sara hummed, then turned her head to look at Ava. Ava, for her part, clasped her hands behind her back, her face had its usual sternness.

"Lance. Nice of you to join us." she said, sarcastically.

Sara smirked. "Sharpie. Miss me?" A wink.

Ava's jaw clenched, then she took a breath, ignoring Sara's comment.

"Before the two of you arrived, Gideon was telling us that the file Miss Tomaz copied from the target during our last mission is-"

"You're welcome, by the way." Sara said smugly, cutting Ava off, then crossed her arms over her chest.

Ava pointedly glared at her.

"As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted," Ava said, keeping her hard eyes on Sara who stuck her tongue at her, while the rest of the team attempted to hide their smiles. "The file is a big one. Those that aren't encrypted are not news to us. We already have that information on our database. They're mostly businesses Darhk legitimately owns and of which he has percentage ownership. As for the encrypted ones, Gideon will develop an algorithm decryptor. With any luck, there might be something in there that can break this whole case wide open."

Ava turned to look at Zari. "I need you to help Gideon with the decryptor. Things might go faster if the two of you work together."

"Of course," Zari said, then looked at Gideon. "As long as you're okay with that."

"Are you kidding? I have been waiting for three weeks to see you in action." Gideon said excitedly.

Zari laughed. "Okay then."

"Because Rip wasn't around yesterday, we had our debriefing with Assistant Director Bennett." Ava continued. "I need you and Lance to write a mission report on what went on the other night. The rest of the team had done theirs, so I'm just waiting for yours."

"Mission Report?" Sara asked. "Yeah, no. Hard pass. I don't do paperwork."

"You're a private detective, Lance." Ava looked at Sara incredulously. "Half of your job is quite literally paperwork."

Sara shrugged her shoulders. "Not the same thing."

Ava gritted her teeth, took a breath, then shrugged, appearing nonchalant.

"Well, okay, then. Should I tell Rip that you're not cooperating? Because that's totally fine by me." Ava said, then pointed towards Rip's office. "I'm just gonna go and inform him." she made a move to go to Rip but stopped when Sara spoke.

"Fine!" Sara pouted sulkily. "I'll write your stupid report."

Ava ducked her head down and cleared her throat to hide the small smile of victory tugging at the corner of her lips. Zari and Amaya, catching it, exchanged a look and a knowing smile.

"Finish it before you go out for lunch today. When you're both done, email it to me." Ava said to both Sara and Zari, before looking around the rest of her team. "Any questions?"

The team, except Sara, shook their head. "No." "None."

Sara held up a finger. "I have one," she said, a very serious look fixed on her face. "Do you know..." A pause. "That kangaroos have three vaginas?"

Lily and Amaya shook their head, Ray and Gideon bit back their laugh, while Zari and Nate snorted. Ava, for her part, just drew a breath, clenched her jaw and narrowed her eyes, before turning on her heels and to walk towards her office.

-----------------------------

The rest of the day went by fast. Zari wrote her mission report right after their briefing and had sent the same to Ava as soon as she was done. She and Gideon spent most of their day in the Console Room working on decoding the encrypted files until they both decided to call it a day, and just pick it up on Monday. Ray, after putting the finishing touches to a new tech design he made for the Bureau, worked on his personal project- an advanced combat suit he meant to use for tactical operations. Nate worked on a book he was writing about the prolific criminals on certain cases on which he was assigned back at the BAU. Amaya spent most of her afternoon working with Assistant Director Bennett. Lily and her own team were called in on an unrelated case.

Sara, after sending her mission report to Ava, went through her work email and sifted through the cases she might take. She had decided the previous night that since leads on the Darhk case were still lacking, she might as well resume doing private detective work as long as the cases were within or near Washington metropolitan area; after all, both Ava and Rip told her she could. She had also called her friends at MPDC to inform them that she would be staying in the city indefinitely, so she could provide her service if they needed it.

Ava, in between paperwork, had gone to two meetings- one after their morning briefing and the other was in the late afternoon which went on for much longer than she wanted. She had just gone back from it and was on her way back to her office when Nate called her over. With him was the whole team who had all decided to go to a bar to unwind and celebrate Sara's and Zari's return. Even Lily, who seldom went to these things, was going and, together with the team, was egging her on to come.

"It's the first night after Snart and Rory changed the bar's name from The Waverider to The ColdWave Bar." Nate said. "Personally, I'm partial to the first one. We should all go."

"Come on, Ava." Lily encouraged. "It's been a while since the last time we all went there. You should come."

Everyone let out a sound of encouragement. Sara, however, let out a laugh that Ava was sure was meant to be offensive.

"What, in that suit? With that hair?" Sara said, grinning wryly, and making a point of giving Ava a once-over. "I don't think Agent Sharpe is dressed for the casual going-out-on-a-Friday-night part. We're going to a bar, not to a Secret Service assembly."

Ava clenched her teeth as she narrowed her eyes at Sara.

Zari waved Sara off. "Ignore Sara, Ava. You should come, regardless. And besides," Zari said, her hand vaguely gesturing towards Ava. "You look great."

Amaya, who had a smirk on her face, tilted her head towards Zari and quirked up her brow. Zari mouthed a quick 'what?' then a loud 'she does'.

Ava let out a soft laugh, making Sara's eyes shot up at her, her eyebrows suddenly furrowed, and a look of mild disbelief on her face, because since when did Ava Sharpe know how to laugh?

"Well, thank you, Zari." Ava said, smiling a little sheepishly. "But I have to go through my emails, and finish the rest of my paperwork."

"Zari"? Sara thought.

When did these two become friendlies and start calling each other by their first name?

Sara's furrowed brow deepened, now looking a little confused.

"Ava," Amaya interjected. "It's Friday night. Those emails and paperwork can wait until Monday. You've had a long week. You deserve some break, just like the rest of us."

"I will have my break over the weekend." Ava said, a hint of finality in her tone. "You guys enjoy your night." With that, Ava left to go to her office, as the rest of the team prepared to leave.

Ava was sitting down on his chair when a sharp and loud honk made her jump out of her seat, and her heart rate spike up.

"Son of a b-" she exclaimed, as she looked under her seat, and saw an air horn zip-tied on the piston. She closed her eyes as she took a deep breath, and clenched her teeth, certain of who exactly the culprit was.

"SARA LANCE!!" Ava yelled as she sprung up. She looked over at the elevator, in time to see the doors closed while a very smug, grinning Sara was mockingly waving her hand at her.

"I'm gonna kill her." she said to herself.

------------------------------

Ava was just down to one last email before she could call it a night, and it was Sara's mission report. For someone who had been reluctant to write it, Sara did a good job with it. That was something that Ava could at least admit. Sara left nothing out; she had described everything- from the moment the team got into the hotel and the bar until the moment they left. She recounted every scene, especially the one that happened in the hallway where the target room was, with impressive accuracy. Ava had to close her eyes and grit her teeth at the memory, and more so, at the curious feeling she felt then in the pit of her stomach; the same sensation she felt this morning when Sara was having a conversation with Agent Danvers.

She shook herself off and decided not to linger over it, chalking it up to her just having one of those days.

After she was finished, Ava turned her computer off then checked the time, and saw that it had been two hours since her team left. Rip had gone over to her earlier while she was going through her emails, and asked why she didn't go with the rest of them. Apparently, Ray had invited him, too, but he had declined, using Jojo as his alibi. When Ava said she still had emails to read and send, Rip had practically ordered her to go home.

After a few seconds of contemplation, Ava made a decision. She took a deep breath, nodded to herself, and went her way towards the locker room.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Meanwhile, at The ColdWave Bar, after the team had gotten a table, Nate and Ray introduced Sara and Zari to the owners- Mick Rory, a towering, bald man who only ever grunted at everything, and Leonard Snart, a good-looking guy who Sara thought had an unusual cadence when he talked, and who had immediately taken a liking to her. Snart had to excuse himself to man the bar because according to him his usual bartender called in sick. Rory, on the other hand, left as soon as he was introduced to Sara and Zari.

Sara and Zari asked what Rory's and Snart's story were, and Ray was more than happy to tell them. They learnt that Rory and Snart were childhood friends who both got into the foster care system pretty young. The two often got in trouble growing up, and that they took their wayward ways all the way into adulthood. After one botched robbery job, they landed in prison but were now reformed criminals who had gone straight. They bought the bar from its previous owner, made some renovations and expansions, and had been operating it for almost three years now. Zari asked what was behind the bar's new name, and Snart said he liked the cold while Rory liked heatwave.

Sara liked The ColdWave Bar. She thought it was cool and very spacious, unlike the usual dive bars she had gone to which could get unbearably stuffy whenever it got just a tad bit crowded. It had two pool tables, a dartboard, a foosball, and a jukebox. The place also had a mini stage with a keyboard, a guitar, and a drum set, where people could perform if they wanted to. Sara's favourite, however, was the bar itself. It was obvious to her that it was taken care of and that Snart took pride in it. It was very well stocked, and the drinks had huge variations- from the hard stuff down to the cocktails.

The team, with the exception of Lily (who had left early because she had a little boy at home) and Gideon (who said she had to go home because of a 'family emergency'), had been exchanging stories for the last two hours. Sara had just come out of a laughing fit from hearing Ray's story of when he was a kid and had accidentally taken home a coyote which he had mistaken for an ordinary dog, when she lifted her drink up to her mouth, only to end up spluttering all over the place. She happened to have been looking at the entrance in the middle of her drinking when Ava Sharpe came through the door. Except that for a second, Sara wasn't exactly sure it was her because Ava had changed out of her pantsuit and was now wearing black fitted jeans, a pair of heeled ankle boots, and a grey casual blazer over a plain white V-neck shirt. Her hair was also no longer in a tight bun but had been swept to both sides, soft waves hanging loosely around her shoulders.

"Jesus, Lance. Are you okay?" Zari asked, aggressively patting Sara's back as she coughed.

Sara waved her off, her face looking flushed. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. I think I just swallowed a... a fly or something."

"Oh, that's not good." Ray said, genuine concern and worry appeared on his face.

"She'll be fine, Ray. No bug can kill Sara. She's too stubborn to die." Amaya said, smiling, then turned her head in the direction of the entrance, and saw Ava walking up to them.

"Ava!" she exclaimed. "So you decided to come after all."

"Yeah, well, Rip gave me hell for staying at the office while all of you are out here getting hammered." Ava said, smiling.

"God daaamn, Ava! Where have you been hiding all this?" Zari asked, her hand once again was vaguely gesturing towards Ava, and giving her a once-over.

Ava chuckled. "I do own other clothes, Zari."

Ava turned to Amaya and asked her to go to the bar with her to get everyone a drink. Sara, who had long recovered from her coughing fit, had been staring at Ava the whole time, looking astonished, her mouth slightly agape.

Zari, seeing Sara, sidled up to her with a knowing smirk.

"A fly, huh? If you leave your mouth open like that for long, an entire business of flies will find its way into your gut." Zari paused, looking at Sara who still hadn't taken her eyes off Ava. "Are you sure it was a fly, though? Because I think what you have in your stomach are butterflies."

That seemed to have brought Sara out of her trance. She shut her mouth closed and cleared her throat as she turned to Zari.

"Fuck off," Sara retorted, just as Ava and Amaya got back to their table, carrying a tray with an alarming number of tequila shots, and another with 12 bottles of beer.

"Okay, we're doing shots!" Amaya declared eagerly.

Sara watched as Ava looked hesitant for a second then quickly licked the back of her hand, poured on the salt, and licked it off. The agent smelled the alcohol first and winced, before she chugged the drink down, grimacing as soon as it passed down her throat, then she shuddered. Sara had to look away because she found the whole act endearing, and the word 'endearing' to refer to anything Ava-related couldn't possibly cross her mind. It shouldn't.

Absolutely not. One hundred percent.

The group fell into an easy, laid-back conversation soon enough. Ava found herself relaxing for the first time and laughing more than she ever had in the last three weeks. She was having so much fun that she had completely forgotten about her plan to chastise Sara for pulling yet another one of her crazy pranks on her.

On Ava's third shot, Amaya had to remind her to watch how many she took, seeing as she had a low alcohol tolerance.

"Ava, take it slow. You know you're a lightweight. And you still have to drive home." Amaya said as she put a hand on Ava's forearm, stopping her best friend from downing her drink.

Zari, however, just waved Amaya off.

"Oh, don't be such a buzzkill, Amaya. This is literally the first time in three weeks I've seen Ava let loose a little. She's fine. Look." Zari said, holding out a hand towards Ava.

Nate hummed in agreement, while Ray nodded.

"She's fine," Ava said, after taking a shot. After a beat, she shook her head. "I mean, I'm fine. Totally. Yep."

"Oh, boy." Amaya exclaimed, then turned to Sara. "Sara. You've been awfully quiet. Everything alright?"

Sara cleared her throat.

"Yeah. Yes, of course. I m- I was just thinking that, um, now that I'm a part of the team, I think I should get a sidearm. You know, for when we are out on a mission." she said, because telling the team she couldn't stop staring at Ava and that she was feeling something flickering in her chest that made her quite unbalanced, just wasn't an option.

Ava huffed out a sarcastic laugh then turned her face to look at Sara. Finally. For the first time tonight. Ava had not looked at her since she came in, for which Sara was actually grateful because if Ava wasn't looking at her, it meant she wouldn't notice Sara staring at her. Because that was what she had been doing- she had been staring at Ava; this version of her who was relaxed and smiling and actually laughing and looked almost soft because there was no hint of tension lining her face, and what Sara thought was a permanent scowl the agent's face had yet to appear.

"You wish, Lance. You're not FBI, which means you're not authorised to carry a Bureau-issued sidearm." Ava said, slurring her words a little.

Sara smirked, silently thanking whatever force was out there that Ava had unknowingly given her an opening to settle back to their bickering. Because bickering with her was familiar. And she could do and deal with familiar. What she couldn't was whatever foreign stirring it was that she'd been feeling in her chest the longer she stared at Ava; what she couldn't deal was the possibility, even the mere thought, of her very-recently-discovered physical attractiveness towards Ava to grow into something more; what she couldn't deal was whatever storm Sara was sure the agent was going to bring into her life if she even considered allowing herself to let the woman in. And so she fell back to what was safe.

"So does that mean I can carry a non-Bureau-issued sidearm?" Sara said, a sly grin on her face. "And really? I'm not FBI? I see. So I'm FBI if I'm behaving.." she made an air-quote. "unprofessionally. But I'm a civilian when I ask for a sidearm? That's just convenient."

Ava nodded a little vigorously. "Uh-huh. That's right."

Sara scrunched her face a little. "Well, it's not really fun for me if you agree with what I say, Sharpie."

Amaya, Nate, and Ray laughed, while Zari snorted.

"I told you not to call me Sharpie, Lance..." Ava whined, slurring her words a bit more, her eyes had started to glaze over. "--celot."

"Oooh. That was a good one." Ray said, smiling.

"Sara Lancelot." Ava repeated to herself, her face looking all dopey and smug.

Amaya chuckled. Zari high-fived a beaming Ava.

Sara, for her part, bit back a smile, and ducked her head down, then shook it because she absolutely did not find that cute. At all.

Nope.

Sara shrugged. "That's fine. I don't like guns, anyway. I heard they're a coward's weapon."

"Oh, yeah?" Ava asked mockingly. "And how are you going to defend or protect yourself if the mission calls for it, huh? With your vast arsenal of assholery? Or- oh wait, I know." she said, holding up a finger. "Prank the bad guys to death. Mm-hmm. That should teach them."

"No," Sara answered, then leaned forward, and talked in a mock hushed voice. "Either snap the opponent's neck with my bare hands or make their heart explode with my fingertips by jabbing them on certain pressure points," she said, her face completely blank.

Zari, who had a bottle of beer up to her mouth, almost choked on her drink. She discreetly swept her eyes between her team to gauge their reaction- all four of them had an unreadable expression on their face, while Sara's features remained still, eyes hadn't left Ava's.

Zari started laughing in a forced manner. "Sara. Ever the comedienne," she said, punching Sara's arm strikingly hard. "She's seen a lot of action movies, this one."

After hearing the comment, Amaya huffed out a laugh. Ava just shrugged, then took a shot, while Ray and Nate started laughing, too.

"Movies make it look so easy. Do you know just how much force is needed to break a person's neck?" Nate asked.

"About 1700 Newton-metres of torque. Give or take. You need more if the person whose neck you're snapping is resisting." Ava answered, trying hard not to slur her words.

"Thank you, Ava." Nate said dryly. "For answering what was clearly a rhetorical question."

Ava chuckled, then stuck her tongue out at Nate, and gave him a shit-eating grin. Sara had once again found herself tearing her gaze away because she really didn't like the way her chest would freeze up at the sight of this different Ava.

"Also make their heart explode with your fingertips?" Nate continued. "Ha! Good one." A pause. "And completely theoretical and probably impossible."

Sara's lips just turned into a tight smile as she held a drink up, as though to toast, then tilted her head a little. When she turned to look at Zari, her best friend gave her a look, eyes widening a little, and subtly shaking her head.

Sara shrugged her shoulders, then drank up.

Her and the team's attention were caught when an attractive blonde woman, about Sara's height, approached their table.

"Hi. I am so sorry." she said. "God, you're all gonna find this really weird, but, uh," The woman hesitated. "Well, I have an unexpected family thing on Wednesday that I can't possibly escape from, but the thing is, I have a shift then. I'm a nurse at Washington General. And my friends over there at that table," she pointed at a group of four women who were all looking their way and smiling. "Would be willing to cover my shift... On one condition."

"And what that might be?" Nate asked, smiling at the woman a little flirtatiously.

"I have to get the hottest person I find in this club tonight to kiss me." The woman said a little nervously. "So that's why I'm here. At your table. And listen, I will pay for your tab. It's the least I can do for subjecting you to this rather odd request."

"Oooh. I guess one of you boys will be a little lucky tonight." Sara said, turning to Nate and Ray with a knowing smile.

"Actually," The woman said, keeping her eyes on Sara, a little smirk appearing on her face. "It's neither of them."

Sara's brows furrowed for a moment until her expression morphed into one of understanding and realisation.

"Oh. Oh, you mean.." Sara trailed off, pointing at herself.

"Yes," The woman said, eyes hadn't left Sara's.

Sara smirked, her eyes on the woman. She shrugged, then turned to the team.

"I mean, how could I say no, right? She does have an important family thing."

"Right. Of course." Zari said sarcastically, smiling, and sending Sara a look. "You've always had admirable altruism. That's why you're more than willing to do it."

Amaya pursed her lips to bit back a smile. Ray and Nate looked at each other excitedly, while Ava had a frown on her face.

"May I at least know your name?" Sara asked.

"Lindsey. Lindsey Carlisle. And yours?" she said, as she held out a hand.

"Sara. Pleasure to meet you," Sara shook her hand, smiling seductively, her eyes not leaving Lindsey's. "Alright, Lindsey Carlisle. Let's get you that shift off." she lifted a bottle of beer up to her mouth. As soon as she finished it, she put it down, then grabbed Lindsey's face without warning, and started making out with her.

Nate and Ray were cheering. Zari was looking mildly entertained. Amaya was smiling a little, her brows were quirked up. And Ava...

Well, Ava, whose breath hitched, was not liking what she was seeing one bit.

Not at all.

Chapter Text

Ava stood stunned at the sight before her, eyes wide in shock, and her breath still caught in her throat. Sara Lance was kissing the woman with such fervor that Ava believed both of them would soon run out of oxygen in their brain if neither broke out the kiss for some air.

There it is again, Ava thought.

That same weird feeling in the pit of her stomach that she had started to get frustrated about for failing to put a finger on. She had felt it three times now, and Ava was absolutely sure she didn't want for there to be a fourth time, because it was NOT a good feeling.

Ava blinked her thoughts away, then took a huge swig of her beer.

After a few more seconds, Sara finally pulled back, a smug smirk adorning her face. Lindsey had kept her eyes closed for a beat, her face smeared with a dreamy expression.

"Wow!" Lindsey exclaimed, a little breathlessly. "That was... That was possibly the best kiss I've ever had."

Sara chuckled. "Well, I'm honoured. And hey, don't bother with our tab. If you paid for it after we made out, it would make me feel dirty." she joked, causing everyone at the table, save for Ava, to laugh.

"If you insist," Lindsey said, smiling. "And thank you so much. I appreciate you saving me from unnecessary family drama I would've had to face if I didn't find a way to change my shift."

"You're welcome," Sara replied as she playfully curtsied.

"Okay, then. I'll let you guys get back to your.... celebration?" Lindsey said tentatively. After Sara gave her a nod, she turned to leave, then looked back. "And Sara? In case you need some saving, too.. You know where to find me." A wink.

Sara smirked. "I'll keep that in mind."

She turned her head back to the team to find Zari with an impressed look on her face. Amaya gave her an approving nod, while Nate and Ray high-fived her, their faces had a shit-eating grin on them. Sara let her eyes settle on Ava, and found the agent with a frown before her face flickered back to neutral.

"Well, we're out." Ava said, as she scanned the empty bottles and shot glasses on their table. "I'm going to get us some top-off."

Ava stood. When she faltered a little, Amaya quickly caught her by the arm. "Perhaps I should go get the drinks." Amaya said.

"No, no. It's okay. I'll go get them. I'm fine." Ava reassured Amaya who was looking at her with a hint of worry. "Relax, Amaya. I'm not going to pass out in the middle of this dive bar. The floor of this place is completely unsanitary." she said, laughing, then walked up to the bar.

"Is it just me," Sara asked, her eyes following Ava. "Or did I really hear Agent Sharpe laugh tonight? Like show other emotion. I thought she only knew how to be angry. At me, mostly."

Amaya chuckled.

"Don't be silly, Sara. Of course Ava knows how to laugh. If she's not interacting with people in a professional setting, or even socially but not among the members of our team, Ava may seem... awkward. And sometimes, she can be a little slow at picking up on people's feeling. It's not because she doesn't have any, or as you said, she just feels anger."

Sara was about to say something but decided to put it off as Amaya continued.

"People like her just... They have a different way processing their emotions and understanding others', so most of the time, especially to people who don't really know her, Ava may come off as cold, abrasive, and uncaring; and admittedly, she is a woman of logic and law, but at the core of her character is actually a deeply compassionate person. I mean, the woman chose to be a federal agent despite her social standing."

"What do you mean?" Zari asked, her brows dipping into a furrow.

Amaya shot her a small smile. "Story for another night, Z."

As Amaya took another drink, Sara tilted her head a little to the side, then held up a finger. "Okay, when you said people like her, what exactly did you mean?"

"People with lower EQ than most people." Nate chimed in, then drummed his hands on table, grinning. "That was quite a show, Sara." he said, giving her a thumbs-up, and then looked between Amaya and Ray, before settling his eyes on Ava who was currently chatting with Snart at the bar. "God, I wish Max were here, too."

Sara's eyes shot up at the mention of the name. She remembered Jojo say it twice the day before; the same name that somehow elicited some reaction from Ava. Not just any reaction, but the kind that told Sara Ava and whoever this Max was shared a history.

"Who's Max?" she asked, feigning nonchalance.

"Our friend," Ray answered, sounding cheerfully, then cupped his hands to his face as though to whisper. "Also Ava's ex."

Sara's brows quirked up.

"Ohh, reeeaally?" she said, smirking, her tone dripping with mischief. "Ava Sharpe? Who would've thought. So why did they break up? I bet the guy got tired of being bossed around by a woman, huh."

"Actually, Max is a w-" Ray was cut off by a man loudly saying Ava's name.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't the mighty Ava Sharpe." The man said as he sauntered towards Ava.

Catching their attention, the team now had their head turned towards the bar. Sara noticed how Ava immediately straightened up, changing back to her usual self- with her hands clasped behind her back, and her face hard. For some reason, Sara found herself clenching her jaw and staring daggers into the man.

Amaya was quick to get up from her seat. Just as quickly, Nate caught her arm then shook his head. "She's fine, Amaya." he said.

Seeing the worry in Amaya's face and the way she reacted caused Sara's brows to knit together. "Who's the douche?" she asked, cocking her head towards the man.

"That's Agent Russell Cole." Amaya answered. "He went to the Academy with me and Ava. Extremely competitive and hates losing. Especially to a woman. The woman being Ava. Those two had always stood toe to toe, so to speak. But every time, Ava won."

"You're saying he's a misogynist." Sara said, phrasing it more like a statement than a question.

Nate hummed. "Ava was promoted to a supervisory position ahead of him. And now she's an SAC and he's still an SSA. He didn't take it well and his grudge against her grew even more because of that."

"Also, he believes he deserved to lead our task force- our team." Ray said. "He was very vocal about his complaint, saying that the only reason Ava was chosen over him is that she's Rip's favourite; not because he thought Ava had it in her to handle a case as big as the Darhk case."

"He's also been pushing Ava every chance he gets." Amaya continued. "But never once has Ava pushed back; at least not in the way Cole expects her to. She thinks he's not worth her time, and that pushing back would only encourage him to push even more."

Sara hummed. "Has it ever been physical?" she asked, a flash of worry and a flicker of anger fluttered in her chest. "Cole pushing, I mean."

"What, Cole?" Amaya scoffed. "No. I mean, other than during our training back at Quantico when we had to spar." she paused. "Besides, even if it had, he wouldn't stand a chance, and deep down, he knows it. He's gotten a taste of it back at the Academy." she said, smiling, her expression laced with pride for her best friend.

"That's right," Ray seconded. "You should see the way Ava fights, Sara. It's almost like watching someone dance. It's..." Ray trailed off.

"Captivating," Nate chimed in. "And scary. Really scary. I have never seen a fighter quite like Ava. And, you know, I've seen plenty in my life. I was in the Marines for a while.

"And that should teach you not to push it too far with Ava, Sara. You might lose a limb." Ray joked.

Zari huffed out a laugh at that. She was about to say something when Sara bumped her shoulder with hers, then cocked her head towards the pair at the bar.

"Cole," They heard Ava say.

"I was playing darts with the boys when saw you," he said. True enough, Ava could see three men, all of whom were members of the division Cole was in. "I figured maybe we could have some friendly competition." Cole said, holding up a hand to show her a dart missile, and waving it in front of her. "I mean, you have played this before, right?"

She hasn't. Ava hasn't touched a dart in her life before, and she was sure Cole knew it because this wasn't the first time she and him were in this bar at the same time, and that he had heard her tell Nate when he asked her to play that she didn't know how.

"And even if you haven't," Cole continued. "You could always math your way into beating me." he winked.

Sara, hearing the exchange between Ava and Cole, turned to the team. "What's that mean?" she asked.

"It's a long story," Nate said.

"Give me the gist, then."

Nate shrugged.

"Ava and him used to be on the same team back when they were just Special Agents. That was before she joined my team at the BAU." Nate recounted. "At a briefing one morning, their team was brainstorming on what best course of action they should take to stop a rogue US Air Force, who had taken control of an armed drone, from bombing a drone program's operational centre. Suggestions were put out there, yada yada yada." he continued, his arms animatedly flailing around. "Then just after they had decided what to do, Cole remarked that if their plan failed, Ava could always save the day because, and I quote," Nate made an air-quote gesture. "'Sharpe thinks she could math her way in and out of everything.' and then everyone in the room laughed. Obviously, Ava didn't find it remotely amusing."

"O...kay? But what's that mean, exactly?" Sara asked, still not quite understanding.

"Oh, you don't know... Okay," Ray said, chuckling, then cleared his throat, as though preparing himself for a long speech. "Ava excels at a lot of things. One of which is arithmetic. She's a mathematical super genius. Her brain is-"

"Wait," Sara cut him off, turning to Amaya with creased brows. "Earlier, when you said people like Ava, you actually meant.." she trailed off.

Amaya smiled. "People with high intelligence."

"Geniuses," Nate added enthusiastically.

"Oh," Sara exclaimed, hiding her surprise. "Well, Zari and Ray are geniuses, too, but Zari here," she said, pointing at Zari. "Despite her tough exterior, and unparalleled sarcasm and angst, is actually the softest person I know."

Zari gasped, feigning outrage and looking utterly disgusted. "HOW... DARE YOU. YOU TAKE THAT BACK, LANCE. RIGHT NOW!"

Amaya laughed, looking at Zari with too much fondness, that had Sara feeling like she wanted to gag. Ignoring Zari's comment, she turned to Ray. "And Ray, you're like an actual ray of sunshine."

Ray laughed.

"Ray. Ray of sunshine. Good one, Sara." he said, then high-fived Sara. "Well, you have a point. People with high intelligence usually have lower EQ than most, and although emotional intelligence is also part nurture, Ava didn't really grow up in an environment where her EQ could've been nurtured to its fullest. And besides, I shouldn't even be compared to her. I don't know what Z's IQ is, but mine is just 140." he paused. "Ava's 200."

Zari spluttered into her drink. "She has what now?" she said, looking around Amaya, Nate, and Ray incredulously. "You're telling me... that our team leader has an IQ higher than that of Hawking or Einstein or practically every genius I know? And she chose to be a federal agent? WHHYYY?!"

Amaya chuckled, patting Zari's back gently. "Like I said, story for another night. Ava has her reasons. Maybe she'll tell you one day."

"As I was saying," Ray continued. "Ava's brain is practically a built-in computational system. Give her any mathematical problem, and I mean ANY, and she'll solve it just like that." Ray snapped his fingers.

"That's co-" Zari exclaimed.

"Ssshhh," Nate exclaimed, cutting Zari off and placing a finger over his own lips, eyes closed. "He's not done. Go on bro, continue."

"What most people don't know is that Ava also has a very high spatial intelligence."

Zari's eyes widened a little, looking amazed. "Oh, that's amazing."

Sara, on the other hand, shook her head and had an expression on her face that told Ray she didn't know what that meant.

"Ava can visualise things clearly in her head. Think of an object, a figure, or a shape. In her mind, she can see, transform, or manipulate it from different angles and spaces, like how 3D works. Or think of a board game like chess. Ava's already won the game even if it hasn't actually ended yet, because she already knows what moves to make by anticipating every possible move that her opponent might make.

Did you know that in all Bureau history, Ava has the highest number of solved cases before she even became an SSA? That's because one look at a crime scene and she already knows what happened; like she could play the whole incident in her mind. She also hasn't missed a single shot in her career. Best marksperson I've ever seen. Better than me and I'm the tactical expert, which, you know, at first, I-"

"Buddy," Nate interjected.

"Right, sorry." Ray said. "So yeah, that and the fact that she's also hyperthymestic- that's when a person has highly superior autobiographical memories-"

"You mean she has photographic memory?" Sara asked, cutting Ray off.

"Well, she has that, too. But it's different from hyperthymesia. It's a condition that enables the people who have it to remember almost every personal experience or event in their lives, mostly emotional ones. Ava doesn't forget anything, which, now that I think about it, is actually quite awful considering she h-"

"Ray," Nate cut him off. "You're going off on a tangent again."

Sara's brows dipped in both confusion about what the hell Ray was babbling on about, and curiosity about what he was going to say before Nate cut him off.

"Right," Ray continued. "As I was saying, Ava having stellar spatial skills, couple that with her hyperthymesia, mathematical brilliance, and photographic memory, and you have a nearly-perfect human. It's remarkable. Honestly, it's like having superpowers. That's just few of the things that make Ava such a great agent. You remember on your first day with us, when we told you that she's been courted by almost every law enforcement agency there is?"

Both Zari and Sara nodded.

"Now you know why," Ray remarked.

"Which is why I'm positive Cole's about to embarrass himself again if Ava humoured him and actually play dart, despite her not having done so before." Nate said.

Sara looked highly skeptical, but decided to just take Nate's word for it, and turned her head back in the direction of the bar.

"Come on, Sharpe. What do you say?" Cole urged. "Winner gets bragging rights, and loser has to buy everyone in this bar a drink."

Ava, knowing this was another one of Cole's attempt to mock or degrade her, was going to say no; and she was about to, when the man spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear him over the clamour inside the bar.

"PEOPLE, LISTEN UP!" Cole loudly announced, and every person's attention was suddenly on him. "MY FRIEND AND I HERE WILL HAVE A FRIENDLY COMPETITION IN DART. WHOEVER LOSES WILL BUY EVERYONE IN THIS BAR A DRINK."

Everyone, except the team, let out a collective loud whoop.

Sara could see Ava clench her jaw and ball her fists as Cole was going on with his speech. She knew from Amaya that Ava didn't like being in the spotlight, and even less, being cornered the way Cole just did. Soon enough, she saw Ava unclench her jaw and fists, and then flash Cole a vicious smile. The sight had Sara feeling a cold shiver down her spine, finding it quite unnerving, and so... Un-Ava-like.

Ava shrugged her shoulders. "Alright, Cole. You want to play? Let's play."

Cole smirked then led Ava to the part of the bar where the dart board was. The team didn't have to move because they still had a clear view from where their table was. Cole decided to play the treble 20 maximum or a total score of 180, and if neither of them achieved it, then whoever had the higher score, would be the winner. He knew neither of them would ever manage to get the perfect score, as even the world champion couldn't, but he considered himself quite a professional at the game, so he was certain it was a sure win for him.

After Cole told Ava how the board and scoring went, she told him to go first. He landed two darts in the bull's eye and one on the outer bull's eye, earning him a total points of 125, which meant in order for Ava to win, she had to get the maximum score of 180, or lesser but higher than 125.

"Your turn, Sharpe." Cole said, looking at Ava with a self-satisfied smirk, as he stepped off the toeline.

Sara had decided he hated this Cole guy. He didn't do anything to her personally, at least not yet, but he was already on her list of least favourite people. She didn't like the way he was looking at Ava like a smug bastard. And besides, the position of being the resident smirker in Ava's life had already been filled, thank you very much. By her. No one else.

Sara heard herself sucked in a sharp breath, then tried to shake the thoughts away.

What... the fuck.

She was pulled out of her self-induced confusion by the sudden yelling of the crowd who had started cheering Ava on. Sara looked in Ava's direction, and saw her checking something on her phone. After which, Ava took off her heeled-boots, stood barefoot next to the board, turned her head to look at it, and then walked towards the toeline in a measured manner. Sara's face turned into a slight frown, as she leaned in to Amaya.

"What is she doing?" she asked.

"She's measuring the height of the board and its distance from the oche. That's the throwing line a player stands behind."

"Ah," Sara exclaimed, despite still not having a damn clue what Ava needed them for. She was just about to lean back when she saw Ava bounce a dart in her hand a few times, and put a finger in her mouth then raised it up in the air, confusing her even more.

"Uhh." "What?" Both Zari and Sara spoke at the same time, a twin look of confusion on their faces.

Amaya chuckled.

"I suppose the bouncing is for estimating the weight of the dart missile. The finger thing is for checking if there's air circulating in this room and what direction it's going. If the wind is strong enough, it might change the trajectory of the dart missile."

"Right," Sara said.

"Hurry up, Sharpe! We haven't got all night!" Cole yelled. "Don't keep the crowd waiting for the drink that you're going to buy for them."

Some of the people laughed, but Ava didn't look like she was hearing anything, because right then, Sara could see her getting into the throwing stance, and eyeing the board while rolling the dart missile a few times and angling it between her fingers, gripping it. After raising her arm up to find her sight line for aim, Sara expected Ava to throw the dart missile next, but instead, the woman closed her eyes, then tilted her head a little to her right.

Amaya leaned in to Sara and Zari, a proud smirk on her lips. "Now watch."

Sara had not once removed her gaze from Ava. With her eyes closed the way that they were, the agent looked like she was trying to remember something. She was also swaying a little. Sara figured it was because Ava was already drunk.

Meanwhile, in her mind, Ava could see everything- the trajectory the dart needed to follow through for it to land where she wanted it to, exactly how much force she would need to put into launching the dart, the acceleration it needed to keep traveling along the parabolic curve, the optimum area to aim for to get the maximum score; all these and recalling the measurement of the board and each of its radial sections she saw from a random website she checked earlier, the height of the board, the distance between it and the oche, the estimated weight of the dart missile, and all other present variables, she made some quick calculations in her head. After locking everything in, she took a breath.

Back at the table, Sara was about to ask Amaya what exactly was Ava doing when she saw the agent take in a deep breath, let out an exhale, then quickly flash her eyes open, What happened next, did so too fast. Sara didn't even see the dart missile launched into the board. She just saw Ava release it, snapping her wrist forward as she did so. Sara craned her neck a little to check where the dart landed and saw that it was embedded in the triple ring at the number 20 section, which meant Ava just scored 60 points.

The crowd cheered. Sara looked between Amaya, Nate, and Ray, in surprise. Even Zari had her mouth open.

"Holy shit!" Zari exclaimed. "Are you sure Ava hadn't played dart until now?" The three could hear doubt in Zari's voice.

"Yes," Amaya chuckled. "I can assure you, she hadn't. Now watch or you're going to miss her next shot."

When Ava landed the second dart in the exact same ring and section, the crowd cheered even louder. Cole looked like he just received the worst news in his life. He started fidgeting where he stood, a hand on a hip, while the other kept rubbing the stubble along his chin. Ava, who already had a total of 120 points, only needed to score at least 6 point in order to win.

Sara could see Ava grinning now. She went into the throwing stance again and found her sight line, but just before she launched the dart missile, Ava turned her head towards Cole, smirking, and kept her eyes on him even as she threw the dart. The team knew she won when the crowd went crazy. Sara checked again where the dart went, and wasn't surprised when it landed where the first two darts did. She felt a flicker of what she was almost sure was pride, in her chest, but quickly shove it away before it had a chance to grow into something she didn't want to name.

The team watched as Ava approach Cole, a very satisfied smirk was visible on her face.

"Well, would you look at that, Cole. I just math'ed my way into getting you to buy all these people a drink." she said, mockingly, then quickly spun around to face the crowd.

"EVERYONE! GO GET YOUR FREE DRINK! DON'T FORGET TO THANK COLE HERE FOR HIS GENEROSITY! Ava yelled, then turned towards the bar. "LEONARD, PUT EVERYTHING IN COLE'S TAB, WILL YOU?"

Snart smiled, as he was drying a glass. "Will do!"

With that, Ava sent one last smirk towards Cole who was obviously pissed judging by the way his chest was heaving and how he aggressively recoiled when his friends was patting his back. She walked back up towards the bar and took the drinks she ordered earlier before Cole made known his presence. When she returned to their table, her team, save Sara, was proudly cheering for her.

"Sorry, guys. I got held up." Ava said, a soft smile playing around the corners of her lips.

"AVA SHARPE! Can you confirm that that was your first time playing dart." Zari asked.

"Yeah, sort of." Ava said, scrunching her nose a little. "I mean, I played archery in the summer from when I was 9 until 11. It was a hobby. I did okay, I guess. I figured dart is just," she put both her hands out, then slowly put them together, leaving only a few inches of space in-between. "Short-distance archery."

Amaya chuckled. Zari, Nate, and Ray cackled like it was the funniest thing they had ever heard. Sara, for her part, quickly ducked her head down, willing her mouth not to curl up, and had to literally bite her tongue when she saw Ava proudly grin at her own statement. Sara chugged on a beer, hoping to wash away whatever it was that was making both her chest and stomach do some weird twists.

"That was incredible, Ava!" Zari exclaimed, then held her arm up. "Up top!"

Ava chuckled, as she high-fived Zari. "I just got lucky, I guess."

"But you don't believe in luck," Amaya commented.

"Well, of course, I don't." Ava said, looking slightly appalled. "I just said it for the benefit of those who do." she said, then brought a drink to her mouth. Amaya opened her mouth to say something but clamped it back shut when Ava held up a finger while she finished her drink.

Feeling like her best friend is going to go on about something, Amaya shifted comfortably in her seat, smirking. She caught Zari's eyes then tilted her head towards Ava who had just downed her drink.

"The idea," Ava started, then held up a finger again and closed her eyes. Before she could continue, a soft hiccup escaped her mouth. "Excuse me," she said, giggling, then shook her head, looking a little bemused, causing a slow smile to spread on Sara's lips. "Where was I?"

"Luck. The idea..." Amaya trailed off, looking at Ava fondly and with an amused smirk.

"Right," Ava snapped her fingers. "The idea that there's some operating force that tilts events favourably or otherwise for a person is completely preposterous. Luck is an illusion upon which people rely to make sense of what's happening in their lives and how they're living them." she said, slurring her words. "You know who believe in luck? Idiots!" she exclaimed, then nodded her head. "That's who."

Sara arched a brow at that. "You literally wished me luck the night before my first mission with the team," she said, speaking for the first time since Ava returned to their table.

Hearing the comment, Ava turned her head towards Sara, then leaned a little over the table.

"LIKE I SAID," she said, keeping her eyes on Sara's, her face completely serious.

Instead of feeling offended that Ava just alluded that Sara was an idiot, the latter found herself smirking, feeling both incredibly amused by the fact that drunk-Ava was even nastier than sober-Ava, and a little frustrated with herself for not seeing sooner just how big of a nerd the agent really was.

The little staring contest Ava and Sara were having were cut off when Zari pulled the conversation back to Ava's win, causing both of them to look away quickly.

"For people who believe in luck, once is lucky. Three times, landing all three darts at the same section is pure badassery." Zari declared, then turned to Sara. "Don't you think so, Sara?"

Ava risked a glance at Sara who didn't look back at her, but just shrugged her shoulders, instead.

"Yeah, I guess." Sara said in an attempt to sound nonchalant, but not to Zari who hummed and was looking at her knowingly.

"Cheers, guys!" Nate said, as he held his bottle up for a toast.

When they were done, Nate, being the sentimental drunk that he was, started to circle around the team, giving each of them a hug. When he got to Sara, Zari picked an ice cube from the ice bucket on their table and clumsily chucked it at him.

"Dude?! What did I say about hugging Sara?"

"What?" Nate asked, momentarily confused. After a few seconds, he turned at Sara. "Oh, right. You don't like being hugged. Sorry, Sara."

Sara just shot him a small smile.

"Wait," Ray chimed in, brows a little drawn together. "But I saw Rip hug you that one time. In his office." he said, then turned to the team. "You guys remember? It was her first day with us."

Nate nodded. Amaya hummed. Ava, on the other hand, had her eyes on Sara who had turned silent at this point and was staring intently at her drink. In her alcohol-addled mind, Ava could still tell that the subject probably made Sara uncomfortable.

Zari, completely oblivious to the internal crisis her best friend was having, just shrugged her shoulders.

"That was one time," she said. "And... well, Sara isn't really totally averse to hugs because she lets me and her parents hug her. She just never hugs back. Ever. We've been friends forever and she never once hugged me back. I'm actually offended." Zari joked.

"Why is that?" Nate asked, turning to Sara.

When Sara didn't respond, Ray put a hand on her shoulder. "Sara?"

Sara finally looked up, unaware that she had tuned everyone out. "Huh?"

"Nate asked why you don't hug back."

"Oh," Sara exclaimed, suddenly feeling a little trapped. "I, uh, th- It's nothing really." A pause. "You're all gonna think it's stupid."

Zari chuckled. "Nobody at this table is gonna think it's stupid, Sara." she paused. "Well, Ava probably would, but it's only because she's gonna want to antagonise you seeing as you're both hellbent on convincing yourselves that you despise each other, when it's SO clear to me and Amaya that deep down, you actually don't."

Ava snapped her head towards Amaya and glared at her. Amaya, for her part, just nonchalantly shrugged.

Sara also turned to Zari, looking a little apprehensive. "Z, I think you've had a little too much to drink. Why don't we take it slow on the beer, yeah?"

Zari ignored her.

"Will you please just tell the team why you don't hug back so I don't have to yank their shirt back or chuck something at them every time one of them attempt to hug you? Assaulting a federal officer is a federal crime, Sara. I CANNOT go to prison. I won't last a day there. Not to mention, you'll miss me too much. You'll be a mess without me."

"Don't worry, Zari, if that happens, I'll bail you out." Ava said, smiling.

"Me, too." Amaya seconded.

"Me, three." Nate and Ray said at the same time.

"Or..." Zari said, holding up a finger. "Here's an INSAAANE idea- you can just not charge me in the first place. How about that?" she asked sarcastically.

Amaya, Nate, and Ray laughed. Sara just let out a soft chuckle, nodding her head resignedly as she turned away from Zari, meeting Ava's eyes in the process; the agent was smiling at what Zari said. After holding each other's gaze for a few seconds, Sara quickly looked down, then cleared her throat. When she looked back up, everyone, except for Ava who was swirling her drink, was looking at her expectantly.

"I think it's safe to say that you all knew who I was when I joined the team," Sara began. "Who my sister was, more to the point. I'm sure Rip told you."

Nate and Ray suddenly looked awkward, unsure of where this conversation was headed. Amaya shot Sara a sympathetic look, while Ava froze in her seat, feeling a sharp thud in her chest.

"He didn't actually," Amaya said, breaking the silence. "We kind of just figured it out. I mean, it was almost a decade ago, but you were- both of you were on the news when, uh.." Amaya trailed off, hesitant to say the next words.

Sara, sensing Amaya's hesitation, filled in for her, nodding her head. "When Laurel died."

When none of them, except for Zari, met her gaze, all of whom looking like they had suddenly sobered up, Sara huffed out a loud. "Guys, you all look like you've been sent to the principal's office." she waited for Nate, Ray, Amaya, and even Ava, to look at her before she continued. "You wanted to know why I'm not such a big fan of hugs, so I'm gonna tell you. It's not really a long story," she paused. "But... it has something to do with Laurel, so obviously I had to bring her up."

Nate shifted in his seat. "I'm so sorry, Sara. I didn't know. I shouldn't have asked. You don't have to tell us. It's not our business."

Sara let out a soft huff, then smiled a little.

"It's okay, Nate. I want to tell you." A pause. "Besides, Zari's freedom is at stake." she said jokingly as she turned to Zari. To defuse the tension that had built up since she mentioned Laurel, Sara decided to mess with her best friend, a mischievous look on her face. "If one of you sent her to prison, she wouldn't let me live it down, seeing as I'd be the reason she wouldn't even get to ask Amaya out on a date."

Zari's eyes widened. "SARA!" she exclaimed, then turned to look at Amaya, laughing nervously. "That's- it's- sh- I don't. I mean.." she trailed off, ducking her head down.

"Oh, no. I think you broke her, Sara." Amaya said teasingly, then looked at Zari with the same fondness Sara saw her give her best friend earlier.

"Ugh," Sara exclaimed, mocking disgust. "Amaya, the way you're looking at Zari right now makes my stomach want to heave."

Zari's head shot up at Amaya in time to see her eyes widen before she whipped her head towards Sara.

"SARA!" Amaya exclaimed.

Sara laughed. "Okay, now that I've managed to get two of you at this table to yell my name in horror, may I continue?"

"Only if you really want to, Sara." Ray said hesitantly.

"I do," Sara said assuringly, then paused. "The last person I hugged was Laurel, and that was on the night she died. We had just come out of the restaurant we ate dinner at and she was telling me about this guy she met recently and that she was, um," Feeling the start of what she was sure was a lump in her throat, Sara paused and cleared it.

"Laurel said she was really happy. My sister never really had time for serious dating. As a student, she was always about school; so dedicated to becoming a lawyer. And when she became one, almost all of her time was devoted to helping people, because that's just the kind of person she was." A pause. "Dinah Laurel Lance. Always trying to save the world. She would always jokingly say, 'If I don't try and save it, who will?'" Sara softly chuckled, a wistful look on her face.

"I was ecstatic and excited for her, so.. I gave her a hug. I used to be big on hugs, you know?" she said in a tone that sounded like a mix of slight bitterness and somewhat mournful. "If I just close my eyes, it always feels like I'm back in that moment- just two sisters hugging each other outside a restaurant, and giggling to themselves for stumbling a few steps backwards because I launched myself at her." Sara let out a low laugh. "Ever since Laurel died, I've only ever let my parents, Rip, and now Zari, hug me. Z was right, I don't really hug back because I have this... I have this.. crazy belief that if I hugged people, I'd..." Sara hesitated, now feeling completely ridiculous and rather rueful for having said anything. "I'd start to forget what it felt like to hug my sister, and the comfort and sense of peace it always brought me even after all these years."

Sara let her eyes sweep across everyone at the table, an uneasy look on her face. When no one spoke, she huffed out a laugh and shook her head with her eyes closed, feeling a little embarrassed. "I told you it was stupid." she said, still looking down.

Meanwhile, Ava had kept her gaze on Sara since she looked up at her after the latter mentioned her sister's death.

It wasn't lost on her how Sara, by being playful and teasing, had easily made the team, especially Nate, feel better for popping the lid off of a very painful subject. She did it for no other reason than to selflessly assuage the guilt the team was feeling for making her bring up her dead sister. She had done so in such a slick and almost effortless manner that Ava wondered how many times Sara had to do the same for every person who ever broached any circumstance that involved her talking about Laurel.

Ava saw the wide range of emotions that passed through Sara's features the longer she talked about her sister. She had always prided herself on her ability to compartmentalise and detach herself from a situation; a skill she had learnt to hone very early as a child, and had perfected as a profiler, but right now, as she sat right across from Sara, seeing her talk to the team for the first time about the sister she idolised, witnessing every look she got as she told a story, with her eyes seeming to turn bluer when they got a little teary, letting her and the whole team be privy to an information that only Zari probably knew... it made Ava's heart ache; even more so when Sara finally divulged the reason she didn't hug back, looking embarrassed and somewhat ashamed immediately after, as if such reason was so absurd that she felt the need to invalidate her own feeling.

"It's not." she said as she lowered her eyes on her drink.

The words were quickly out before Ava's brain could catch up with what her mouth said. When she looked back up, everyone's eyes were on her, but the pair that made her shift uncomfortably in her seat- the same pair that had been drawing her in since the second Ava saw them- were looking at her with barely-hidden gratefulness and such open vulnerability, that Ava found herself quickly looking away, because it was making her heart squeeze even more in her chest.

Ava cleared her throat. "It- it's not stupid." she repeated. "I'm sure there's, um, there's some psychology behind it. R- right, Nate?" she asked as she turned towards Nate, hoping to take the team's attention, especially Sara's off herself.

She almost went limp in her seat with relief when Nate nodded.

"I'm certain there is, but I can't think right now because my brain is half-soaked in alcohol." Nate said, prompting the rest of them to laugh.

Ava risked a glance at Sara who, to her utter comfort, had already taken her eyes off of her.

"Laurel sounded great, Sara." Amaya said, giving Sara a soft smile.

Sara smiled back, absently reaching a hand up to her necklace, the wistful look was back on her face. "She was the best."

Zari threw an arm around Sara's shoulders. "Man," she said. "The person who finally gets you to hug them back must be very special."

Sara let out a quiet laugh. "Yeah, no. It's been almost 10 years, Z. I don't think that person exists."

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure, Sara." Zari said as she turned her head, eyes slowly settling on Ava. "I'm positive she's out there. You've probably already met her. I mean, who knows." she shrugged. "What I do know is- one day, when you, Sara 'I-Don't-Deserve-Anyone' Lance, accept that you deserve her.. and she, whoever she is, finally decides that she's ready for you, you're both going to realise just how perfect you are for each other."

Sara laughed, so full and hearty that it made Ava's chest feel warm, looking at Zari with mix of incredulity and amusement.

"Oh, you are SO drunk, Tomaz." she said, shaking her head. "And SHE?" Sara asked, still looking at Zari with an amused smile on her face. "How do you know it's not a HE?"

"I just do," Zari replied, eyes still on Ava who had now a confused look on her face.

Sara lightly shoved Zari away, then looked down at their table. "We're almost out. I'll get the next round." she said before making her way towards the bar.

After Sara left, Ava busied herself with the remaining of her drink. When she looked back up, Zari, Amaya, Nate, and Ray were all looking at her with a knowing look on their faces.

Ava looked between all of them. "What?"

"Nothing," All four of them said simultaneously, and quickly looked away, busying themselves with their own drink.

When Sara returned, the six of them had once again fallen back into an easy conversation, drinking and laughing as they went; Ava, more so. Sara, for her part, would either duck her head down whenever she felt her lips turn up in a smirk or smile at something Ava would say, attempting to hide it from her team; or she would chug down a drink, hoping to rid herself of the unfamiliar buzz that flooded her chest whenever she saw the agent smile or hear the sound of her laugh.

After a while, Zari, who was obviously already very drunk, suddenly shot her head up, eyes wide. "I need donuts," she said, as she reached down for her bag, then stood up. "I'm gonna buy myself some donuts."

Before anyone could stop her, Zari started shuffling through the people that blocked her way. Sara moved to follow her, but Amaya put her hand out.

"I'll go follow her. You stay here and watch Ava and these two drunk idiots." Amaya said, as she pointed at Ray and Nate.

Sara nodded. "Okay."

"Saaraaaa." Nate said, drawing out the vowel. "Why aren't you drinking? No one's going home sober tonight."

Sara laughed. "I've been drinking this whole time. Probably more than you have. I just have a very high alcohol tolerance."

Ava huffed. "She's right, Nate. I know that about her. They told me." she said, slurring her words, her eyes flickering as her head turned to look at Sara. "I know a lot about you, Sara Lance. I do. I have a file."

"They? They who? And what file?" Sara asked, her face turning into a frown.

Ava's brows deeply furrowed, looking at Sara like the woman just asked her the most ridiculous question. "The file."

Sara was about to ask what was in the file when her phone pinged. It was Amaya, telling her that Zari asked, quite insistently, that the two of them drive around, and if she could kindly drive Ava home. After replying that she would, Sara looked up to see Ava's forearm resting on the table, and her head slumped against it.

"Okay, we're done here." she said to Nate and Ray who were still chatting, as she stood. "Let me just pay the bill then we should all head home."

"No no no no no, Sara. We'll take care of it. Go drive Ava home." Nate said.

"Are you sure? Should I book you an Uber first? You shouldn't drive." Sara said, worry evident in her voice.

"Yeah, I'm sure. We'll just finish this round then I'll book us an Uber. Don't worry."

Sara squinted her eyes at Nate, trying to weigh whether she should leave him and Ray alone. When the boys shoo'd her away, she relented. "Okay, then. Get home safe. Both of you."

Sara wasn't quite convinced she should leave Ray and Nate to themselves in their drunken state, but she figured they would fare better than Ava who was completely plastered, so she gave them a nod, then said her goodbye.

Chapter Text

After bidding Ray and Nate goodbye, Sara grabbed Ava's purse and slung it in the crook of her left arm. She took Ava's and put it around her shoulders, then with her right arm, gently pulled the agent up by the waist.

"Come on, Ava. Let's get you home." Sara said as she steadied Ava.

The two of them started walking towards the door. They hadn't even gotten out of the bar yet and Sara was already struggling a little. Walking a drunk human giraffe wasn't as easy as she thought it would be. Ava was leaning almost all of her weight onto Sara's side, her head lolled downwards, and was practically dragging her feet. As soon as they were out the door, Ava raised her head and turned to look at her, her brows dipping into a frown.

"I... don't need your help, Lance. I am more than capable of walking." Sara could barely understand what Ava was saying with all her slurring, even less because she had been distracted by the fact that she was literally holding the agent up and that this was the first time she and her ever had physical contact. The fact that Ava smelled like cherries didn't help either.

I love cherries, Sara thought.

"Yes, you do." Sara retorted. "And you're not. You can barely stand. Now, don't be such a stubborn bull and tell me where you parked your car so I can drive you home."

Ava looked around, her eyes fighting to keep themselves open. "There,” she said, then pointed Northwest with her lips.

Sara's eyes dropped to Ava's mouth, then quickly jerked them away before her thoughts could lead her somewhere she shouldn't go.

"Alright, then. Let's go." Sara held on to Ava's waist tightly, then they both started walking towards where Ava left her car.

Sara thought that Ava must have parked hers somewhere a bit far, as the whole street-side was already packed with vehicles when the team got to the bar earlier. They had been walking awhile and away from the bar when Sara noticed three men across the street. From the way they were walking, she could tell they were either high or drunk, or both. When they noticed her and Ava, they conspiratorially smiled at one another, then crossed the street to walk up to them.

Sara internally groaned, then said to herself, "Walk the fuck away. This isn't a good time."

Ava, hearing what she said, looked up at her. When the agent turned her head to where Sara was looking, the men were only a few feet away.

"Well, who do we have here?” One of them said, a predatory smirk on his face. “Pretty ladies like you two shouldn't be out on the street by yourselves at this hour. It's not safe out here. Why don't we take you home? You know, keep you both safe." As soon as he said that, all three of them started grinning like mad men.

Sara felt Ava straighten herself out next to her, before she untangled her left arm from Sara’s shoulders. Keeping her gaze on the men, she released Sara's hold from around her waist, then moved to place herself between her and the men.

"Stay behind me, Sara." Ava instructed, holding an arm out protectively in front of Sara, her voice had now its usual commanding tone, her body swaying.

Sara had only a split second to feel the shock of Ava's calling her by just her first name for the first time, before the woman took a step towards the men, and then passed out on the ground. Sara rushed to check if Ava was okay, and to help her up, as the three men started laughing maniacally.

Sara, who was already halfway crouched down, straightened up then walked around Ava and towards the men, putting some distance between them and the passed-out agent.

She pinched the bridge of her nose, then looked impassively between the men. "Alright, you stupid mongrels. You have two choices here. You either walk away with no broken bones, or try to touch me and my friend… and I'll make sure you limp for days." Sara warned, her voice neutral, and her expression showed complete boredom. "Choose."

All three men laughed even more at that. After exchanging looks and nodding to one another, they moved to circle around Sara.

Sara sighed impatiently, then shrugged her shoulders. "Broken bones it is, then." she said. "Don't say I didn't warn you."

The man to her right charged first, but before he could even touch her, Sara whipped with her hip to the left, doing the torque, and side-kicked the side of his knee then the side of his neck. When he stumbled, she followed it up with a front kick to his chest, hard enough that he dropped.

The last two men attacked almost at the same time, one of whom trapped her in a bear hug from the rear. With her arms trapped, Sara kneed the one in front of her in the groin. Although he was already in pain, as it was obvious to her, the man remained undeterred. He just bounced himself off a few times then moved to charge again. With her arms still immobile, Sara pushed herself up with her feet, jumping, then leaned back, putting all her weight against the front of the man who still had his arms around her, and kicked the man in front him in the chest with both of her feet, sending him straight to the ground.

When her feet landed, Sara immediately dropped her centre of gravity forward so the man behind her couldn't lift her, then she did a rear lift kick to his groin. Not giving him time to recover, she shifted her body to her left, then to her right. Once she felt the man's grip on her loosened, Sara elbow-smashed him to his midsection, then did the same to the left side of his face with her right elbow, twisting her body counter-clockwise as she went so she could land a right hook punch on that same side of the face after. Upon seeing that he was still standing, Sara groaned. “Dude?! Seriously?! Can you just drop already?! I don't have time for this.” she said before getting into a side stance and finishing him off with a spinning hook kick.

When it was over, all three men were on the ground, groaning in pain and, depending on where Sara had hit them, were clutching either their faces, neck, chest, and groin.

When she was certain that the men would stay down, Sara hastily ran back towards Ava. She crouched down, gently turned Ava's head, and saw that she was bleeding a little above her temple. Sara figured it must have been caused by the impact of her fall. She closed her eyes and clenched her jaw at the sight, a flash of anger at the men she just knocked down flickered in her chest. After calming herself down, Sara lightly tapped Ava's face a few times, hoping she would come to. When the woman groaned, Sara breathed out a sigh of relief, and then spoke.

"Ava, come on. Please, get up. I can't carry you. You're too.." Sara trailed off, briefly skating her eyes along the length of Ava's body, "long."

It took a lot of mumbling on Ava's part and grunting on Sara's because of how she was dragging the agent, before they reached the car. When they did, before walking around to the driver's seat and driving away, Sara made sure that Ava's seat belt was secure, and that her head was resting against the headboard and not dangling forwards.

They were almost at her place when it occurred to Sara that she hadn't the foggiest clue where Ava lived. She pulled in, sent Amaya a message asking her for Ava's address, and then waited. After a few minutes of her phone not pinging, Sara tried calling instead. Amaya's phone, however, seemed to be either out of reception or have been switched off.

"Shit," she muttered to herself.

Sara called Zari next. When her best friend didn't pick up, she tried a few more times, but to no avail. After 10 more minutes of waiting, Sara finally gave up.

"Fuck it," she said, as she decided that Ava would have to spend the night at her place.

-----------------------------

Sara walked dragged Ava to her room, helped her sit up in the bed, then started taking the latter's blazer off.

"Sara Lance," Ava suddenly said, lifting her head up, and causing Sara to freeze, as she was obviously wrong in assuming that the agent was already knocked out. "You... are a pain.. in my ass." she muttered slowly, slurring all the words out, and looking at her with unfocused and foggy eyes.

Sara halfheartedly rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what else I am?" she asked as she struggled getting Ava off her blazer. "Your human crutch tonight, you gabby drunk."

"A thorn in my side," Ava continued like she didn't hear Sara. "And a b- blister on my heel. I... do NOT like you.”

Drunk words. Sober thoughts, Sara thought.

Well, okay. Sara knew that. Of course she knew Ava didn't like her. Anyone who would feel even the slightest semblance of likeness, much more affinity, towards the person who was practically her new-found nemesis had no self-respect, and Sara was very much well-aware that Ava had enough of that. In fact, she wouldn't be surprised if the woman truly, genuinely despise her. Any civility that she had been showing her all this time was probably only either for Rip’s sake or because of the dictate of basic human decency, or both.

Still, Sara, confused as to why she suddenly cared if Ava liked her or not, and that it was bothering her that Ava didn't, couldn't help but feel the sting of the agent’s words.

“I don't,” Ava reiterated quietly, “even though you have the prettiest ey-"

Ava's words got cut off as her head drooped forward, her forehead slumping on Sara's shoulder, making the latter take a sharp intake of breath.

And she's out.

If Sara wasn't so disheartened by what she heard, it probably wouldn't have escaped her notice that Ava, despite not being able to finish her sentence, had just given her a compliment; so instead, Sara absently angled her head a little towards Ava's head, then slowly closed her eyes when something wafted through her nose.

She really does smell like cherries.

Sara flicked her eyes open, shook herself off, then laid Ava down. After taking off Ava's boots, she made her way to her bathroom, washed her hands clean, then took some cotton balls from the medicine cabinet behind the mirror, and soaked them with clean water. She then grabbed her makeup wipe dispenser and the antibiotic ointment.

She walked back into the bedroom, sat near the edge of her bed, then carefully brushed the hair off of Ava's face.

"Alright, Sharpe. Let's get your face cleaned up."

Sara took a few sheets of wipe from its dispenser, and gently scrubbed Ava's face clean of her makeup, careful not to rub where the agent hit her head. Sara noticed that it had started to swell. After seeing a towelette finally come off spotless, Sara used the soaked cotton balls to carefully clean Ava's wound next, dabbing it lightly until she was satisfied that the wound was free of dirt or any foreign particle.

She gently ran her fingertips across the side of Ava's head, feeling for some bumps or swelling, and only stopped when she was certain there wasn't any. The fall, however, left Ava with one small shallow cut and a few scrapes. They didn't look serious. They might show some mild contusion in the morning, but Sara was certain Ava didn't suffer a concussion. Since Ava's injury was only minor, she decided to leave it uncovered, and just applied a thin layer of antibiotic ointment instead to keep the wound clean and moist, and help it heal faster, and reduce scarring.

When it was all done, Sara reached out across Ava and on the other end of her bed to grab the comforter, and was pulling it up to Ava's chest when the latter stirred a little, making Sara's hand stop mid-air. She finished covering Ava, and just then, Sara heard her mumble; the words coming too quiet that she couldn't really understand them.

"What?" Sara whispered despite knowing Ava was asleep, her lips curled up into a small smile.

After a beat, Ava mumbled something again– loud enough this time that Sara heard it.

"ax2 + bx + c = 0"

Sara had to slap a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound of huff and chuckle she knew she was gonna let out.

Nerd.

After being sure that Ava had indeed fallen asleep, Sara took a moment to study her.

She felt a hint of a smile tugged around the edges of her lips when she recalled the way the agent valiantly attempted to shield her from the men tonight; and more so when she remembered how quickly Ava validated Sara’s feelings about, and reason for not hugging anyone back, back at the bar. She was perfectly aware that it probably wasn't Ava's intention, but she was silently, eternally grateful, either way. She had always been wary of people noticing her being quite averse to hugs, which was why Zari was the only person to whom she told the reason.

To an outsider, such reason may seem to be utterly foolish, but to her, it meant everything; which was why it took a lot for her to share it to her team, worried that they would just brush it off, or worse, find the same entirely laughable. When none of them had spoken after she was finished talking, she was sure they, in truth, found it to be stupid– that was, until Ava promptly interjected that it wasn't.

Sara had to admit that it completely caught her off-guard, which was why she was certain that with the way she was looking at Ava then, she definitely made herself look nothing like her usual tough, self-assured self who never before sought for anyone's validation, but at the time, it didn't really matter, because if Sara was being honest to herself, she hadn't felt that warm in a really long time.

After regarding Ava for a few more moments, Sara drew in a deep breath and let out a resigned sigh.

"Ava Sharpe," she muttered to herself. "What am I gonna do with you?"

She was supposed to hate this woman. She should... after everything the agent had said to her; everything she said about her even before they met face-to-face. Hell, she was about ready to strangle her in unsaturated ire just the other day; but the fact of the matter was, there was so much that she didn't know about Ava, and tonight had only been a testament to that.

First, Sara learnt that Ava was indeed single; not that she cared otherwise, because why would she. What she had was the basic human curiosity about a colleague. That was it. That was normal. There wasn't anything extraordinary about a person's desire to learn something about someone with whom she was working. So Ava had an ex– this... Max guy. Max what? Was that a short for something? Maxim? Maximus? Maxwell? Maximillian? Maximo? Ma...xipad?

Sara had to hold back a laugh at that last one. Whatever his name was, it didn't really matter. What she was curious to know was why they broke up. Was it Ava who broke things off? Was it the Max guy? How long were they together? What did it take to get the stern, seemingly stone-cold woman to want to be in a relationship? More importantly, what was Ava like as a girlfriend? Again, not that she cared outside purely professional curiosity.

One of the things the team told her and Zari on their first day with them was what Ava was like as a leader— a natural one. Sara knew that now. She was big enough to acknowledge and admit it. She also knew that someone wouldn't get to Ava’s position without making some enemies along the way. Cole had proven that to be true. Ava was highly respected by her colleagues, especially her team. She had more and better leadership skills, was smarter, was a better marksman and strategist than he was; and if what Nate, Ray, and Amaya had said was true, she was also better than him in hand-to-hand combat; which brought Sara to the second thing she learnt about the agent– she was a very skilled fighter; and Sara was just really really curious to know how Ava would fare against her in a fight, because truth be told, nobody had fought her before and won.

And that was because she was a skilled fighter, too. After Laurel died, Sara had spent years mastering different kinds of martial arts. She had shed too much sweat, cried too much tears, spilled too much blood, and had broken her bones and skin far too many times, to get to her level of mastery. There were sacrifices she had to make and prices she had to pay; some of which she was still paying, and a few she would be paying for as long as she was alive; maybe even after then.

Her training wasn't easy– no, her training was dangerous, life-threatening, even, but in all those times, she had help without which she wouldn’t have soldiered on. Sara shook the memory off before her thoughts could drag her down some place from which she would have a hard time dragging herself back up.

The third thing she discovered about the woman currently sleeping in her bed was that she was a genius– an honest-to-goodness genius, with perfect memory and stellar spatial intelligence. She still didn't fully understand what that third thing was, but she decided to table it for later-research.

Sara had always thought that Ava was smart; that much was obvious to her the day they met. Some people you just know right away were nerds, and everything about Ava screamed "nerd"– from her fastidiously pressed suits to her obsession with rules and protocols. With her exceptional skills and high IQ, maybe now Sara had a better understanding of the agent; why she was the way she seemed to her- serious, strict, hostile, can't always relate to people, and had a very few friends. Being a kid was hard enough. She could only imagine what it was like for Ava growing up.

She must have been pretty lonely.

Sara shook the thought off because what did she care if Ava grew up lonely and without friends? The woman must have occupied herself with things and activities that making friends didn’t seem necessary for her, anyway. Board games and sports, for instance. Sara didn't know how long Ava trained for, for her to be skilled in fighting, but if she were to surmise, considering what she now knew about the woman, Sara would say the agent started training at a young age.

Ava made a brief mention at the bar of her doing archery as a child. So did she. Sara instinctively turned her body around to look at the rack on the wall above her television where her bow was mounted.

She picked up the old hobby about two years after Laurel died, but before that, archery was one of the things she did when she was younger, that she didn't share with Laurel. Her sister was more of the board games kind of girl. Sara dragged her to practice one day, and she kept accidentally snapping her face with the bowstring every time she pulled it back. It took Laurel a few tries before she finally gave up, deciding to just stay back and watch her practice. Sara found herself smiling fondly at the memory.

Another thing she learnt about Ava was that she actually knew how to laugh. She was half-convinced the woman showed no other expression or emotion other than frowning or glaring or anger or exasperation– anything that didn't involve mirth, until Sara saw her interact with Jojo. And then tonight at The ColdWave Bar, Ava had mostly smiled, grinned, and laughed.

There was almost no antagonism between them tonight that Sara had slipped and referred to Ava as her friend to those three men from earlier. That would have been fine, except they weren't friends. In fact, they were the opposite of friends; which was why, quite frankly, Sara didn't know what to make of whatever the hell it was that had been fluttering in her chest the entire evening. She had a feeling, though, that whatever it was, was going to lead her to a dangerous, unfamiliar territory if Sara didn't shove it all the way down first, which is exactly what she was going to do, even if it meant she had to keep antagonising and exchanging verbal spats with Ava to ensure it.

When she decided weeks ago to take Rip’s offer to work on Darhk’s case with the task force he created, she had one thing in mind– to help Team Legends catch Darhk however she could. That was the focus, the goal, the mission. Sara couldn’t divert from it, nor could she allow herself to be distracted by anything. ESPECIALLY if that distraction came in the form of an annoying and by-the-book but tall, gorgeous, very attractive woman who happened to be her god damn boss.

Sara shook herself off, and took one final look at Ava. This was the first time she was seeing her barefaced. Granted, the agent's everyday makeup had always been minimal, but now that there was no trace of anything whatsoever on her face, she thought Ava looked a little different.

She had never been this close to her before, and without anyone present to call her out for staring, she started to peruse Ava's face, starting with her eyelashes– they were long and light, but definitely a shade or two darker than her own. Her nose, which was straight-edged, fit her face perfectly. Her upper lip was neither too thin nor too thick, and her bottom lip had a subtle natural vertical dent on it, which was an envy to most women who would go to great lengths of undergoing cosmetic surgery just to achieve it. Sara fought the urge to run her thumb across it.

With her hair spilling all over Sara’s pillowcase like a halo, her face relaxed, cheeks a soft pink because of alcohol flushing, and her lips a little parted, Ava looked…

Beautiful, Sara thought.

She looks absolutely beautiful.

Aaaannd that's what any unbiased, impartial, objective, and completely detached observer would say. Because that's what she was– an unbiased, impar— all that. She was all that. And the fact remained that there was an objectively gorgeous specimen of a woman lying in her bed, and Sara was most definitely NOT imagining what it would be like if she lay next to her.

Chapter Text

Ava was awakened by the harsh sunbeam filtering through the bedroom windows. She opened her eyes slowly only to quickly shut them again, feeling as if the light was making her brain bleed. She had a splitting ache in her brows, and even more in her head. Groaning, she buried her face into the pillow and frowned confusedly a the smell of it.

My pillows do NOT smell like jasmine, Ava thought.

Pressing the heel of her hand between her brows, right above the bridge of her nose, she rolled over then slowly sat up in bed. She felt like heaving– her throat felt dry, her stomach burned, and her whole body ached. Ava leveled her eyes and saw the unfamiliarity of the room as she gazed around.

Well, this is definitely not my room.

As though on instinct, her eyes automatically dropped to her body, and she felt relieved that, although her blazer was off, she didn't drink herself into having casual, meaningless dalliance with someone.

She tried to think back on the previous night to find out how she got in a stranger's bed, but just ended up hissing when she felt a pricking pain in her brain. Not being able to clarify her thoughts just yet, only bits and pieces of last night had flashed through her mind– going to The ColdWave Bar after finishing her paperwork, copious amount of alcohol, Team Legends drinking, her game with Cole, more drinking, and then some more, Nate and Ray laughing at something, a vague pleasant smell, Sara.

Sara.

An image of Sara's face flashed in Ava's head, and it was like a spark had lit the synapses in her brain, triggering most of her memories last night . She shot her head up as she recalled what happened shortly before everything went black for her.

"Oh, no, no, no, no, no." she muttered to herself, as she bolted out of the bed and headed towards the door, not caring that she was barefoot.

"SARA!" Ava called out, panic and dread had risen in her chest as the thought of what those men might have done to the other woman after she passed out, filled her thoughts.

She crossed the short hallway in just a few strides, stopping upon seeing Sara's sleeping form on the couch. Ava breathed out a sigh of relief, releasing the tension that had built up in her chest and shoulder. She took a moment to take her surrounding in, and later realised this was Rip's old place. She had been here countless of times before and she would have known it as soon as she left Sara's room had she not been filled with terror.

Careful not to wake up her sleeping host, Ava trod lightly towards the couch, trying to make as little noise as she could. She needed to know if Sara was hurt in any way, so she started scanning the length of Sara's body, starting from her head. After checking her face and along her arms, and not seeing any bruises or mark on them, Ava's eyes traveled down the woman's exposed thighs and legs. She had to quickly look away when she felt heat creeping up from her chest to her neck and face.

It was when she looked back down that she just noticed that Sara was sleeping in a thin oversize shirt and sleep shorts. A really short pair of sleep shorts. Ava's lips slowly lifted into an involuntary small smile as she gazed at Sara curled up in a ball. She looked so small, peaceful, and... harmless and so different from the mischief-maker, little devil that she was during the day.

Ava was debating whether to pick up the blanket that had fallen off the floor to cover Sara, when the latter stirred, causing her to freeze and consider skittering back to the latter’s room. Just when she was about to, Sara's eyes opened.

"Ava," Sara said, voice thick and a little deep, as she leveled herself up into a sitting position, then rubbed the sleep off her eyes with the back of her hands.

Something light tugged at Ava's chest at the sight, and she tried and failed not to stare at Sara.

"You're awake," Sara looked up at Ava, narrowed her eyes a bit as she tilted her head to the side, then her lips slowly curled into her trademark smirk. "Were you just watching me sleep?"

Ava's eyes widened a little, looking slightly outraged. "I most definitely was not." she declared, instinctively clasping her hands behind her back.

Sara huffed out a soft laugh. "Right," A pause. "How are you feeling?"

"Apart from wishing I was dead, I feel fine." Ava said wryly.

Sara chuckled. Closing her eyes, she stretched her neck and the muscles in her back, her face a little scrunched up, and then she audibly groaned.

Ava was hit with a sudden pang of guilt. "I, uh," she hesitated, unsure whether she should say anything at all. Eventually, she said, "I apologise for taking your bed. I should have been the one who slept on the couch."

Sara laughed. "What, with those legs?" she said, giving Ava a quick once-over. "Ava, you're a human giraffe. You're probably longer than my whole couch. You would've been uncomfortable. And besides, what kind of host would I be if I let you crash on here?" Sara asked, shooting Ava a teasing smile.

"I was completely off my trolley. I wouldn't have been bothered."

Sara shrugged. "Still."

A beat passed, and Ava was starting to feel uncomfortable and rather awkward where she stood and all she wanted to know was what happened after she passed out the night before. When it looked like Sara wasn't going to initiate discussion, Ava cleared her throat. "What happened last night, Miss Lance? Those men- Are you hurt? Did they hurt you?" she asked, trying to keep the concern off her voice and face lest Sara thought she cared.

Sara smirked. "Why, Sharpie, I didn't know you cared so much." she said, dramatically clapping a hand over her chest. "I'm touched."

Ava stared down at Sara, prompting the latter to turn her expression sober.

"They didn't hurt me, okay?" Sara paused, then a slow mischievous smile spread on her lips. "A badass ninja came to our rescue and beat those men up."

Ava breathed out a quiet relieved sigh at Sara's confirmation that she was indeed not hurt. When she looked back down at Sara, the woman's brows were slightly drawn together, her face had a look of something thereon.

Was that... concern?

After regarding her for a moment, Sara slowly rose from the couch and then stepped right into her personal space. Ava's heart jumped in her chest at their proximity, feeling the hairs on her arms stand up. She unclasped her hands from behind her, and clumsily took a step back to put some distance between them, only for Sara to take another one forward. Ava took a sharp breath, and swallowed hard, trying to ignore the burning in her cheeks and the thundering in her rib cage. She had never been this close to Sara; neither had she seen her before devoid of any makeup. Ava zoned in on the woman's eyelashes. They were light– so light that they were almost blonde. Her chin dimple was more prominent than Ava could remember. And her face... Sara's whole face were littered with freckles.

So many freckles.

Ava's eyes flickered to Sara's lips, causing her to swallow again. Sara took another small step forward, her brows creased into a light frown, and her gaze not quite holding Ava's. Against her better judgment and after thinking that Sara had started leaning in, Ava started to close her eyes when Sara held up her forefinger to Ava's face then slowly brushed the strands of hair off her forehead and the side of her face.

Sara hummed thoughtfully. "It doesn't look so bad. It's a little bruised around the area and still a bit swollen, but you should be fine. Some Arnica gel should do the trick."

Ava, who seemed to have forgotten how to breathe, cleared her throat, her face showing momentary confusion. "Whaaat?" she asked in a slightly strained voice.

Unaware of what she just put Ava through, Sara dropped her hand to her side, turned, and leaned down to pick up the blanket. "Your head. You took a fall last night." she said, as she threw the blanket on the couch then moved towards the kitchen.

Right.

Sara wanted to check on her head, because why else would she stand THAT near to her.

"Oh," Ava exclaimed, absently putting a hand up to her head, then turned to look at Sara after a moment of recovering. "I didn't even notice. I just thought that the throbbing in my head was only because of my hangover."

Sara huffed out a laugh as she took some eggs out of the fridge. When she turned to look at Ava, her brow creased a little into a concerned frown.

"Are you sure you feel fine? You look a little... flushed."

"Yes," Ava responded perhaps a little too quickly. "Yeah, no, I'm fine. I ju- I feel a little uncomfortable having slept in these clothes, that's all. And with the whole headache thing, too." she said, blurting out the first thing she could think of, because the idea of even telling Sara that she thought the woman was going to kiss her and that she almost let her, was enough to make Ava wish to bash her own head in with something, if only to get rid of that image of her and Sara kissing that she put in there herself, without so much of a good sense and forethought.

“Yeah, sorry about that. I would've gotten you out of your clothes and into something comfortable to sleep in, but something told me you would’ve shot me with your own gun first thing if I had.”

Ava's mind automatically conjured an image of Sara taking her clothes off in a completely different setting, and to her complete horror, the heat found its way back to her neck and face, causing her to hastily duck her head down in an attempt to conceal it from Sara.

“Oh, for God's sake,” Ava didn't realise she had spoken out loud until she lifted her gaze back on Sara and found her with a smile.

“I thought so,” Sara said, mistaking what prompted the other woman’s remark. When Ava didn't say anything in response, she continued. "Would you like to freshen up? Maybe it would help?" Ava heard Sara ask, pulling her out of her continuing pesky unwanted thoughts. "You can use the en suite bathroom in my room. I put a clean towel on the rack last night. Feel free to use my stuff, too. Or if you want, you can use the other bathroom. It's right ac–"

"I know where it is," Ava cut Sara off, wanting to get away from her as quickly as possible. "I've been here several times before."

"Right," Sara said, snapping her fingers, remembering Ava and Rip were friends. "Of course you have."

Ava hurriedly made her way back towards Sara's room. Closing the door, she leaned her back against it, eyes closed, and waited for her heart to slow down.

Get it together, Sharpe.

Letting out a deep sigh, she walked over to the bed then sat on the edge of it at the foot. Having finished slipping her boots back on, she dragged her gaze up and landed above the TV. There, mounted on the wall was a compound bow and arrow storage rack. In her haste to find Sara earlier, she hadn’t noticed it, going out.

“Huh,” Ava huffed thoughtfully.

She does archery.

Not that she was impressed or anything, because she wasn’t.

Grabbing her purse from the couch at the corner, Ava then went inside the bathroom. She checked herself in the mirror and grimaced at the sight. She did have a bruise near her temple, and it looked a little nasty. Ava turned the faucet lever to wash her face. She looked back up in the mirror, and noticed that her face had no traces of makeup on it, which could only mean that Sara must have wiped them off last night. A flash of something flickered deep inside her before she shook herself off, not giving her head a chance to get any ridiculous idea.

After washing her face and drying it off, Ava brushed her hair then put on a thin layer of makeup, for no other reason than not to look like she just had a one-night stand and was about to go do the walk of shame. She definitely wasn't trying to look good for Sara because why should she? So what if the woman looked like a model even after she had just woken up? What human looked that good in the morning, especially after a drunken night? Sara didn't even seemed like she was hungover at all. Ava guessed some people are just THAT lucky.

She took one last look at herself in the mirror, made her way back to the room, and started making Sara's bed. When she was satisfied, she looked around to check if there was anything out of order, but stopped short when her eyes landed on a double-tiered display rack mounted on the wall above the bed with a sword and its sheath.

"WHAT... THE.. HELL," Ava muttered to herself.

Okay, a bow and arrow were slightly acceptable, but a SWORD??? What woman would keep a sword in her bedroom?? Hell, what woman would keep a sword these days?? Full stop.

I don't even have one and I'm a huge lesbian.

Ava shook the thoughts off, then grabbed her blazer, before heading back towards the living room.

Sara was still in the kitchen, her back to her, when she came out. Clearing her throat, Ava said, "I should get out of your hair."

Sara turned around then stopped frozen. She had stared at Ava almost the entire time the previous night and she still wasn't used to the agent's casual look, which Sara thought was better than her usual one.

OBJECTIVELY speaking, Sara thought.

Ava had obviously washed the sleep (and quite possibly ber hangover) off her face because she was now looking as fresh as when she walked into the bar last night– soft gilded waves of hair swiped across one shoulder and the faintest touch of makeup on her face, which Sara’s eyes involuntarily scanned, taking in every small detail of such delicate perfecti–

Nope.

Sara tore her eyes away from Ava's face before bringing them up to it again, clearing her throat in the process. "Later," she said, then cocked her head towards the dinner table. "Sit. I made you breakfast. You must be starving."

"Oh,” Ava exclaimed, ignoring the sudden warmth she felt spread in her chest. "Uh, that- that's okay. I'm not really hungry."

Just then, her stomach rumbled loud enough for Sara to have heard it for sure. Ava clenched her jaw at the sound, closing her eyes in embarrassment and ducking her head down a little.

Traitorous stomach, Ava thought.

Sara chuckled. "Your stomach says otherwise."

"It's really okay, Miss L–"

"I said sit, Ava." Sara said, cutting Ava off, her voice leaving no room for argument.

Ava's eyebrows quirked up at Sara's tone. Normally, she would've said something about Sara barking out an order at her, but she wasn't really in the mood to start a potential argument, especially this early in the day, before she even had her morning coffee, so she put her purse on the couch then made her way towards the dinner table.

"Okay, so... hangover food. " Sara said, then took the food from the kitchen island, and place them one by one in front of Ava. "Banana to replenish the potassium and magnesium you lost last night while you were drinking yourself half to death."

Sara looked up at Ava to see her opening her mouth as though to say something, but she cut her off. "Don't even tell me you weren't. I practically dragged you to your car last night because your legs were useless." she said teasingly, then went back to the food. "Here are some cysteine-rich eggs to fight those pesky alcohol-induced toxins. I wasn't sure how you wanted them so I got you all boiled, scrambled, and sunny side-up. I would've made you eggs benedict too but I can never get them right, you know? Not once.” Sara babbled, chuckling to herself. When she turned her gaze back down, Ava was looking at her with an odd expression on her face, causing Sara to sober, then she spluttered. “Tha- y- you don- obviously you don't care about that. Moving on! Saltine crackers, fast-acting carbs to increase your blood sugar. Coconut water for hydration. Black coffee. That's how you take your coffee, right? No cream, no sugar? I saw you make a cup one time in the break room."

Ava, who had been staring at Sara the entire time, quickly jerked her gaze away when Sara met it. Clearing her throat, she rubbed the back of her neck and lowered her eyes on the food.

"Mm-hmm, yes. Thank you, Miss Lance."

"I don't really think coffee helps with hangovers, but it sure will wake you up. And of course, some french toasts, because... well, you like them."

When Sara looked at Ava, the woman quirked her eyebrow up, her eyes questioning.

Understanding Ava's silent question, Sara said, "Amaya texted while you were in the bathroom. She told me it was your favourite."

Ava gave her a nod.

Without saying a word, Sara left. Ava had just started sipping her coffee when her surprisingly accommodating host came back about a minute later, then took a glass of water, and placed it on the table together with an aspirin.

"For your headache. Your head must be killing you. And here, take these, too." Sara laid the antibiotic ointment, then the Arnica gel. "This is so your wound doesn't get infected. The gel's for the swelling and bruises."

"Thank you," Ava replied briefly, keeping her eyes on the food, as she was really finding it hard to look at Sara, distinctly aware of how her heart turned over at all the trouble the other woman had taken, but still utterly ignoring the warmth that had now started to seep through her bones.

Sara hadn't made an attempt to move. After a moment of awkward silence, and feeling like Ava wasn't going to start with her breakfast if she was around, Sara cleared her throat. "Well, I should let you eat your breakfast."

Ava finally looked up at her, half-rising out of her chair. "Wait. What about you? Aren't you going to have yours?"

"Not really much of a breakfast person. I’m fine with just a cup of coffee."

"That is completely unwise," Ava remarked, slightly outraged and now fully standing, her eyebrows furrowed. "Breakfast is the most imp–" she cut herself off when she saw Sara looking at her with a small smile and a subtle look on her face that Ava was willing to label as anything but fond.

Sara huffed out a laugh and ducked her head as she shook it. When she look back up at Ava, an indescribable expression of amusement and fascination seemed to have spread across her face, and it took physical effort on Ava's part to not let her eyes go wide in baffled disbelief.

"You really are a huge nerd, aren't you?"

Ava's furrowed brows deepened, her face had a very confused look on it that only made Sara laugh even more.

"Okay, well, I'm gonna take a shower." Sara said. "If I'm not out yet by the time you're done eating, and you wanna go home, can you just lock the door when you leave? Don't worry about the gate."

"Yes, of course."

"Your keys are on the coffee table."

Ava nodded. “Okay.”

Sara made her way back to her room but was stopped halfway through by Ava's voice.

"Miss Lance," Ava said, choosing to put her hands behind her back, as she didn't know what to do with them. "Thank you... For the breakfast, I mean. For agreeing to drive me home, and for letting me sleep in your bed and not in my car."

"You must really think so low of me if you thought I'd just leave you to sleep in your car all night." Sara replied, her face impassive.

"Wh- It's n- I d- That's not what I..."

Ava's floundering was cut off when Sara's face broke into a smile then she started chuckling.

Sara wanted to drag her messing with Ava out, but she couldn't hide her chuckle at the sight of the agent's face when the woman started floundering. Something warm unfurled in Sara's chest. She thought Ava looked a little nervous, too. Flounder and nervous– another things she thought Ava didn't know how to do or be, but apparently did.

"I'm just messing with you, Ava. And you're welcome." Sara said, smiling, before turning to go to her room.

Ava sat down, and went back to her food. Now that her mind was fully awake, she could remember everything that happened last night in extreme detail- the moment she set foot in the bar, its smell, what people were wearing, who said what, what brand of tequila and beer she had, and how many shots and bottles she drank, which was a disgustingly high number. Amaya was right– she was a lightweight, which was why she never went past drinking two bottles of beer, or a glass of wine. Last night, however, was different. Last night, she felt relaxed, happy, and safe, and was having a great time with her friends.

Friends, Ava thought, a soft smile pulled at her lips.

Sometimes, she still couldn't believe that she got to call the people that made up her team, her friends. Ava had spent almost three-quarters of her life by herself. In all her academic life, she had always found it hard to make friends with the kids she went to school with. Even as an adult, Ava still didn't find it easy to relate with most people, but it wasn't so much for lack of trying, as it was because people were always quick to take her for someone cold, withdrawn, and distant, and they wouldn't really give her a chance to change such assumptions.

Being a child prodigy didn't exactly make you "cool" in the eyes of kids her age. Her parents had known since she was seven that she had a special gift. Her teacher, who had been watching Ava one afternoon until her ride home arrived, told them that she left to go the bathroom, and when she came back, the complicated advanced-level math problem that had been sitting on her desk, and which she had been struggling for hours to work out, had been solved between the time she left and got back to the room. When her teacher asked her how she did it, Ava told her she once saw the formula on one of her father's textbooks. It was also around that time that her father noticed that she was exhibiting early spatial ability.

That had been the start of kids singling her out. Then she reached puberty at 10 and she started noticing how she could remember past things with absolute clarity, including the minute details, especially memories of emotional events. Specialists had told her and her parents that she had photographic memory. And although she did have it, it didn't explain how she could remember even the most useless detail, or feel the same feeling about a particular event as intensely as she did when it happened.

For many years, that was what she and her parents thought she only had, until 2006 when the first case of Hyperthymesia had been reported.

It was also around that age when Ava's IQ level had been verified and recorded at 200. She graduated high school at 12, went to college soon after with a major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a minor in Business Management in MIT. Instead of getting her ScD, however, as what had always been the plan, Ava applied to and later graduated summa cum laude from Columbia University with a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology.

Still, Ava sat through her whole academic life being taught by and listening to people who had at least half her intelligence level.

By the time she turned 14, she had become accustomed to being mostly by herself, and had grown even more withdrawn owing to a certain event that had spurred her into wanting to become a federal agent; a profiler to be specific.

Being a hyperthymestic genius with high spatial intelligence had made her feel alone and isolated her whole life. That was until she met Keegan.

Keegan.

Ava shook herself off before she could lose herself in the memories yet again, and willed her mind to think of her team, instead.

She met Amaya when she was 23. Ava came to the FBI Academy with only one thing in mind– to survive training so she could become what she had always wanted since she was 14– an FBI agent. She didn't go to Quantico to make friends or have a good time, but at the end of the 21-week intensive training, she had both; and it was hugely because of Rip who had taken her under his wing and made her his protégée, and Amaya who didn't once look at her like she had some kind of disease, or think she was a weirdo.

For the first few weeks, Ava was wary and suspicious of Amaya's motive. It wouldn't have been the first time that someone had tried to befriend her, only for her to find out later on that there had been a betting pool of some sort at her expense, or that it was just another ploy for people to make fun of her. That wasn't the case with Amaya. Her best friend had been nothing but genuine with her since the day they met, and it was because of that genuity that had made Ava go out of her comfort zone and start making some big strides in her connections to other people.

At age 25, she joined the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico, Virginia; the youngest ever to be accepted in said unit. Her getting in the BAU without the required number of years as a special agent wasn't as much because of her having a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology, as it was her expertise on statistics, historical prolific criminals, particularly serial killers, and geographical profiling, and her aptness of creating a profile of a perpetrator despite not being a trained profiler yet. Her exceptional spatial ability also enabled her to reconstruct a crime with incredible accuracy in such a short time, based on what she saw at the crime scene.

It was in the BAU where she met Nate, who had already been with the unit as a profiler for years. It was through her that he and Amaya met. After one promotion and four years with her old team, Ava was promoted to Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch for the Washington Headquarters, an FBI branch headed by Rip. Ray, Gideon, and Lily were already the head of the Tactical and Technology Services, Technical Analysis Unit, and Forensic Science Unit, respectively, when she transferred to D.C. Out of everyone on her team, she had known Ray the longest. They met when she was 16 and he was 19. Ray was her father's mentee and had worked with her dad for a few years, until he quit after his fiancée's death to pursue another calling; one which she later learnt was to work with the FBI after being recruited by the agency.

Two years ago, the Special Agent in Charge of CCRSB retired, and Ava, who was second in line, took over the position; then a few months ago, Rip had assigned her to lead the task force whose main goal was to find and catch Darhk. Ray, Gideon, and Lily, being the lead of their respective unit, were the most obvious choices to be members of said TF. Ava, however, specifically requested for Nate to be on the team as their resident profiler. Rip was adamant at first, saying that Ava was also a profiler, so there was no need to get another one. She told him, however, that she wasn't a board certified forensic psychologist, and that having one on the team could come in handy, because they were, after all, hunting a psychopath. And that had been it– all her closest friends at the Bureau made up her team.

And then there were Zari and Sara.

Sara, Ava thought, as she looked down at the food Sara had prepared for her.

Amaya was right– Sara Lance was an enigma to Ava. Most times she was this happy-go-lucky, facetious individual who didn't seem to fully get what they did at the Bureau, or its importance; or maybe she did, but she just didn't care. The last three weeks had been the most taxing for Ava. It was less about the Darhk case itself and how they had little to no progress thereof, but more about the woman who seemed to have no respect for her or her job. While most agents cowered at the mere sight of Ava, Sara wouldn't even flinch. The woman even had the boldness to openly challenge her in the presence of other people.

Truth be told, she would say that Sara was what mostly had been stressing her. The added pressure of the Darhk case, and her other responsibilities as the SAC weren't helping either; and she was worried that if she didn't keep things at bay, sooner or later, her disorder would be triggered. Its symptoms had already started– she had difficulty sleeping or staying asleep, and if she did manage to get some sleep, she would get nightmares; she had been more hypervigilant and hyper-aware, she was easily irritated or angered, if the recent angry outburst she had towards Sara was anything to go by; and worst of all, she was ready to physically attack the woman last Wednesday and was, in truth, going to had there not been an interruption.

Ava shook the memories off. She couldn't believe she came too near to assaulting someone; least of all a woman. Sure, it was not unprovoked. Sara had, in fact, instigated the confrontation, but had she been level-headed, she would've chosen a different course of action– one that definitely did not involve aggression.

Ava wasn't easily angered. She really wasn't. Normal children weren't really compassionate or kind towards kids like her– those who were different, so she had developed a thick skin very early on in life. She had to, if she was going to survive her not being normal; and just like any other trait she had developed as a kid, she carried it over into adulthood. Things people say or do to goad her didn't really bother her, but there was just something about Sara that drove her up the walls so easily. Her juvenile stunts, her lack of respect for Ava's authority, and blatant disregard for rules, irked her to no end.

It would've been easier to understand if she couldn't see something about Sara that had piqued her curiosity. However flippant the woman had been, Ava had a feeling there was another side to her.

Case in point– Sara could've left her in the car last night and Ava wouldn't have been surprised if she had. Instead, she let her sleep in her own bed. She was also currently consuming the food Sara bothered to prepare for her. She didn't have to, and yet she still went out of her way to cook breakfast. Ava had, for one quick moment, expected it to be laced with poison. She hadn't forgotten that, like her, just three days ago, Sara looked like she was ready to go postal on her.

She didn't expect things between them to suddenly get hunky-dory just because Sara was back on the team or that they spent a few hours last night without throwing scathing words at each other. If anything, she was anticipating the woman to become even more antagonistic towards her, and she knew it was only a matter of time, but so far, Sara had, at the very least, not been rude to her. Ava would even go as far as say that Sara had been considerate– she had taken her makeup off, for which Ava was silently incredibly grateful, because sleeping with makeup on would've been a total nightmare for her skin. The woman also had taken the time to clean her wound, and had even given her something to take care thereof. Ava wondered if she would have done the same thing had the role been reversed.

She was curious to know what Sara's angle was; what the catch was, because there has to be. Why else would the woman pass up on a chance to play some devious scheme on her, especially since Sara had her at a clear disadvantage? She didn't want to think that the woman had nothing up her sleeve and was just being altruistic, because that would mean that she really wasn't all what she appeared or presented herself as; and Ava had already enough reason to hammer that thought home.

She had already admitted, at least to herself and Amaya, that she found Sara physically attractive, but if she was being honest with herself, there was something else that drew her inexorably to the other woman. Despite the hostile and ill-disposed nature of their first meeting, even then, Ava had sensed that beneath her obstinance, the devil-may-care attitude and assertive demeanour, Sara had a depth that Ava, in spite of herself, just knew she would one day find herself diving headfirst into.

God help her.

She had been seeing it every day for the last three weeks. When it was nearing night time and the floor wasn't buzzing with so many people; when the usual clatter one would hear in an office had quieted down, Sara would distance herself from everyone. She would stay right at her desk, her back to everyone else. The only person who had unimpeded view of Sara, was her; right from her office, and sometimes, during their morning briefings, Ava would notice how Sara often zoned out, as if her mind was someplace else entirely.

Sara, when she thought nobody was looking, would stare off into the distance, her hand either fiddling with or clutching her necklace like it was some sort of security blanket, her face painted with a haunted look– a look Ava knew all too well; the same one she saw as Sara was talking about her sister.

She would never say it outloud, but last night, Ava felt admiration for the woman who had been terrorising her for weeks– for the courage and strength it took for her to talk about what Ava was certain was the most painful thing for the other woman.

The way Sara talked about Laurel, and the look her face had when she did, told Ava that Sara still carried the ghost of her sister's death with her. Ava could understand that. She would, because she knew that that kind of load– that kind of burden would stay with someone, no matter the time had passed, especially since Sara and her parents never had the closure they deserved as the guy who stabbed Laurel to death was never caught, which meant, he was probably still out there, living his life as though he didn't take someone else's.

The files on Sara that Rip had her read was, in fact, extensive. It had everything– from Sara's birth, her prepubescent period, whole adolescent years, most of her adult life, so far. Most, because there wasn't any record of her on the files from after Laurel died until years later when she applied for work at some bar, and then later on for a license to be a private investigator. There was a huge gap in Sara's life of which there wasn’t any reference whatsoever; and unless someone either temporarily lived a solitary life or was dead, Ava didn't think it possible for a person to be virtually invisible. The latter option obviously wasn't the case. As for the former, Ava didn't take Sara for someone who would just pack her things and live in complete seclusion for years. She didn't really think anything of it at the time, but perhaps Rip had left out any information about Sara in all those years, by accident. He said that the two of them had stayed in contact for a while, before they completely lost touch. Perhaps Ava could just ask him to loop her in a little with the gap in Sara’s life, at least with details he was privy to before they lost contact with each other. She decided to ask Rip about it at some point.

There was also this one other thing that had been bugging Ava for weeks now– that thing she thought she was missing with regard to whatever connection Sara had with Darhk, and the real reason the other woman was asked by Rip to be on her team, were still unknown to Ava. She knew there has to be something else; and she had sworn last Tuesday, when they were planning their undercover mission and Ava had confirmed that even the mere mention of Darhk's name elicited some sort of reaction from Sara, that one way or another, she was going to figure it out.

So yes, to Ava, Sara was this big walking conundrum. There had never been a puzzle or riddle or mystery that she didn't solve; not one, in all her life. And she had vowed that Sara Lance was most definitely not going to be the first.

With that final thought, Ava finished her food, then washed and dried the dishes. She was debating whether she should leave now or wait for Sara to finish showering. Not that she was imagining what the woman would look like after she'd just come out of the shower, all fresh and wet, because why would she?

Thinking that Sara probably was expecting her to be gone by the time she was done, and realising she didn't really have anything else to say to her, Ava decided to head home; so she grabbed her purse and her keys, and then walked towards the door.

Chapter Text

Ava pulled the door open and was greeted by Zari who looked like she was just about to jam the key in.

Finding Ava unexpectedly at her place, Zari’s eyes widened briefly before putting on an awkward smile. "Hey! Ava!” she said, dragging the vowels out and giving Ava a quick once-over. “You look great! In… what you were wearing yesterday.”

"Miss Tomaz! Hi!" Ava greeted back, equally as surprised. "I thought you were still asleep in your room."

"Oh, so we're back to Miss Tomaz, then.” Zari said, half-joking. “Okay."

There was an awkward pause between them before Ava's face reflected that of a mix of disbelief and amusement. "Did you stay over at Amaya's?"

At the question, Zari started fidgeting awkwardly, eyes not meeting Ava's. "Yes. She insisted, because I was so wasted, and I kind of- we d–"

Ava's lips curled up into a small smile. "I don't really need to know."

"Good," Zari said curtly, sounding a little defensive, and finally looking up at Ava. "Because there's nothing to know, really. We just slept. Very far apart."

Ava snorted a laugh which was cut off when Zari almost glared at her. Nodding and holding back a smirk, she said, "Right, of course. I believe you."

After a beat, Zari cleared her throat, then her face morphed into something resembling an expression Ava always saw on Sara's. "So she finally did it, huh?" A smirk.

"Who did what?" Ava asked, her look wondering.

"Sara. She finally Lance'd you. I can't believe she held out for three weeks. It's a record, you know?"

"Lanced?” Ava asked, her brows dipped in confusion. “She wants to… prick me with a lance?"

Zari snorted. “No, Ava. Not lance lance. I meant… Lance.”

“I…” Ava shook her head, looking almost lost, “don’t know what that means.”

Zari laughed, her face displayed that of utter delight. "Sara! She finally seduced you into sleeping with her."

Ava's eyes widened as she sucked in a breath, her face looking completely scandalised. "I DID NOT SLEEP WITH SARA LANCE!" she said quiet forcefully, sounding downright offended. "I would never."

Zari hummed.

"I passed out," Ava continued defensively. "And I'm assuming Sara didn't know where I lived, so she just let me crash here."

Zari nodded lightly as she hummed, finally looking convinced. "Yeah, that makes sense. Sara would never sleep with a drunk woman. When she sleeps with someone, it's because that person really wants to sleep with her. And you already said you would never, so..." she trailed off.

"I wouldn't." Ava stressed, her voice firm.

Zari shrugged her shoulders. "Just as well," she said nonchalantly, moving to the side to let Ava pass, then stepped through the doorway, "because Sara would likely never try anything with you since she still thinks you're straight. Unless, I don't know... someone makes it known to her that you're not."

With that, Zari gave Ava a knowing smile, then closed the door, leaving her somewhat baffled. Just before she closed the gate, she heard Zari yelling Sara's name.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Sara had just put on some clothes when her eyes settled on her bed. She huffed, then shook her head, a soft smile tugging at the corner of her lips. Ava Sharpe had made her bed down to a T. The woman really did take organizing to a level of almost-perfectionism.

It was weird having a conversation with Ava– the sober Ava, that is, without it ending in some sort of clash between them. Sara didn't know how to feel about that, but she didn't entirely hate it; at least not in this very instant.

She had just unwrapped the towel from around her hair and was about to tip her head over, when she heard Zari yell from the living room.

"SARA LANCE!!" Zari called out, plopping herself on the couch. "GET YOUR ASS IN HERE. RIGHT NOW!"

Sara stepped out of her room, drying her hair off with a towel. "Fucking hell, Tomaz. Will you stop yelling?!" she said, then looked back in the direction of Zari's bathroom. Something akin to disappointment glinted in her chest at the realisation that Ava couldn't get out of her place fast enough.

"Looking for someone?" Zari asked, giving Sara a knowing smirk.

Sara rolled her eyes. "Ava was drunk, which was partly your fault, by the way, for encouraging her to drink more than she could take."

Zari smirked. "You upset that I contributed to getting your crush hella drunk?"

Sara pointedly ignored Zari’s question. "I was supposed to drive her home since Amaya asked me to, but then I realised I didn't know where she lived. Both you and your crush,” she emphasised meaningfully, “weren't answering my calls, and so I had no choice but to let her sleep here."

Zari hummed.

"And why didn't you, huh?" Sara asked as she sat down next to Zari, tucking a leg under her. "Were you and Amaya getting it on in her car so you didn't notice I was calling you?"

Zari waved her off. "Nope. You're not deflecting. We're not done talking about Ava. So, tell me," she said, setting herself on the couch more comfortably, a look of excitement on her face. "Did you guys wake up all cuddly and cute?"

Sara sneered. "Why on earth would we cuddle? It would've been like I was cuddling a log with how stiff she is. She slept in my bed. I slept on the couch." A pause. "Wait," she said, a teasing smile forming on her lips. "You're still wearing the same clothes from last night. Did you just get home?" she groaned. "If I knew you weren't gonna sleep here, I would have slept in your bed. My back is killing me."

Zari shook her head, keeping her eyes on Sara and looking at her somewhat incredulously.

"I CANNOT believe a woman was in your bed and you didn't sleep with her. Frankly, it's a goddamn miracle."

Sara smacked a pillow at Zari's face, making the latter laugh. "I CAN keep it in my pants, you know? And like I've told you many times, Ava's not my type. And even if she was," Sara held up a finger. "which she isn't, Ava's–"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Zari cut her off. "I know what you're gonna say. Still didn't stop you from ogling her the whole night, though."

Sara threw Zari a contemptuous look. "I was not."

"Oh, puh-lease, Sara.” Zari said exaggeratedly as she rolled her eyes. “You could've borne a hole into Ava's face by how hard you were staring at her, wait– no, ogling. You were ogling her."

Sara opened her mouth to counter but clamped it shut when Zari continued. "And how about her being a literal genius with an IQ of 200, huh?”

Sara shot her an amused smile. “ You say that like you're not a literal genius yourself.”

“Well, yeah, but I’ve known I’m a genius. I didn't know Ava was one. It's–" Zari shook her head. "I really don't understand why she chose to be a federal agent when she could have been a scientist or something."

“Ray is a genius, too. Did you ask him why he’s a federal agent?” Sara asked wryly.

“He made a vague mention once about working in a tech company before he joined the FBI.”

Sara hummed thoughtfully. “Anyway, it's not our business."

"You know, I think we learnt more about Ava last night than we had in the last three weeks."

Sara nodded. "I agree. She got a little chatty, too. Told me she had a file on me."

Zari's brows drew together. "File? What file?"

Sara shrugged. "Don't know. I thought she only had my arrest record."

"Do you think she knows about...? Zari trailed off, a hint of worry in her tone.

"I don't think so. I mean, if she did, would I still be here sitting with you? Because I highly doubt that I would."

Zari's expression turned sober. "Sara, I think we both know by now that Ava has a very black-and-white view on laws and rules. For her, you either abide by them or break them. If she finds out- if she knows… " she trailed off, then said, "You need to ask Rip if she knows."

"I don't even know if Rip knows." Sara said doubtfully. "Sure as hell didn't tell him."

"Sara, Rip is an executive director– the fourth in line to the directorship of the entire FBI! Of course he knows! Oh, God!" Zari exclaimed as she shifted on the couch, panic evident in her voice. "Why hadn't we thought about this until now?” Shaking her head vigorously, she said, “I never should've pushed you to accept Rip's offer to work with the FBI. What if Ava has known all this time and is just waiting for the perfect opportunity to get you off the case permanently? I mean, that would explain why she had all her preconceived biases against you."

"Hey, hey, hey, Z." Sara said, placing a reassuring hand on Zari's knee in an attempt to calm her down. "Look at me," she waited until Zari met her gaze before speaking again. "First of all, you didn't push me to do anything. You may have helped me realise some things, but it was ultimately my decision to accept Rip's offer, you hear me? I think deep down, I always knew I was gonna take it." A pause. "Secondly, if Rip knows, then why hasn't he done anything? At the very least, he should've said something to me, don't you think? As for Ava, she doesn't know, okay? Think about it. Do you honestly think that Ava Sharpe, the woman who has hated me from the very beginning, would not jump at the first chance to get rid of me? Besides, if Rip did know, I'm sure he didn't tell her. If he did, don’t you think he’d be in trouble, too?"

Zari mulled it over for a few moments before letting out a relieved sigh. "Well, I suppose you're right," she said, finally easing the worry off of her chest.

"I usually am," Sara stated smugly.

After a beat, Zari's brows drew together, suddenly looking pensive.

"What?" Sara asked, already dreading what her best friend could possibly be up to now.

"We could look Ava up," Zari said, looking at Sara expectantly. "Learn more about her. I mean, after last night, she became more interesting to me. Besides, it only seems fair, don't you think? She does have a file on you. And how do I know she doesn't have one on me, too?"

"Yeah,” Sara said sarcastically, “because you're hiding such a huge dark secret."

"You seem to be forgetting I was a hacktivist when we met. That technically made me a cyber criminal." Zara countered. "Oh, and speaking of which, Gideon knows."

"She what now?" Sara asked, her eyes a little wide.

Zari laughed. "Yeah. She immediately placed me the day we met. She told me not to worry, though, because she's not gonna rat me out. Hackers have a code, you know? We don't tell on each other."

Sara nodded. "That's good." she paused. "Even if she did tell on you, the FBI should give you a plaque of appreciation or something, not arrest you."

"I don't think Ava would see it like that," Zari said, chuckling, then stared at Sara for a moment. "So, yeah,” she exclaimed. “Just say the word and I'll have everything we need to know about her in no time."

Sara huffed out a laugh. "We're not looking into our boss, Z."

Zari's brow quirked up, her lips curled up into a smirk. "Oh, she's our boss now?” she said teasingly. “Since when? I thought the whole reason we got into this whole private detective business was because both of us didn't want to work for a boss," Zari said, making an air-quote gesture.

Sara shook her head, a faint smile on her lips. "You know what I mean."

Zari shrugged her shoulders. "Suit yourself. But if you change your mind..." Zari trailed off.

"I won't," Sara said decisively.

“But if you change your mind…” Zari insisted.

After a beat, Sara squinted her eyes and tilted her head a little, studying Zari. "Now, this thing between you and Amaya..." she trailed off, her voice teasing.

Zari loudly groaned. "Would you piss off?! We didn’t have sex, if that’s what you really wanna know. We didn't even cuddle or anything like that.”

“No?” Sara asked teasingly. “Just ask Amaya out already, for crying out loud. What are you still even waiting for? She obviously likes you back. I see it.”

“I’m not even sure she likes likes me, you know what I mean?” Zari said deflatedly. “For all I know, she’s just being… Amaya– nice, kind to and likes everybody.”

“You’re kidding, right?” Sara asked incredulously.

“Uh, no?”

“I–” Sara shook her head in baffled disbelief. “You really embody the phrase ‘useless lesbian’ quite well, Z. Jesus Christ. I don’t know how to help you, to be honest.”

Zari chucked a throw at Sara. “Shut up,” she said, as she stood up, then walked towards the kitchen.

Sara laughed after her.

"I'm making breakfast." Zari said.

"Make me a cup of coffee?" Sara asked, reaching out the book she had been reading for days, from under the coffee table. "And oh, if you're not planning on getting some more sleep, go take a shower after you've had your breakfast. You're coming with me to a car dealer. We really need to get a car."

"Yaasss," Zari exclaimed, tipping her head backwards. "About damn time."

-----------------------------

After reading the words from a few pages but not really absorbing anything, Sara decided to just put the book back down, as her mind was somewhere else.

What she said to Zari was true; she didn't tell Rip something about her– the one thing that would forever change the relationship she had with him, or with everyone else, for that matter. When you discovered the truth about someone, something would happen. The truth would change everything, and it was always in the way things were; the relationship you had with people, that suffered the most. How could it not, when what she had been keeping from everyone wasn’t as simple as a buried unflattering photo of her from middle school or some other stuff that were of no or little importance in the grand scheme of things?

Sara wanted to keep it to herself. She thought that if she did, then her truth was her prisoner. She got to choose what to do with it; how to control it. Otherwise, if she let others know about it, then she would be its prisoner, because she would no longer be alone in being affected by it; and how people would be impacted by it was something over which she had absolutely no control.

She couldn't just forget it, so the least she could do was bury it so deep someplace where no one could ever dig it up; and she did, but an unimagined, dreadful circumstance a year and a half into their friendship led Zari to finding out. Sara had expected her to run as fast as she could towards the opposite direction and as far away from her as possible, as one would expect someone to, but to her utter surprise and baffled disbelief, Zari stayed. She consciously chose to not leave. She didn’t even ask her, or show any interest in knowing the details. Zari just went on about their days like usual, as though nothing big and massively consequential happened. It had been Sara who finally addressed the elephant in the room one night, because she thought that after being subjected to such ordeal that should have been traumatic for anyone, Zari deserved to know everything. And so she told her. How her best friend reacted to the knowledge of which she had been made aware was the last thing she expected. She was wrong when she thought Zari knowing every little detail would drive a huge wedge between them; if anything, it only made the two of them closer. There was no abandonment, no judgment, no condemnation whatsoever on Zari’s part which she would have been justified to give. What Sara got from her instead was acceptance and understanding and love, which, all things considered, were a lot more than she would ever deserve.

Now that Rip’s not knowing had been brought to the forefront, Sara couldn’t help but think. If he knew, would he have the same reaction as Zari’s? Would he share the same acceptance and understanding as her best friend had given her? Was his love for her strong enough to withstand the terrible truth about her? Or would he find it so repugnant that he would forsake her and forthwith like nothing to do with her?

The questions that had been swirling in her mind were endless and they were making her head hurt, as it always did whenever she thought about what she had been keeping– a secret, her one truth; one that was so ugly that Sara had to wake up every morning and actively work so hard on not facing it.

Chapter Text

Sara settled herself on the couch after grabbing a glass and a bottle of whisky, while Zari had gone off to her room to FaceTime Amaya. It had been a long day for both of them, having spent it over at Rip's, just letting the hours go by, trading stories or playing with Jojo.

Sara found herself smiling, a great weight had been lifted off her chest as she remembered the conversation she had with Rip earlier.

******************************

Sara and Rip were currently seated on the patio, watching Zari crawl on all fours, while Jojo was riding on her back, giggling. A small smile tugged at the corners of Sara's lips at the sight; her niece had immediately taken a liking to her best friend, just as the little girl had the first time they met a few days ago.

And now, as she turned to look at Rip, Sara was reminded of the main reason she came to his place for. The night before, she had decided to ask him if his knowledge about her, between the time they lost touch and the night she showed up in Chicago, included the one thing that told so much about her, and to tell him if he didn't.daugh

Sara made that decision because she realised that no matter how far she ran, she could never outrun her past. She was delusional to think that it couldn't catch up to her, because as long as the reason her life started to fall apart was still out there, she would never again find real peace, no matter how hard she tried to fool herself that she already had.

With the life she led, she knew a good end would be a privilege, but the possibility of her having such privilege slipped right from her grasp the second Rip showed at her doorstep months ago. She may have said no to his offer to work with him initially, because she knew what it would take from her eventually and how much, but in retrospect, just like what she said to Zari the day before, Sara knew viscerally that she was always going to accept such offer. The temptation to finally have the chance to get what she always wanted; what made her change her whole being for, was just too strong to pass up.

When she agreed to work on the case, she knew that it would rip the lid off of all sorts of old demons, for her; and it had. Sara was willing to face them again, but the thing was... the thing of which she was reminded, was the danger of facing your demons was that, sometimes, the demons won; and Sara had worked so hard to lock those demons somewhere, only for her to let them back out and win.

Sara couldn't let it happen, so yesterday, when they got home from the car dealer, she spent the rest of the day doing a lot of thinking. By night time, she had made a decision; another life-changing one. She and Zari had a heavy and teary conversation about it, which was saying a lot because for all their differences, one thing they had in common was that they seldom let anyone, not even each other, see them get emotional. Zari had begged her to change her mind, going so far as saying Sara was abandoning her. Having made up her mind, she, however, was undeterred.

After letting Zari hug her for longer than her best friend ever had in all the years they had been friends, Sara called her mother. Before Laurel died, she was as close to her mom as she was to her dad, but after everything that happened afterwards, Sara felt this wall between them, regardless of how she still loved her just the same. She and Dinah talked on the phone for a few minutes, just catching up with each other. Before hanging up, Sara said something she hadn't said to her mother or anyone else, for that matter, in a while. She told her she loved her, because Sara just didn't have the heart to outright tell her goodbye. She called her father next and told him what she intended to do. Like Zari, he, too, urged her to throw away her plan, to which she ruefully said she had made her decision. After a tearful goodbye, Sara hung up.

Sara knew exactly what she was sacrificing; what she was about to give up by having this conversation with Rip, and she was ready for it. More than that, she expected whatever would come after this dreadful talk. Nevertheless, she still found herself more agitated than she could ever remember in her life. Every nerve in her body was on edge, so she stood up and started pacing in front of Rip, her hands clenching and unclenching on her side.

When Rip noticed, he looked up at her. "Sara, is everything okay?"

She stopped pacing, then turned towards Rip, her face a mix of nervousness and fear. When she still hadn't said anything, Rip's brows dipped into a furrow.

"Sara?"

"Rip, I–" Sara hesitated, cutting herself off, not quite sure how to begin. After a few seconds, she took a deep breath. "There's something I need to tell you," she began. "I didn't tell you before because... well, frankly, I didn't have the slightest intention of telling you, or anybody else, for that matter. Zari knows, though. As does my dad. They're the only ones who know. And I wanted to keep it that way, because I- I was scared that if I–"

Sara felt like her heart was going to jump out of her chest by how fast it was beating. It would have been funny, really. The great Sara Lance who feared nothing and was second to none, was currently fidgeting where she stood, her hands cold and clammy with sweat, just because she was about to tell someone a story– her story. Nyssa would have found the whole thing laughable. She really would have.

NYSSA, Sara thought.

Sara shook herself off before her resolve could leave her.

Just then, Rip spoke. "Sara, whatever it is, you know you can tell me, right? You could always tell me anything. Just like old times," he said with a little smile.

Sara huffed out a sad, mirthless laugh, then moved to sit back next to Rip, both turning their bodies so they were fully facing each other. "This isn't like the old times, Rip," she said dejectedly. "Not even remotely close."

Rip's brows remained furrowed, worry starting to creep into his countenance.

"When you found me all those months ago, I was doing good," Sara started, looking at Rip in the eye. "At least, as good as I could be. I had a job that I was great at– one that I actually loved doing. I had a business partner who also happened to be my best friend whom I could always trust to call me out on my shit; and although I didn't see my parents as often as they would've liked, my relationship with them was so much better than when I first got back."

Rip, who was intently listening, nodded his head, encouraging Sara to continue.

"But working on this case..." Sara said instead, "it makes thinking about Laurel all the more inevitable, you know? All the more often. How she died and… and the horrible pain of losing her."

"Sara–"

"Rip, please,” Sara pleaded, shifting herself in her seat so her body was once again turned towards Zari and Jojo and away from Rip so she didn't have to look at him. “Please, just listen. Don't interrupt me or I'm going to lose my nerve and I'll never be able to get through everything that I need to say."

Sara's throat felt tight and her unshed tears stung the back of her eyes. She knew she was already on the verge of breaking down, but she also knew it was hardly the time to cry because if she started, she didn't think she could stop, so she powered on and took another deep breath.

Out of her peripheral view, she saw Rip nod softly, motioning for her to continue.

"I said no when you first offered me the job because I REALLY was doing okay, Rip. But working on the case- thinking about Darhk and that one day, I would get to face him, I knew that it would bring up things I had long since buried, or at least tried to; and it did. I can feel it, Rip– the all-consuming rage, my thirst for revenge. They're all coming back. Every day, when I come in for work, I can feel them getting stronger. I feel them more and more, and I'm scared that I'll lose myself again and become the person that I was before I- the person that I was after Laurel died. No matter how much I wish it wouldn't, this case is digging up a part of me that I worked SO hard to kill, so to speak; and it terrifies me that by the time we get to him- to Darhk, that part will have fully resurfaced, and by then I will not be able to stop myself from k–"

"From?” Rip asked, sensing Sara's hesitation. “From what, Sara?"

This was it. This was the moment between Rip not knowing and him finding out. If she didn't deviate from her telling him, from this point on, things between her and him would never be the same. This was Sara's last chance to back out and keep whatever she was going to say, to herself. She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer to Laurel. When she opened her eyes, she had made her decision.

"I will not be able to stop myself from killing Darhk. Not even the FBI’s best agents will be able to stop me, Rip," Sara said decisively, her eyes had an empty look in them.

Rip, for his part, did not say anything. Instead, he just continued to look at Sara, an unreadable expression was on his face.

"After Laurel died, I was–" Sara cut herself off, briefly closing her eyes, and shook her head lightly. "God, Rip, I was so lost... and so angry," she paused. "Do y- Do you remember the day the court dismissed the cases against Darhk? The ones Laurel were prosecuting? Do you remember it? It was all over the news."

"I do, yes."

"I remember it like it was just yesterday. I was there, Rip. I went inside the courtroom and sat in the back. I slipped out as soon as the order was read. I waited for him outside the courthouse. And just before he could face the press, I walked up to him and said he would get what he deserved someday. I didn't care that I just outed myself to him– that I knew the truth. I promised him that whatever he deserved, I would be the one to give it to him, however long it might take me. He just laughed in my face and told me to focus on becoming a doctor. He said it so casually you would've thought he was an old friend.

I vowed on that day that I would do anything, ANYTHING to take Darhk down. I told whatever force was listening that I would be willing to sell my soul to the devil if that was what it took. And I did, Rip. The demon took me under his wing and made darkness my friend, and in return, I gave him my soul."

"Sara, wh–"

"The summer after Laurel's death," Sara proceeded as though she didn't hear Rip, her eyes looking very far-off, "I told mom and dad I needed to stay in New York to do something in preparation for my senior year. They also thought I registered for the next semester. I know that's what you thought, too. Except that I didn't." A pause. "I went around looking for the man who stabbed Laurel, Rip."

Sara heard Rip took a sharp breath, but didn’t turn to look at him. Instead, she continued on.

"In retrospect, after I came back, it's how I came up with this whole PI business. I figured, if I could find him- if I could find a ghost, I could find anybody or anything and make a career out of it. And so I did." she paused. "It took me weeks to even know what his full name was. All I had was his last name. I could've asked my dad or you, but I didn't want to risk either of you finding out what I was up to.

For months, I dug and I searched. Then one day, his trail led me to Boston. Around that time, I was already so deep in my quest to avenge Laurel that I had started taking my parents' calls less and completely stopped taking yours. In my obsession, I didn't even notice that I started turning to alcohol to numb my pain. It didn’t. Not really… but at least it was something.

One night, after having a few drinks, I was coming out of the bar, and I saw him. I wasn't even looking for him at the time. I just wanted to take a night out in the city, and there he was, right across the street. I followed him until he walked into what seemed like an abandoned building. It was as if something in me got let out at the sight of him because the next thing I knew, I was staking out, waiting for him to come back out so I could put a bullet in his head."

Rip eyes widened at that, but stopped himself from saying anything lest he broke Sara's monologue.

Briefly looking at Rip and seeing his expression, she said, "I had a guy who hooked me up with someone I could get a gun from.” Sara took a moment before she continued. “I was gonna use it on him, you know? Instead he used it on me. When he finally came out of that house, I surged to my feet. I walked up to him, gun aimed right at his head. He didn't even flinch. If anything, he just laughed in my face and called me little Lance; told me he was very impressed that I found him but that I shouldn't play with guns or I could really hurt myself. Next thing, he snatched the gun out of my hands like it was nothing and then tucked it behind him.

In my drunken state and overwhelming rage, I jumped him. I wasn't thinking. I didn't even care that he had my gun. I hit him and clawed at him so hard that his face bled. That got him angry. Called me a bitch. Then he beat me up until every part of my body hurt and my face was bleeding, too. He didn't stop until I was lying on the ground looking like a discarded vegetable. He must have remembered he had my gun because he brought it out," Sara said, as she undid a button on her shirt then slightly dragged it down, and showed Rip what was most definitely a bullet wound. "Had he aimed lower, the bullet could've hit my heart. I could've died right then."

"Sara," Rip finally said, his voice shaky. "I didn't know about all this. Why didn't you just tell me? You should have come to me. I could have helped. We could have taken Turner in."

“Take him in?” Sara turned her head towards Rip and huffed out a sarcastic laugh. "And then what? Wait for him to be tried only to find out he'd just walk free? Just like Darhk had. You’re an officer of the law, Rip. You believe in enforcing it so the truth gets shed in court. But if we’re both being honest with ourselves, we know that if people want to get the truth, they won’t always find it in a courtroom. That’s one of the things that Laurel’s death had taught me.”

After a long pause, Sara cleared her throat, the lump in it had gotten so big she didn’t think she could swallow it. When she spoke, her voice was already threaded with tears.

"The man who had Laurel killed because he somehow found out that she had gotten her hands on something that could put him away for life, just walked out of that courtroom like he didn't take away the most important person in my life. Did you really expect me to believe that the same thing wouldn't happen to the man who ACTUALLY drove a knife through my sister's heart, and therefore, forever breaking mine? The whole system was rotten, Rip. It still is, if you ask me.

Besides, isn't that the reason my dad told me to lie to the police, to the press, and to my own mother, about what really happened that night? To protect me from Darhk and anybody who worked for him. If he didn't see me as a threat then he wouldn't decide to send someone to kill me, too. The only people who knew the truth at the time were me, my dad, and you. If you weren't already with the FBI then, I'm sure dad would've kept it from you, too.

If either of you knew what I was doing, you would've stopped me, and I just couldn't have that. If he could wake up every day despite knowing that the men responsible for his daughter's death were walking the streets freely, I couldn't. I had to do something because I was in constant pain, and struggling every day. It was killing me. I was dying inside, Rip. You don't know h- you have no idea ju–" Sara said, stopping when her voice broke, tears trickled down her face.

Rip abruptly rose from his seat and crouched down in front of Sara. He brought up his hand to the side of her face, his thumb gently brushing away the tears that stained her cheek. "Your father was scared of losing you, too, to Darhk, Sara. He chose to protect the only daughter he had left than to get justice for the one he lost. I'm sure it killed your father, too. More than you could possibly imagine, especially knowing that he's a cop and yet he couldn't do something about Damien."

"I didn't need him to protect me!" Sara exploded, anger and pain reflected in her eyes. "I needed him to get justice for my sister, but since he wouldn't, I had to go get it myself!"

Sara took a few moments to breathe. When she spoke again, her voice sounded calmer.

"Turner said something to me that night, right before he pulled the trigger. I still remember it. He said, 'Darhk was outraged that I left that night without making sure I didn't leave a witness. Think of it this way– at least now you'll be with your sister.' I should've been terrified during those last seconds of my life, but I wasn't. Ironically, Turner's last words brought me peace, so after he shot me, I just lay there, waiting for my inevitable death. The last thing I remember before I pass out was a pressure on my chest and a blurry figure of a person kneeling over me.

Days later, I woke up in a bed hooked up in wires, all banged up and confused out of my mind. I couldn't even sit up without crying out in pain. A woman came in to check on me. She said she was the one who found me. I had no intention of telling her what happened prior to my being shot or what my story was, but then a week after I woke up, when my face had healed enough that speaking no longer hurt, she asked how I knew Turner and why he would want to kill me. To say that I was surprised she knew him was an understatement. I asked how she knew him and said quid pro quo. And so I told her. About Turner. About Laurel. About Darhk. Everything. And then she told me she was looking for Turner so she could find Darhk, too."

Rip's brows dipped in curiosity. "Why was she looking for Darhk?"

"Darhk was his father's best friend, then later became his rival. He betrayed her dad. She was there to gather intelligence about him and pass it on to her father so they could make a move on him."

Rip nodded. After he settled himself back next to her, Sara continued.

"Back then, I didn't know the depth of her father's relationship with Darhk. And frankly, I didn't ask. Nor did I care. I just knew that, like me, she was looking for Turner, too, because it was easier to get to Darhk through him. At the time, his influence had spread. He started building an empire and he became untouchable. Nobody knew where he was, so she decided to look for the next best thing– Turner. She knew him from before and was aware that he was working closely with Darhk. But the night I was shot, just after Turner left me for dead, she chose to save me instead of running after him. She let go of the man she'd been looking for for weeks to save the life of a stranger.

She nursed me back to health. I had a hole in my chest, my lungs collapsed, my face was swollen, and I had broken bones everywhere. It took weeks for my full strength to come back. When it did, she asked me what my plan was; what I wanted. I told her that I felt lost and that I just wanted to stop hurting. She didn't even think about what to say to me next. She just did. She said she believed she was meant to find me- that we were destined to meet; and so she made me an offer– she told me she could give me a purpose, but I would have to leave my old life behind. She said she could help me not feel powerless and helpless ever again, and that whatever grief and anger I was feeling, I could harness and channel them; redirect them towards something. I didn’t know what she really meant at the time, but because I was already emptied by Laurel’s death, I said yes. I was drowning in my grief and so consumed by rage that I didn't even think twice, nor did I think about what exactly it was that I was bargaining.

After I was fully healed, I went back to Star City. It was about a year after Laurel died. I just wanted to see my parents one last time, but I didn’t have the heart to tell them what it was I decided. They told you I was traveling the world. They told you it was how I was dealing with my grief. They said that because that's what I told them when I left. I didn't travel the world. At least not right then. Traveling came after. Didn't you ever wonder why I never once called my parents after I left? Or why I didn't come back until a few years ago?"

"Of course I did," Rip answered briefly. "Quentin came to me asking for my help two months after you left. The last time he and I spoke was shortly after Laurel's death, so I had no idea what happened since. He told me you had gone traveling overseas, but that Dinah found your passport AND that necklace you're wearing, in your room. Your parents and I knew there was no way you would have ever taken that off, unless you had a grave reason. I made some calls and found out you had not requested for a passport renewal before you left, so it made absolutely no sense that you left your passport if you said you were flying out of the country."

"I used a different name,” Sara said matter-of-factly. ”Changed my identity and all my paperwork reflected that."

"I know," Rip said briefly, causing Sara's eyes to shot up at him. "When we were kids, you always told me and Laurel that if you could travel the world, you would go someplace where no one knew who you were, or that better yet, you would become a completely different person and you would start by changing your name."

"Kara Prince," Rip and Sara said at the same time, prompting them both to chuckle.

"You wouldn't shut up about Supergirl and Wonder Woman when I first met you. You were eight, I think," Rip said, recalling the memory with fondness. "They were always your role models." A pause. "I went to great lengths to pick up your trail, Sara. After too many calls and several personal visits, I finally had the confirmation that there was, indeed, a passenger with your new name. That's how I found out you were headed to China, but in the video footage I got from the airport, you were traveling alone."

"I was," Sara said. "The woman who saved my life thought it best that we didn't travel together."

Rip nodded. "I lost your trail in Qinghai. After that, I didn't know where you went or what happened to you. I told your parents as much. After a year of not hearing from you, your parents thought you were dead. To be honest, I did too. The three of us, Sara… We mourned you. Your parents’ marriage couldn’t survive both Laurel’s and your absence. Without the two of you, Quentin and Dinah didn’t have anything to keep them together. It didn’t matter that they still loved each other."

What Rip said was news to her. She found out her parents divorced soon after she came back to Star City, but what she didn’t know was the fact that she was part of the reason their parents’ marriage went down to the drain. When her dad explained it to her, he told her it was caused by how he had little time for her mother because of how busy he got with work. It was just like her father to shield her from the truth, knowing that she would blame herself for causing her parents to separate.

Rip studied Sara for a moment, then let out a sigh. "What happened, Sara? Where were you all those years?"

It felt like forever until Sara found her voice again. "I went to hell, Rip," she said, laughing dryly, her eyes downcast. "When I left, I didn't know the extent of what I was getting myself into. Nor did I fully grasp what needed to be sacrificed. At the time, I didn't really care. I just wanted to stop hurting. I wanted the pain to go away. It was too late when I finally realised what I would be giving up just to survive. I couldn’t leave. I could no longer get out without dy–" Sara cut herself off, then sniffled.

"I was in hell, Rip, and I stayed there for years." Sara continued, then took a moment to swallow her tears back. "In order to become what I needed so I could get what I wanted, I had to erase who I was. All those times I was gone, I was preparing myself for when I finally face Darhk. I forged myself into a wea– The girl you knew from before, Rip, it’s not me anymore. I'm not her. I'm–"

"Sara," Rip interrupted, his voice firmer. "You're still her. You're still the same w–"

"No, Rip," Sara interjected, shaking her head, tears already soaking her face again. "You don't understand. The things I've done, the person I had become, it–"

"What, a highly-trained, highly-skilled international assassin?"

Chapter Text

"What, a highly-trained, highly-skilled international assassin?"

Sara's head shot up at Rip, eyes wide in a mix of shock, panic, fear, and confusion. "What did you just say?" she asked, nonplussed, her voice significantly quiet and quavering.

"I know, Sara." Rip said with reassuring calm. "I've known this whole time."

"Whaaat?" Sara gasped, closing her eyes and shaking her head strenuously, not quite believing she was hearing Rip right. "You... knew?"

"I did, but I didn't know what happened to you before you left. I was just hearing it from you now."

"But h- how? I was careful, Rip. We were always careful,” Sara said assuredly. “The League thrives on anonymity."

"The League? Really? Is that what they call themselves?" Rip said, a light tone could be heard in his voice. "Sounds a little pretentious, don't you think?"

"League of Assassins, actually." Sara said matter-of-factly, wiping her tears off with her hands. “A clandestine international organisation of the world’s most dangerous killers, operating both for hire and in fulfillment of their own vision.”

There was a thoughtful look on Rip’s face as he hummed. "So they're real then," he said, more to himself than to Sara. "Guess they're not just an urban legend anymore."

"Rip, how did you find out?" Sara asked again.

"You don't get to be a director of the FBI without knowing very powerful people."

"That still doesn't answer my question," Sara countered.

Rip paused. After a moment, he said, "2013. Belarus."

Sara drew in a sharp breath as she tore her gaze from Rip.

BELARUS, Sara thought.

MIKHAIL SIDORSKY. HIS WIFE. HIS TWO DAUGHTERS.

Sara closed her eyes and shook her head lightly, willing herself not to break at the memories.

"Long before you left, there had been a lot of assassinations, mostly across Europe and Russia," Rip imparted, breaking Sara out of her thoughts. "At the time, the Interpol hadn't noticed a pattern, yet. When they did... well.. you were already with the League. In 2013, Wyatt Druce, my old FBI mentor who had accepted the Chief position of the London Interpol office a few years prior, invited me to come for a visit. You see, I was being courted for a position. Back then, I was just the Assistant Director of the International Operations Division. I wasn't looking to change the agency I work for, but I still went. I figured there was no harm in seeing how Interpol worked, firsthand.

So, there I was, just talking to an old friend in his office when he got a call. After he hung up, he told me about the numerous killings of prominent individuals that date back to years. The Interpol thinks that those hits were carried out by people who they believe were part of one large secret organisation. Eventually, their investigators noticed patterns in those assassinations– the geography, how people were killed, with what weapon, some other variables, but more obviously, the victimology." Rip paused. "You know what I'm talking about, don't you, Sara?"

Sara nodded.

"The League may be made up of the most dangerous people on the planet, but they strictly live by certain codes. They don't kill just because they can. They only terminate those whom they consider to be extremely morally decadent. If a kill job targets someone they deem as innocent, they will turn it down. Despite the name, they don't call a kill job an assassination. They call it a dispensation of justice. In their own twisted reasoning, they believe they're purging society and the world of people who corrupt and endanger it."

Rip nodded absentmindedly. "So Belarus happened because...?” he asked, trailing off.

"Because the targets... husband and wife, they were business oligarchs who got rich through the blood and sweat of the underprivileged who were trafficked in Russia and had been worked into modern slavery," Sara answered scornfully in one breath, her tone not masking the anger she was still feeling.

"What of the children?” Rip asked curiously. “If The League didn't target the innocents, why were they killed?"

Sara's chest tightened. She found herself clutching at her necklace as the weight in her chest became heavier. Hot tears had begun to fill her eyes anew. When she started to struggle breathing, Rip placed a hand on her knee, speaking to her with such gentleness in his voice it immediately reminded Sara of when they were young.

"Sara, hey. You don't have to tell me what happened. If you don't want to talk about it right now, or not at all, it's fine."

For a moment, neither of them said anything. Sara didn't know how she managed to calm herself down, but when she finally found her voice again, she asked Rip to continue with his story.

"The man who was on the phone with my friend bore some news about the latest high-profile assassination two days prior– the one in Belarus. Druce was told that Mr. Sidorsky had a private computer inside his secret office, and that the private security firm contracted by the Sidorskys would be sending the video footage of the night they were killed.”

Sara shot her head up at Rip, brows dipped into a deep furrow. "What video footage? They weren't any cameras in there. If there were, I would have caught it. The League has toys as cool and advanced as the ones at the FBI."

Rip shrugged. "Well, apparently, there were undetectable."

"It wouldn't have mattered either way," Sara said dismissively. "League operatives wear a mask on the job. Gloves. A hood or some kind of headgear. Everything. Both for concealment and forensic countermeasure. Why else haven't the Interpol caught one even after all these years?"

Rip looked at Sara intently, giving her time to remember everything that happened that night, including her mistake.

After a while, realisation dawned on Sara, her face suddenly went pale. "Oh, my god."

Rip hummed. "At some point that night, you took your mask off. Unlike the other two you were with, your face was caught on camera. Clear as day."

It was then that Sara had her confirmation that there were indeed cameras in Sidorsky's house, because how else would Rip know there were three of them that night? She wasn't the only operative who was sent out for the job. Another two were with her, but it was her who was given the direct order to carry out the hit on her own; the two were ordered to go with her but only to act in the event of a contingency.

Sara closed her eyes and shook her head a little strenuously, as though to shake off her disbelief. Feeling completely puzzled, she asked, "If the Interpol had that footage, if they knew what I looked like, then why hadn't they come for me? It's been almost five years. They could have easily run my face through facial recognition in no time."

"Yes, they could have," Rip said, then paused. "If they saw the footage."

Sara's brows knitted together in confusion. "You said they had it."

Rip huffed out a soft laugh. "I did. I didn't say they saw it."

Sara shook her head in bewilderment. "I- Rip, I don't understand."

Rip let out a sigh.

"When someone from the security firm sent in the video,” he recited, “I was still in Druce's office. We were watching it together. And true enough, we saw the whole thing. Well, I mean, not the whole thing. There were no cameras in the bedrooms. But Mr. Sidorsky was killed in the hallway. The camera caught him running away from a masked individual. That was more than enough evidence.

About three-quarters through the video, Druce got called in, but he let me finish watching it alone. To say I almost had a heart attack when the mask was taken off, and I saw it was your face hidden under it, would be an understatement. I was in denial at first, but then I remembered seeing something in the crime scene photos Druce showed me prior. I went back to re-examine them. When I saw what I was looking for, it was then that I was convinced it was really you in that video; that my eyes and mind weren't just playing tricks on me."

"They showed those photos on the news. They didn't have anything that would, in any way, link me directly to that... incident," Sara said hesitantly, feeling completely ashamed to call it for what it really was.

"When have investigators ever released everything to the press?" Rip said teasingly. "And even if they did, those photos wouldn't make sense to anyone. But it did to me."

"What was in those photos, Rip?" Sara finally asked.

"Before Mrs. Sidorsky died, she managed to write something on the floor..." Rip paused, "with her own blood."

Sara's expression turned pained as she ducked her head down and stared at the ground. "Wh- what did it say?"

It seemed like ages before Rip finally spoke, "Ta-er al-Sahfer."

Sara closed her eyes, feeling like she was kicked in the gut. She knew the information was true. One of the operatives did call her by that name right after she drove a sword through the female target's back.

"That's how I was sure it was you. I know a little bit Arabic so I understood it. Ta-er al-Sahfer, roughly translated to yellow bird," Rip paused. "Yellow bird."

"Canary," Rip and Sara said simultaneously.

Sara waited for a few moments before speaking.

"At the League, operatives are told to choose a new name," she stated. Sara dragged her gaze from the ground and looked far-off. "I picked Ta-er al-Sahfer. That was my new name. I became her the day I renounced the name ‘Sara Lance’, because the woman that I was, the girl that I was, was gone, but I also wanted something to remind me of that same girl, of what led me to joining the League in the first place. When I think of a canary, I think of Laurel. I may have become someone else, I may have turned into a monster, but I never, for one second, wanted to forget her."

Sara felt her throat begin to close up again. She swallowed, took a deep breath, and slowly breathe out, willing herself not to let the tears that had started to sting her eyes, to fall.

Feeling that Sara was on the brink of breaking down at the memory of her sister, Rip redirected her focus by continuing his story.

"I had a lot of things on my mind after confirming it was you in that video. I had a lot of questions the answers to which I didn't even know how to begin to look for. One thing of which I was certain, however, was that I was meant to be there, Sara; in that office, at that specific time. I wasn't going to let Interpol get their hands on that file, so I called the only person who I knew could help me assure it."

Sara's head whirled towards Rip, panic rising in her chest. "You called someone? Someone else knows?"

Rip nodded. "I had to loop her in, Sara, or I never would have been able to do what had to be done, myself. I needed someone to fry Druce's computer remotely so any data wouldn't be recovered; not to mention, hack the Sidorskys' home network to delete the main file. Otherwise, they could have just sent Druce another one."

"And how sure are you that no one else had seen the video before you?"

"The video was just sent to Druce's email while I was there in his office. It was real time. The representative from the security firm didn't see it either because he was being escorted by the Belarus cops while he was accessing Sidorsky's computer. It was an open, active investigation and he was a civilian, after all. He wasn't cleared to see its content."

Sara closed her eyes and took another deep breath before speaking. "Who was it? The person you called for help."

"Gideon."

"Gideon," Sara echoed, nodding to herself. "Of course. That makes sense. She can do anything with a computer." A pause. "What doesn't make sense to me, though, is why she would be willing to tamper with evidence and commit several crimes by breaking both local and international laws to protect a dangerous killer she didn't even know at the time, just because you asked for help."

"Well, that's- I mean, I–" Rip floundered and then went speechless, prompting Sara to arch up a brow.

"You two are together," Sara concluded.

"We weren’t together back then. I was married, in case you forgot, to the woman with whom I was very much in love. Gideon and I were just really great friends, and she had heard of you based on the stories I told her of my childhood. She didn't feel the need to question my wanting to protect you."

Sara hummed. "So Gideon knew who I was when I joined the team. Did you ask her not to tell on me to the Legends?"

Rip features turned soft, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips.

"No,” he said tersely. “Like you said, she knew who you were before you joined the team. She knew you're important to me. She said something must have happened to you for you to become what you were. She's also aware of how far you've come since you came back. She’s the one I went to every time I wanted to look you up between the time you came back and the night I showed up in Chicago.”

Sara linked her fingers together and stared at them, her face highly conflicted. Seeing her state, Rip spoke, “You made a life for yourself, Sara. A good one. Gideon isn't going to take that away from you. You can trust her," he said, his face looking hopeful. "And don't worry, I didn't tell her the truth about Laurel's death. Like I said before, it's not my story to tell."

"You have my permission to tell her, Rip. I figure she should know the truth– the real reason I'm on the team. She should know what spurred me into becoming a killer, or who, more to the point," Sara said, feeling the lead weight back in her chest. "I wouldn't blame her if she told the team about me."

"Sara, I won't ask you what happened between the time you joined the League and when you left, or that night in Belarus. At least, not now. I can see you're barely holding it together. I can't even begin to imagine what it took for you to decide to tell me everything you just did. But one day, when you're ready, you're going to tell me everything."

Sara nodded, holding back her tears and swallowing the massive lump in her throat. After a while, she turned to look back at Rip.

"The night you showed up at my doorstep, you already knew what I had become. Why would you think it was a good idea to give me a chance to get close to the man who had my sister killed, whom I still very much intend to kill? Why didn't you say anything?"

"I believe you'll do the right thing, Sara. Even when we were kids, you may have had your wayward ways, but in the end, you always did the right th–”

"If you still believe that I'm the same person you knew when we were kids, then you know I ALWAYS keep my promises," Sara countered decisively, her voice and features hard. "I told you I made one to Darhk that day outside the courthouse– that he'd get what he deserved and that I'd be the one to give it to him. I INTEND to keep that promise. What he deserves is to not be alive anymore. I'm going to take his life AND Turner's like they took Laurel's, Rip. There's nothing that can stop me from killing those bastards, so if you have a problem with that, you might as well turn me in over to Interpol right now.

Last night, I said my goodbyes to my parents and my best friend because I knew what could happen if I came clean to you. I was ready to spend the rest of my life in some dark, dank cage with the keys thrown out. I even prepared myself to be on death row. I know I deserve it for taking the lives of so many people. I came here today to tell you my truth because deep down, I was hoping you’d turn me in. That way, I wouldn’t have to face my demons and embrace them completely. Again. It’s going to happen sooner or later. I told you, I can feel it. I have a monster inside of me, Rip. It was never really gone. I just fooled myself into thinking that it went away, but with each step we take to get to Darhk, as each day passes, I can feel it clawing its way back.

You should know what you're risking by insisting on protecting me; by not handing me over to the authorities, because as much as I want to hold onto some of my humanity that I somehow got back, I can't promise that it will outweigh what I lost it for in the first place, and that's revenge.”

"Sara,” Rip’s place a hand on Sara’s knee again, gently tugging it so she fully faced him, “listen to me. You need to remember that revenge never ever turns out the way you thought it would. You have worked so hard to make yourself the person you are now; to, like you said, get your humanity back. Don't throw it all away just because of Darhk. He's not worth it. Not even the slightest. That man has already taken so much. Don't let him take that away from you, too."

Sara shook her head as if to clear it. “Laurel’s death…,” she said in a somber voice, “it poisoned me. I thought that with time, it would eventually pass. I thought I would heal, but when I joined the League, I lost any hope of getting myself back. The things I did, Rip... they darkened my soul.

One of the first things they do to you at the League is reprogram you. They have people whose sole job is to strip the trainees of their former identities and value systems. You think the reprogramming you see in movies is cruel and inhumane? That’s nothing compared to what they do at the League. The reprogrammers subject the trainees to intense, often-painful sessions to break their sense of selves. Those sessions include being dosed with a psychoactive drug synthesised by a scientist employed by the League. That drug grants you peak human condition, but it can also warp your mind and personality in the most awful way. Looking back, it was one of the worst things I had to go through at the League.” Sara refused to let her mind take her back to what the drug did to her, but she took a few moments before continuing. “Once they’ve finished with the sessions- once they’ve successfully broken a trainee, the next step is to indoctrinate them with the League’s creed. That’s how they inculcate loyalty. It’s only then that reprogrammers make the trainees rebuild into their new self.

That’s how I became Ta-er al-Sahfer, Rip. Every few months of the first and a half years, the reprogrammers give random tests to make sure you haven't been deprogrammed. The other trainees... they were practically already without identities. They were kids who had nothing and nobody, so their reprogramming was easy; it took less time, less pain. But unlike them, I had something that grounded me. I had Laurel. Her voice inside my head was what made me keep that part of myself that mattered the most. The leader of the League somehow knew there was something I wasn’t letting go of, so he had me put in a drug-induced dream state; except I wasn’t asleep. Not really. It’s like the drug fogs your brain into giving someone a walk-through in your dream. While you're under, they can ask you what you're seeing... anything they wish.. and you'll readily tell them. That’s how the leader confirmed that there was something that was holding me back. That's how he learnt of Laurel; why he ordered to make my reprogramming sessions a lot more intense and a lot more often than the rest, that they almost completely broke my mind. You remember the woman who saved my life after Turner shot me?” Rip nodded. “She came into my room one night and told me to show the leader what he needed to see. It was the only way to convince him that I was all in; that my former self was completely dismantled. And in so many ways, it was, because he tested me one day and I passed with flying colours.” Sara huffed out a bitter laugh.

“In the League, one the gravest transgressions an operative can commit is to not follow through with a kill job, whether it’s a hired one or that which they act upon in furtherance of their own agenda. Under the League’s protocol, it’s the kind of crime that can only be paid with blood. My test was to kill an operative who committed such crime, in front of everyone. The League has a vast weaponry so the leader told me I could choose whatever weapon I want. He has a proclivity for swords because he believes guns are a coward’s weapon. I overheard him one day say that to a young trainee whom he was eyeing to be his next protégé. I wanted to earn his respect so I did away with a gun. I drove a Kuroda through that man’s heart.” Sara paused, “but not before I made him suffer with the use of a knife; not before he begged me to just kill him already. I didn't need to do that. I wasn’t ordered to torture him, but I still did. I didn’t hesitate because in that moment, while he was crying out in agony as I spilled his blood, I didn't feel a thing. I felt absolutely nothing. I only felt the weight of what I did when I returned to my room and saw the little canary which I carved on the wall behind my cot.” Turning to Rip, she said, “That was my first kill, Rip; the first of many, and for every life I took after, I lost a part of myself until all that was left of me was my sister. The League may have stripped me of everything else, but not of Laurel. I don’t know how much worst I would’ve become if I didn’t have her to anchor me.”

“I have to ask,” Rip said cautiously. “What made you…?” he trailed off.

“Stop? Leave?” Sara asked flatly. When Rip nodded, she said, “Belarus. What happened during that kill job deprogrammed me. It felt like a switch had been turned back on. Something about it brought back who I was. I couldn't let them know that I was deprogrammed, so I still had to follow orders; I still had to take lives. The only difference was that, I could feel everything. What I was doing- what I had been doing since I joined the League made me sick; so for the next few months after Belarus, all I thought about- all I planned was how to get out.

“And you did,” Rip said matter-of-factly. “That’s all that matters. You're free now. You have been for years.

Sara huffed, and in a sad wistful voice, she said, “Have I? Being free isn't the same as having your freedom. I may be free now of the League’s orders, I may seem to not be under their influence anymore, but they still have a hold on me, because I didn't just see things, Rip. I DID things- unimaginable things that still haunt me to this day; and I started to believe they’re going to for the rest of of my life.” A pause. “When I was still in the League, I would always dream of the night Laurel died, but after I got deprogrammed, my nightmares were no longer just of her death. The people I killed… I see their faces every night, too. Every night, Rip. For almost five years, they’re all I see; and my nightmares aren’t even that– make-up stories your own brain tells you when you’re asleep. They’re my memories. I don’t know about you but there’s not much freedom in having to be constantly reminded of the monster you had become.”

Sara was silent for a few moments. Rip, too, remained mum as he felt Sara still had things to say.

“You should know,” Sara said, her voice eerily calm, “that for years, my hands had only ever known war and they ached in the absence of blood. I can already feel them starting to itch, and I’m afraid... that all it’s going to take.. is one death by my hands, and it will set me off. I’ll be back to the monster that I was before Belarus. By the time I finally face Darhk, I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough to resist it. You have no idea what I’m like when I am the worst version of myself, Rip. If you did, you’d ne–" Sara cut herself off when tears choked her voice and made it an anguished whisper.

“Look at me. Sara, please look at me,” Rip gently tipped Sara’s chin up with his forefinger, forcing her to meet his gaze. “You’re stronger than you know,” he said with reassuring firmness, then put his hands around Sara’s arms. “You are one of the strongest people I have ever met. And if you need to be reminded of that, then I will. I will remind you every day if I have to.”

Sara let out a soft huff and shook her head. “You shouldn’t put that kind of faith in me. Sooner or later, you’re gonna see me for what I really am. Maybe then you’ll realise that this faith of yours is greatly misplaced.” Not wanting to give Rip a chance to counter, she said, “You still haven’t told me why you waited until today to say anything.”

“I didn't tell you because… well, plausible deniability," Rip said, smiling a little. "I had to maintain that and I will continue to do so. Not to protect myself, but to protect you. You are a fugitive from justice, yes, but as far as this country is concerned... Did you.." Rip hesitated, then cleared his throat, "assassinate an American citizen elsewhere? Have you killed someone here?"

"No. No to both," Sara paused. "A lot of countries are looking for me. They may not know my identity, but I'm still responsible for all those deaths. Me and the rest of the League operatives. I should pay for my sins. I don't want to get you in trouble, Rip. You're FBI. You have a duty- you have an obligation turn me in over to Interpol."

"And I have an obligation to you," Rip declared accentedly, "and a promise to keep to Laurel. I once told her I would always protect both of you. I failed to protect her, but I sure as hell am going to protect you however I can."

"Why?" Sara asked, not looking at Rip, her voice cracking. "Why would you still want to protect me knowing what I am? Knowing who I am?"

"That's not what you are, Sara. Not anymore. And even if it still was, that's just a part of you. Not all of it. That darkness inside of you, the monster that you speak of… even if I believe that it’s what you are, which I don’t for one second, you don’t have to give in to it. What you can do is learn how to control it, just like you have been doing since you got back.”

Sara closed her eyes briefly and shook her head lightly. “It was easier to control it back then because I wasn’t being confronted every day by the fact that sooner or later, I will face the very thing– the person who brought on such monstrosity in me, in the first place.” After a moment, Sara let out a dry, humourless laugh. “I was SO stupid. I went through all the troubles to get away from the League; to free myself from them. I thought that if I left, I could still redeem myself; that I could save whatever soul I had left. I thought that I could somehow make up for all the horrific things I’ve done. All I’ve been doing for the five years is delay the inevitable.” Shaking her head again, she said, “I never should’ve come back. And now, my parents, you… you’re all gonna lose me again.”

“You've started redeeming yourself the day you left that life behind, Sara,” Rip said in a low, deliberate voice. “You have helped a lot of people with your job. I told you I kept tabs on you since you came back. I know all the good you’ve been doing for the past five years. I’ve seen you reunite families. You’ve taken on cases that the police wouldn’t even go near; wouldn't even take a second to look at. You bring closure and resolution to people that paves the way to them moving on with their lives. You give them hope through your job, Sara. And sometimes, isn’t that all we need? Hope? As much as you think otherwise, you're a good person. I know that. Quentin knows that. Zari knows that. And even if the team has only known you for a few weeks, they know you’re a good person.”

“They would change their minds if they knew who I really am.”

“Sara,” Rip said softly, “Your dad, Zari, and myself… the three of us.. The Legends, too, even if they don’t know it… we’re all going to work on making sure you don’t go down that dark path again. I refuse to lose you the same way twice. I won’t let you get consumed again by anger or your desire for revenge. I promise you that.”

“You know,” Sara said after she had taken a moment to keep herself together, “this whole conversation we've been having was brought on because Zari was afraid Ava knew the truth about me. She's like your sister. And I know you trust her, probably as much as you do Gideon; maybe even more. So, I gotta ask. Does she know? Did you tell her?”

Rip shook his head. "I love Ava. Like you said, she's like a sister to me. And I do trust her. Any other thing and I would have no doubt in my mind that she would back my decision, but she wouldn't have backed me up on this one. Ava has an unwavering confidence in and loyalty to the FBI; to the laws the Bureau and this country enforce, more to the point. For her, a person is either a good guy or a bad guy. If you break the law, in her eyes, you're a bad guy. For as long as I have known her, her views on laws, on rules, on what's right and what's wrong, have always been black and white."

Sara let out a soft chuckle. "Zari said the exact same thing yesterday." A pause. “So Ava doesn’t know anything?”

Rip hummed thoughtfully. “Ava hates lying, and more so, being lied to. She would have my head. Yours, too. I told her that after Laurel died, you and I stayed in contact for a few years before we completely lost communication,” he shrugged. “I mean, it was only a year, but it’s close to the truth.”

Sara huffed. A few beats passed then she turned to Rip. "What happens now?"

"You go to work like you have for the last three weeks. Continue being one of the Legends."

"That's it?"

"That's it," Rip replied. "And perhaps be a little nicer to your team leader."

Sara snorted out a laugh. "I can only do so much, Rip."

Rip chuckled as he shook his head. After a brief moment, Sara spoke, “So…” she said, drawing out the vowel, her tone hopeful, “does this mean I can skip out on the whole training thing with Ava that you’ve enforced on me?”

“Absolutely not.”

Sara groaned. “Rip, come on. You said it yourself, I’m highly-trained and highly-skilled. I could easily kick Ava’s ass in my sleep.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Sara.” Rip said proudly. “You haven’t seen her fight. Besides, I highly doubt that you learnt everything there is to learn about fighting when you were with the League. Ava can teach you a thing or two.”

“I HIGHLY doubt that,” Sara said in a mocking voice, mimicking what he said.

Rip laughed. They both turned their head towards the inside of the house when Jojo suddenly let out a happy yelp. Neither of them spoke for a while as they watched Zari and the kid play.

"What's her name?" Rip asked after a moment.

Sara turned to Rip. "Who?"

"The woman who has my eternal gratitude for saving your life that night."

Sara's lips curled up into a small, sad smile. "Nyssa. Nyssa al Ghul."

******************************

Sara had just finished her last glass of whisky and was walking towards her room when she realised that this was the first time she wasn't drinking to forget, or dull out her pain. Tonight, she was drinking to celebrate– a celebration, because at least now she had one less weight off her shoulders.

Telling Rip the truth about her was a huge relief. Sure, he still didn't know the whole story, but just the thought that he would never turn his back on her even after what she had become; that he still saw a light in her– it gave her hope; hope for herself– that maybe, after everything that she had done, she was still worth something.

Sara had just settled herself in bed when her phone pinged. Sitting up, she reached for it on her bedside table, then unlocked to read the message.

    Unknown: Bring some workout clothes tomorrow.

Sara's lips slowly lifted at the corners. She didn't have to ask who the sender was. She knew exactly who it was owing to the fact that she could practically feel the formality coming off her phone. She saved the number under the name "Human Giraffe", chose a contact photo, pressing her lips together to keep herself from laughing, and typed out a reply that she hoped would annoy Ava.

    soz wn

Sara huffed, biting her lip to suppress a laugh while she read Ava's reply.

    Human Giraffe: I don't know what that means.

And because Sara savour in frustrating the agent, she decided to mess with her even more.

    sounds like a you problem

A full minute passed before Sara received another text.

    Human Giraffe: Very mature, Lance. This is Sharpe.

Choking back a laugh, Sara typed out hers.

    oh hey sharpie
    hows my fav human giraffe doing? miss me?
    i c u have my # on that file u have on me
    how stalkerish of u

Sara didn't expect to get a response considering the tone of her messages, but after five minutes, her phone pinged once again.

    Human Giraffe: Rip gave me your number, which I didn't ask for.

    Human Giraffe: Bring workout clothes or not. I don't really care. Either way, your training starts tomorrow.

Fully grinning now, Sara started typing, completely imagining the scowl on Ava's face and her clenched jaw, with which Sara was now utterly familiar.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Meanwhile, several miles from Sara's place, Ava had gone back to her room with a glass of rosé in hand, when her phone buzzed. She had been exchanging messages with Sara and it didn't come as a surprise to her that the woman was as infuriating on the phone as she was in person.

Ava scooted in bed, grabbed her phone, and unlocked it.

    SARA LANCE: what im getting from that is: 1) u couldnt w8 2 text me

    SARA LANCE: im growing on u arent i

    SARA LANCE: cant really blame ya i do have that effect on people

    SARA LANCE: and 2) u want 2 c me in skimpy clothes

    SARA LANCE: careful sharpie u might find urself drawn 2 the other side

    SARA LANCE: by other side i mean the gay side

    SARA LANCE: the fun side

Ava almost choked on her drink as an image of Sara in tights popped into her head. Having decided not to reply to her latest messages, Ava put her phone back on the bedside table, shaking her head quite forcefully to rid herself of the unwanted thought.

Nope, she thought.

She had been actively willing herself not to think of Sara since she left her place on Saturday morning, but like the infuriating, insufferable menace that she was, Sara was incapable of making herself scarce even from Ava’s brain.

Ava groaned. “Just because the little shit was nice to you one time, does not mean she would still be the next time you see each other,” she said to herself.

She had just settled in bed when something occurred to her, so she sat back up, grabbed her phone from her bedside table, and changed Sara's name and chose a photo for her in her contacts, laughing softly at her own pettiness.

Chapter Text

Sara and Zari arrived at HQ at almost nine in the morning on Monday. When they got to their desk, Amaya told them they just had their briefing and that Nate was at Ray's lab, Lily was at hers, and that Gideon told her to tell Zari they could continue working on the decryptor.

Amaya and Zari were chatting at the former’s desk, while Sara stayed at hers, doing the crossword puzzle from today's paper. Halfway through finishing it, Sara found herself looking in the direction of Ava's office; with Ava at her desk, typing away at her computer.

Sara would be lying if she said she wasn't at least slightly disappointed at seeing Ava back in her regular work outfit– pressed pantsuit, hair up in a pristine bun, and more noticeably, with her trademark scowl perched on her face. On the second thought, she figured that seeing Ava back in her usual self would make things smooth for her; would make executing her plan a lot easier, and that was definitely something she couldn't complain about.

Sara breathed out a sigh then took her eyes off of Ava. Had she waited one more second, she would have seen the agent drag her gaze from her computer and look up at her.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Ava wanted to tear her own hair out. Not only did she sleep late last night, tossing and turning, because her thoughts kept taking her to Sara, but she also woke up at an ungodly hour, gasping as she jolted up in bed, owing to the fact that she dreamt of her; a dream the details of which she dared not speak, and so vivid that she felt the need to take a cold shower... in February.

Sara may be the most infuriating and insufferable person she had ever met, but Ava was still just human. She was also very gay. And the fact of the matter was, Sara was gorgeous. Objectively gorgeous. There was no need denying it, especially now that Sara had, to use Zari's word, Lance'd her way into Ava's dream.

After showering, Ava had a hard time falling back to sleep on which she had eventually given up after 30 minutes of trying in vain, so she was tired and restless; not to mention, feeling utterly dreadful just thinking about spending her day out of HQ. And to add to that, looking at the bane of her existence now, she was also feeling conflicted and bemused for reason she couldn’t quite figure out and over which she had started feeling frustrated; and it had nothing to do with her dream. Or perhaps she already had; perhaps, viscerally, she knew what her confusion was rooted in, but because she wasn't ready to accept it, part of her buried it in the deepest part of her brain; only to be dug up once she was finally willing to admit it.

The other part of her figured it was because Sara did something and acted in ways that Ava absolutely did not expect and the same had surprised her; and if there was something of which she was sure about herself, it was that she hated surprises. Having caught completely off guard, she was now determined to get her mojo back, whatever that meant, so she took a deep breath and huffed out, took some files from one of her desk drawers, and made her way out of her office.

Wanting to make sure she had the right files, Ava had her eyes on the folders, checking them as she walked over her team’s desks.

“I'm going to be off-site for most of the day, team, and I'm leaving Amaya in–”

Ava’s gaze lifted up from the files and settled on Sara, effectively cutting the rest of what she intended to say and rendering her speechless, her heart doing a leap in her chest as her eyes roved across Sara’s face– bright, bare and…

Freckles everywhere, Ava thought.

Sara, unmindful of what had gotten Ava mum, just went back to her puzzle, looking completely bored.

Amaya and Zari, however, weren't as disinterested as Sara was, and instead, looked at each other with a knowing smile, a silent communication passing between them.

“Did you mean to say in-charge, Ava?” Zari asked, her voice had an amused tone in it, breaking Ava out of the trance she was in.

Ava finally looked up from Sara and cleared her throat. “Yes,” she confirmed briefly, then turned to Amaya. “Let me know if something comes up?”

After Amaya nodded, Ava turned to look back at Zari. “If I'm not back by the time you and Gideon have, hopefully, decrypted the files, please have her call me.”

“Will do!” Zari answered, springing into a military at-attention stance and giving Ava a salute, causing the latter to huff out a soft chuckle.

As her chuckle died down, Ava looked back down at Sara, finding her very engrossed in some crossword puzzle. To get her attention, Ava walked over to Sara's desk and dropped the files a little forcefully onto it, creating a dull thump and causing Sara’s eyes to briefly land on them.

Without looking up at her, Sara quipped, “If you want those photocopied, hire an assistant. I'm not here to run errands for you.”

Aaannd the jerk is back, Ava thought.

Do I love being right.

“Oh, I’m not delusional enough to even think you can make a coffee right,” Ava quipped back, “let alone trust that you could effectively work a photocopy machine.”

Zari snorted, prompting Sara to tear her gaze from her crossword puzzle, whipping her head towards Zari.

Seeing the annoyed expression on her best friend's face, Zari held her hands up in surrender.

Sara turned to finally look at Ava.

“I will have you know that I worked at a café in my teenage years and I made practically orgasmic coffee; although I'm surprised you didn't know about that. What, was it not among the data that are on the file you have on me?”

Seeing a muscle twitch in Ava's jaw, Sara internally rejoiced and decided to push a little further.

“And if you don't believe that new bit of information about me," Sara said mockingly, "well, I distinctly remember making you coffee, not to mention, a wholeass breakfast last Saturday and that you gladly finished them.

“It was just black coffee,” Ava bit out, unimpressed. “A blind person could make it.”

Zari and Amaya, who both had a twin look of mild surprise on their faces, couldn't quite believe their ears.

“You made Ava breakfast?”
“You let Sara make you breakfast?”

Both Zari and Amaya asked simultaneously, prompting both of them to look at each other and chuckle softly.

“Sara, you never make anyone breakfast. We’ve been friends for ages and you haven't even toasted a bread for me,” Zari said teasingly.

“I would have if we shared a house before we came here.”

"Uh, yes we did," Zari said promptly. "In Star City."

"Well, in case you forgot, we weren't exactly staying in a place where either of us had the luxury to cook, now were we?" Sara asked, giving Zari a look.

"Right. I realise the absurdity of what I said as soon as the words left my mouth," Zari said, then held up a finger, "But we did share a space in Chicago for a little while, and then we moved to our own separate place. I also stayed over at yours countless of times,” she countered. “Where was my breakfast then?”

Sara looked at Zari strangely, and said in an impatient tone, “What is the point of this conversation?”

“The point is,” Amaya answered, looking at Ava teasingly, “Ava, you never let anyone make you breakfast before. Not even Max. You have this whole thing about n–”

“I cannot believe I’m actually saying this,” Ava said, cutting Amaya off, and bringing a hand up to her forehead, “but I’m with Lance. Why am I suddenly listening to both of you talk about such inane subject?”

“Because you mentioned coffee, and Sara made you breakfast,” Zari muttered under her breath, her head ducked down.

Hearing what Zari said, both Sara and Ava gave her a reprimanding look. Zari held her hands up in surrender, then mimed zipping her mouth. “Shutting up now.”

Sara turned her gaze back on Ava, shooting her an annoyed look. “Get these off my desk then,” she said, cocking her head towards the files.

“They're not going anywhere until you’ve read them all,” Ava said decisively.

Sara laughed. When she realised that Ava was serious, her laughter died down.

“You must be out of your damn mind if you think I'm gonna read all of these,” Sara said, then quickly flicked the pages of the files. “What are these, anyway?”

“Regulation Manuals. Protocol Handbooks. Everything you need to learn if you're going to be here for longer than either of us want to.”

“I’m not FBI, remember? I don’t need to know whatever is in these.”

“No?” Ava asked mockingly. “What are you going to do if this building is suddenly on a complete lockdown? What if there’s an immediate need for evacuation? What about if you’ve been separated from the team while we’re out in the field on a dangerous mission and you’re left with no comm, no back-up, and no anything? Do you know what to do if the FBI is under biological attack and you’re in here and have been exposed to a pathogen and at risk of being infected? What about wh–”

“I got it,” Sara said curtly, cutting Ava off.

“What happens if you–”

“I said,” Sara hissed, slowly rising from her seat, her teeth gritted. “I got it, Sharpe.”

Ava hummed contently, brows arched up in mockery. “That’s what I thought.”

She and Sara stared each other down, both looking equally intense, until Amaya cleared her throat, forcing her to look away first, albeit briefly, before looking back at Sara.

“If I'm not back by 5 P.M., you and Zari can go home. I’ll just start training you tomorrow.”

Not waiting for Sara’s reply, Ava started to leave, until she remembered something, leading her to turn around and reach into her pocket.

"Oh, and Zari?” Ava waited until Zari turned to face her. “Here," she said, tossing Zari her ID badge. "Your credentials have been approved. You’re now officially a Civilian Consultant for the FBI."

"Cool," Zari exclaimed, smiling while she examined her badge. “Did this just get approved?”

“I got it sometime on your first week here,” Ava admitted, unbothered. “Third day, I believe.”

Zari’s brows slightly arched up. “May I ask why I’m just getting it now?”

“I was holding on to it because somebody keeps vexing me,” Ava said, deliberately jerking her head and looking directly in Sara’s direction, causing the latter to pointedly narrow her eyes at her.

Amaya pressed her lips together to keep herself from letting out a laugh, then exchanged a look with Zari who was looking just as amused as her.

The two of them had been having the same conversation for weeks now– that their respective best friend had been acting uncharacteristically themselves whenever they dealt with each other.

Ava, according to Amaya, had been: getting easily frustrated too often now and was starting to be vocal about her frustrations; so annoyed once that she was ready to exhibit violence; furious one time that it ended up in a screaming match; and more noticeably, quipping or snapping back when she hadn’t before at anyone– all of this… because of Sara.

According to Zari, because of Ava, Sara had been: getting easily annoyed when, in all the years she had known her, her best friend had been nothing but imperturbable; increasingly frustrated about Ava’s disapproval of her although she kept saying she didn’t care; acting like a jerk considerably more than usual; and more importantly, unnecessarily adamant about not getting with Ava someone because she was a “straight” woman, as if that stopped her from trying before.

Turning her eyes back on Ava, Zari said, "This badge means Sara and I don't have to be searched at the entrance like we're at the airport or something, every time we get into the building, right?"

Ava smiled. "Just you, but yes. No more escort every time you get up here, either. And you have low-level clearance, too."

Sara frowned. "Wait. Why just Z? Where's MY badge?"

"You want yours?" Ava asked, a sly smirk threatening to tug at her lips.

Sara rolled her eyes. “Duh!”

"Then I suggest you finish reading those files as soon as possible. You will have your ID badge once you do. Until then… well, I suppose you're going to have to go through the visitor screening security system with the FBI Police every time you enter the building, including being escorted up here by them or at least one agent," Ava said coolly, then made a move to go but turned back around. "Oh, and lest you think you can cheat your way out of this, I can assure you, Lance, you can’t. I'll know if you just browse over those pages. I will quiz you if I have to."

Sara drew in a long breath, narrowed her eyes at Ava again, then ground her teeth together.

"Have fun reading," Ava said before turning to leave, a self-satisfied smirk was on her face, not even attempting to hide it anymore.

"YOU JUST STARTED A WAR WITH ME, SHARPE! IT’S ON, DO YOU HEAR ME?! I HOPE IT'S WORTH IT!" Sara yelled after Ava.

Ava, for her part, didn't stop to turn around, but just held up a hand instead and waved it dismissively.

Once Ava was out of her sight, Sara turned to find both Amaya and Zari biting back their smiles.

"It's not funny," Sara said bitterly, her expression clearly reflecting annoyance.

Amaya scrunched up her nose a little. "Ehh. It's a little funny."

Zari sidled up to Sara with a teasing smile on her face, then slung an arm around her shoulders.

"So…” Zari said teasingly, drawing out the o. “How does it feel to get annoyed by Ava? You're not feeling it, are you? Now you know how she feels every time you open your yap."

Sara rolled her eyes, then lifted off Zari's arm from her shoulder a little forcefully. "Fuck off!"

She plopped herself back on her seat with a loud huff, still simmering with annoyance towards Ava. She came in to work this morning fully intending to get her plan of further antagonising Ava, in motion, so the agent would get aggravated, and yet here she was– the one whose feathers got ruffled by the very person whose nerves she wanted to get under.

Time to step up my game.

------------------------------

Ava managed to return to HQ around six in the evening. Finding Zari still in, she walked up to her and Amaya chatting.

“Zari. What are you still doing here?” Ava asked curiously. “You are aware that you and Lance don't have to stay as late as everyone else here, right? You can always leave at five; earlier even. I've been telling you this since you got here.”

“Yeah, I know. I have really nothing else to do, so I figured I’d just stick around just in case something came up. Gideon and I are waiting if something finally comes out of our decrypting tonight. I’m just on a break now,” Zari explained. “And besides, Sara insisted on staying. She wanted to take advantage of the free gym. She’s been there for like an hour, working out or probably choreographing a dance to some weird music only she can appreciate.”

Ava's eyes briefly widened a little. Keeping her voice level and her manner nonchalant, she asked, “Lance can dance?”

“Yeah!” Zari exclaimed. “And choreograph, too. Modern. Ballroom. Hip hop. Contemporary. Jazz. Ballet. Lyrical. Tap. Even breakdancing. You name it,” she said quite proudly, then eyed Ava quizzically, a teasing smile on her face. “Why? You like girls who can dance, Ava?”

“She does,” Amaya interjected, smiling,earning a glare from Ava. “Max, for example, is a great dancer.”

“Ahh,” Zari exclaimed, giving Ava a mischievous smile, then winked. “I’ll let Sara know.”

“She’s not my type,” Ava said hastily, suddenly feeling uneasy where she stood.

Zari hummed, and with a teasing smile thrown at Ava, she said, “Ava, Sara is everybody's type.”

Ava rolled her eyes. “I should probably go up there, too. I'm supposed to be training her.”

“Oh, yeah. I heard you tell her that this morning,” Zari said, her brows dipped a little. “What's that about? Training for what?”

“Rip said– no, Rip ordered me the day Lance came here the first time, to train her so she isn't actually helpless when she’s out on a mission with the team. Just in case.”

Zari snorted. “Sara? You? Train her?” she asked in a mix of disbelief and amusement. “Has she not said anything to you? She actually agreed to this?”

“Not really. Rip also ordered her to train. It’s his only condition of her going out in the field,” Ava said matter-of-factly, then knitted her brows together at Zari’s expression. “Why do you look so entertained?”

Zari quickly schooled her features then shrugged her shoulders.

“Oh, nothing. I just thought Sara would've put up a fight, especially since it’s you who’s supposed to train her. In case you failed to notice, she likes riling you up. And she's very stubborn, you know?”

“Believe me, I wish didn't,” Ava said ruefully, then made her way up to the training room.

------------------------------

Ava heard the loud music blaring out of the speakers as soon as the elevator door opened. When she walked into the training room, she stopped dead in her tracks– Sara Lance was dancing with such lithe agility one could only expect from a trained dancer.

She was staring. Ava knew she was, but as much as she wanted to tear her gaze away from Sara, as she should, she couldn’t. She couldn't bring herself to look away; and as much as Sara was moving with incredible gracefulness, it was her face from which Ava seemed unable to wrest her eyes.

With each move, each word in the song, Sara’s face seemed to be dancing over so many emotions that it made Ava’s heart skittered in her chest. Sara looked like she was losing herself in the dance; in the song whose every word seemed to pass through her; and it enkindled a desire in Ava to know the thoughts that brought the other woman to move with such intense emotional quality, that it was almost painful to watch. She didn’t dare move lest she broke Sara’s engrossed state.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

This felt right, as it always did whenever she danced. She started dancing when she was just seven years old, and for her, it was an expression. She wasn’t good at feelings; at expressing them, more so, but when she was dancing, it felt like she was laying herself bare; stripping herself naked, so to speak. As the music played and the lyrics coursed through her, nothing else mattered but this moment– here, when she felt so in tuned with the universe.

So absorbed in her dancing, Sara didn’t feel someone else’s presence in the training room until the song ended. Dragging her gaze up from the floor, her chest heaving from exhaustion, she looked up to find Ava by the door, staring at her with an odd expression on her face. As to how long she had been standing there, Sara had no idea. Noticing the player started playing another song, she walked over to the bench, took the remote control, turned the music off, then looked back up at Ava who had now started walking in the direction of the locker room.

“Ava, hi!” Sara said, breathing heavily. “I, uh, helped myself with the music player. I hope you don’t mind. I figured I could put in a few hours since Zari insisted on staying for a little bit.”

Zari said YOU insisted to stay, Ava thought.

“That’s alright,” Ava answered briefly, trying to ignore how she found Sara’s slightly flushed face due to her exertion, entrancing.

“You don’t have to train me tonight,” Sara said after a moment of awkward silence of her and Ava. “If you’re tired, we can just start tomorrow. You must have had a long day.”

Why is she being nice to me again?

Of course she was tired. How could she not be when she spent the whole day off-site doing bureaucratic work for which she had always had no patience. Not to mention, she was already physically drained even at the start of the day. Sara was also intently looking at her now with those damn eyes and it was making her knees, quite literally, weak. She should tell Sara to go home for now. She should save their training for tomorrow and–

“That’s okay. I’m not tired,” Ava found herself saying. “Unless, you don’t want to, of course. In which case, that’s fine.”

“I mean, sure. Yeah, it’s fine. I guess,” Sara replied, shifting uncomfortably on her feet.

Why in the hell am I suddenly feeling so awkward? Sara thought.

“Okay, then,” Ava said, giving Sara a nod. “I’ll just change out of this suit really quickly.”

"Mm-hmm, sure. Yeah, of course," Sara said, nodding.

After Ava left to go to the locker room, Sara took a moment to compose herself. She realised that the reason she was feeling uneasy all of a sudden was the thought that Ava had probably walked in the training room way before she even noticed her presence, which meant that Ava watched her.

She had always been at her most vulnerable when she was dancing– when she let herself be taken by music, by the song to which her body moved, by the lyrics that moved her emotionally; and the thought that Ava had seen her looking vulnerable again was enough to remind her that the whole point of her resolving to become an even bigger dick to Ava was because she inadvertently let the agent see her last Friday as anything than what she had always presented herself as... And she just couldn't have that.

Or maybe because you’ve started to see Ava in a different light and you’re afraid of the things to which it might lead you; of the things it might make you feel, so you’re determined to nip it right in the bud by being a colossal jerk, a tiny part of her shove that thought in her mind.

Sara shook herself off just as Ava walked back in, past her, and over to the bench. Taking the agent in, Sara noticed how she redid her bun so it looked messy now. She was wearing a pair of black cropped leggings and black trainers, and a white muscle shirt with its sleeves cut off low enough that it showed the skin from the waist up of her lateral torso, giving Sara a little peek of–

Is that… Is that a.. tattoo?

Ava Sharpe, who wanted everything squeaky neat and spotless, had a fucking tattoo.

For fuck’s sake. Nope.

She did NOT find that hot. AT ALL.

“Lance?” Ava said, pulling Sara out of her unwelcome thoughts.

“Huh?” Sara exclaimed, looking slightly befuddled. “Sorry, what?”

Ava narrowed her eyes at Sara questioningly.

“I’ve been trying to get your attention,” Ava said, then looked at Sara with a hint of concern. “Are you feeling okay? We can postpone your training until tomorrow, if you’re not up for it.” A pause. “You’re looking rather...” Ava searched for a better word before settling for “unwell.”

I’m feeling all sorts of wrong, is what I fucking am.

Clearing her throat, Sara waved Ava off.

“Yeah, I’m fine. It was, you know... the dance. I’m just getting my heart rate down from all the dancing, and this is just,” Sara said, pointing at her face, “this is just skin flushing. You know, from... when I.. danced.”

I swear to god, if I have to say the word “dance” again or any of its variant…

Before Ava could possibly see through her, Sara turned away and started walking over to where the heavy bag was.

“What do you think you're doing?” Ava asked sharply, moving a step forward, and prompting Sara to look back at her.

“To… punch things?” Sara replied, pointing at the heavy bag, and looking a bit puzzled.

"I know you’ve hit people before, so I assume you can throw a punch,” Ava said, walking back over to where she put her gym bag, fished something out of it, then walked up to Sara. “But it's one thing to throw a punch. Doing it correctly is another thing entirely.”

Now standing in front of Sara, Ava continued. "If I’m going to train you, you’re going to do everything right," she said as she showed Sara what she took from her bag. “You need to use hand wraps every time you're boxing. Your hands and wrist will thank you."

Sara was about to say something when Ava curtly said, “Hand.”

"Actually, Ava, I–"

“Hold your hand out, Lance,” Ava demanded.

Sara, for her part, let out an inaudible sigh.

How do you tell your sort-of boss that, one- not only do you know how to use hand wraps, but also that you don't actually need them because your hand– no, your entire body had been conditioned to withstand even the most horrid of torture; and two- you should probably be the one training her ?

Sara had been thinking of a way to somehow make it known to Ava that she wasn't actually a novice, when she remembered what Rip told her the day before– that Ava could probably teach her a thing or two that she didn't learn back when she was with the League.

Sure, she could just simply say that she'd been doing martial arts for years, and that would have been the end of it. Sara was certain Ava wouldn't even question it, but imagining the look on Ava's face when she finally found out just how learned she actually was in fighting was enough reason for Sara to not say anything just yet. Besides, one of the ways to know the extent of a person’s ability was by how she taught, and Sara was just really eager to know just how good a fighter Ava was.

Without wasting more time, Sara mentally shrugged, and dutifully held out her right hand.

Ava, for her part, took a few beats before she remembered what it was that she had to do, because her gaze was fixed on something on Sara’s right forearm.

Noticing where Ava’s eyes were, Sara said, “It’s a birthmark. It changes colours or disappears depending on my mood.”

Ava hastily jerked her eyes away, feeling slightly embarrassed at having been caught, then cleared her throat.

"Watch, so you know how to do it next time," Ava instructed.

Seeing Sara nod, Ava began. “Place the loop around your thumb and start wrapping around the back of your wrist,” she said, showing Sara how to do it, then looked up, meeting her gaze. “Not down the front of your hand. If you do that, as soon as you close your hands, the loop is going to slip right off your thumb and the wraps will loosen the longer you use your fist. You want your wraps to stay tight so,” she said, then looked back down, “move away from the thumb and wrap around your wrist twice or three times. I do it three times because it supports my wrists better that way. Next, wrap it around your hand three times then bring it down to the back of your thumb. Now, spread your fingers a little.”

When Sara didn’t do as she said, Ava brought her gaze back up to find the other woman already looking at her. “Are you watching what I’m doing and listening to what I’m saying?”

Sara wasn’t. She could do this whole thing in her sleep; and even if she couldn't, even if this was her first time, how could she focus when Ava was standing so close in front of her, with her brows slightly knitted together in concentration, which she was most definitely not finding endearing; Ava’s fingers curled around her forearm to steady it, her hand a little cold and having a soothing effect against her warm skin, and her smelling like a fucking delectable citrus fruit.

“Yes,” Sara answered. “Mm-hmm. Loop around the thumb, wrap around the wrist then the hand, both three times. What’s next?”

Ava narrowed her eyes at her suspiciously before looking back down and continuing. “Spread your fingers a little.”

Sara did.

Ava continued giving Sara verbal instructions, showing her how to do it as she went. Every once in a while, she would look up and every time, she would catch Sara intently looking at her instead of what she was doing, making her heart jump in her chest every time their eyes locked, and causing her to screw up what she was doing.

“Did you get everything?” Ava asked after she secured the Velcro.

“Yes,” Sara said briefly.

“I doubt that you did, but show me nonetheless,” Ava said, then tipped her head. “Do your other hand.”

Sara took the other wrap from Ava then did the wrap on her left hand exactly the way the agent did. When she was done, she looked up at Ava and found her with an arched brow and an odd expression on her face.

Is she… impressed? Sara thought.

“I’m a quick study,” Sara said confidently.

Ava hummed. “That's the easiest part. Now, show me what you got,” she said, then tilted her towards the heavy bag. “Throw a punch.”

Sara turned to face the bag, smiled mischievously to herself, then threw what could possibly the clumsiest punch she had ever thrown in her life. She threw another, then another, and another one, until Ava caught her forearm, turning her around a little.

“Okay,” Ava said, holding back a smile, and trying her hardest to keep a straight face. “I think I see now why those assault charges were dropped. If that's how you punch, I’m certain you couldn’t have hurt anyone. A small child could throw a harder punch than you.”

Sara dramatically gasped, feigning offense. “How dare you.”

Ava halfheartedly rolled her eyes, completely ignoring the sudden flutter in her chest.

“Here,” Ava said, absently placing both of her hands on Sara’s hips. She turned Sara back around so she was once again fully facing the heavy bag, and settled herself behind her, entirely missing the way Sara’s breath got caught in her own chest.

“Spread your feet slightly wider than your shoulders width,” Ava instructed, gently guiding Sara's feet by tugging their inside with her own foot. “That's good. Now slide your right foot back a little, angle it at around 45 degrees. You’re right-handed, right?" she asked, tipping her head to the side so she could see Sara's side profile.

Sara, for her part, just let out a sound of affirmation, nodding her head rather vigorously, distracted by the way Ava's hands were lightly gripping her hips, and having completely forgotten how to breathe. No matter, she still did as Ava instructed.

“You need to relax, Lance,” Ava said, thoughtlessly leaning in closer to Sara, perfectly oblivious to what brought on Sara’s current state. “We’re just training. No reason to get tense.”

Easy for you to say. You’re not the one feeling my breath on your neck.

“I’m so fucking relaxed I feel like I’m vacationing in Aruba in the summer,” Sara said in a slightly strangled voice.

“No need to swear either,” Ava reprimanded. She huffed out a breath and said, “Okay, Lesson Number One– a strong foundation makes a stronger punch; so plant both of your feet firmly and distribute your weight on them. Bend your knees slightly. Good. That’s the basic boxing stance.”

When Ava took her hands off her hips, Sara didn’t know whether to feel relieved or disappointed, or a mix of both.

“Now,” Ava said, standing in front of Sara and behind the heavy bag, her hands steadying it, “raise your arms up, elbows down. There are four basic punches– jab, cross, hook, and uppercut. Give me a fast and straight punch with your left fist, then pull your hand back immediately after contact,” she ordered and Sara complied, although still a little clumsily, prompting Ava’s lips to curl up into a little smile. “Still needs a little work, but that’s a lot better than your first few tries. Do it again. Take a sharp exhale every time you punch.”

“I told you,” Sara said smugly, as she threw jab punches a few more times, “I’m a quick study.”

“Uh-huh. Sure,” Ava said humouredly. “That punch is called the jab. Now, the cross. Throw a punch with your right fist, but this time, raise your heel as you pivot your right foot, and rotate your right hip forward. The power in the punch comes from turning the hips. That’s Lesson Number Two.”

Sara smiled a little to herself as a memory of Nyssa teaching her how to punch the first time and saying something similar as what Ava said, flashed through her mind.

“What are you smiling about?” Ava asked when she noticed Sara’s apparent poor attempt at hiding her smile.

You just reminded me of my ex. And it just suddenly hit me how similar you are in so many ways.

“Nothing,” Sara said. “It’s just- This is nice.”

Ava arched up a brow at that. “Let’s see if you can still say the same thing later. Now, do the cross.”

For the next two and a half hours, Ava “taught” Sara how to do the rest of the basic punches and footwork, making sure she got each one perfectly before moving on to teach her another. She also taught her some breathing techniques, and had just finished telling Sara about the basic punch combinations.

“Are you sure you got it, Lance? You can’t start doing combinations if you don’t have the punch numbering memorised first,” Ava asked, annoyed. “You’re not even paying attention. What are you even–" She briefly turned her head back to check what could possibly holding Sara's attention. "You keep looking over my shoulder.”

Because I’m avoiding looking at your damn eyes...

And your even damner mouth.

“I said I got it, Sharpie,” Sara said sulkily. “1 is jab, 2 is right cross, 3 is left hook, 4 is right hook, 5 is left uppercut, 6 is right uppercut, and b is when you hit the body.”

Ava hummed.

“I may not have your perfect memory, but mine's alright,” Sara said, shrugging her shoulders.

Ava’s eyebrows drew together, suddenly looking defensive. “How do you know that?”

“The team told me at the bar last Friday.”

“I do not like being talked about,” Ava said sternly.

“Would you relax? Geez. You look like smoke is about to come out of your ears. It's not like the team shared it to other people. They told me and Zari.”

“And?” Ava asked curtly. “You say that like it's supposed to matter.”

For a second, Ava thought she saw a flicker of hurt flashed in Sara’s eyes. Realising it was highly unlikely, Ava inquired, “What else did they tell you about me?”

“That you're a massive nerd and emotionally stunted,” Sara replied coolly.

Sara thought she saw a flash of something in Ava's eyes at what she said, but the same was gone just as quickly as it appeared. It was there a second, but gone the next.

Emotionally stunted, Ava thought.

Ava really didn't like those two words put together in reference to her. The number of times people told her that while growing up was probably higher than the total number of people working at HQ.

The memories– no, the feelings those words evoked from her were the furthest thing from pleasant, and she would rather she didn’t hear it for as long as she was alive.

When Ava shot her a glare, Sara backtracked. “Okay, they may have used some other words, but that's basically what I got.”

Back in her foul mood, Ava’s tone turned acerbic. “You don't know me.”

“Well, of course I don't,” Sara bit out derisively, “because unlike you, I don't have the advantage of having a file on you.”

Ava just stood there, unfazed, her hard gaze still fixed on Sara.

"Look, Sharpe,” Sara said, her face taking on a resigned look. “We’re partners now–"

"Have I done or said something in the time you've been here that made you jump to that moronic conclusion?" Ava asked harshly, cutting Sara off.

"I'm here, aren't I? I'm on the team,” Sara said coolly. “Ray and Nate have this bro thing going on between them. Lily and Gideon each have their own stuff, and I think I'm not wrong in assuming that both you and I are rooting for our respective best friend to get their heads out of their asses and just ask each other out already. They’re all partnered up, so that leaves you and me. You know, professionally."

"Rip sought you out to work with me and the rest of the Legends,” Ava stated matter-of-factly. “You're on the team at his behest. That does not make us partners. If I had any say in the matter, you would have been back to wherever he found you weeks ago, doing whatever it is that you do."

"Chicago,” Sara informed Ava, not letting her get on her nerves like she had in the morning. “Rip found me in Chicago. And what I do is called investigating, Sharpe. The same thing you do. Only I do it better, even without the benefit of a gun and a fancy badge.”

“You break the law doing your,” Ava made an air-quote gesture, “investigation. You drink on the job and fall in bed with your clients. If every investigator does their job the way you do yours, the entire investigative system of this country will be a big joke to the rest of the world.”

"That cold tone of voice of yours, does that come naturally to you,” Sara asked, remaining imperturbable, “or is that something that you actively practice?"

"I practice," Ava said dryly. "Every time I have to talk to you."

Sara bit back a smile at Ava’s quick-wittedness.

“Anyway, partner,” Sara pronounced doggedly, ignoring Ava’s jab, “because that's what we are, whether you like it or not,” she said, pausing to check for Ava’s reaction. When the latter didn’t say anything, she continued. “You don’t have to like me. I know you don’t. Hell, I don’t like you, but the truth is, as long as I’m on the team– on this case, sooner or later, my life is going to be in your hands and yours in mine. I just want you to know that when that day comes, you can trust that I got your back. From now on, when we’re out in the field doing missions, our lives are going to depend on us being protective of each other.”

Ava scoffed.

"You?" Ava asked, earning a nod from Sara. "Protect me?" A harsh laugh escaped from her. When Sara gave her an offended look, she straightened her face. "I don't need your protection, Lance. Trust me, I'm more than capable of handling myself," she declared confidently, then went over to the corner to get a pair of punch mitts, and back to the bench to take gloves from her gym bag.

"I've been told," Sara remarked. "Still, I can offer something to the table.”

“Using your feminine wiles and libertine impulses isn't going to help us close this case,” Ava said, tossing the gloves to Sara. “Put those on.”

“I feel like I should be offended, but I’m not,” Sara declared, putting on the gloves.

“Good,” Ava said curtly, “because I don’t see why you should be offended by a fact.”

Sara stopped what she was doing to look at Ava then internally grinned when a thought occurred to her.

“You’re incredibly annoying and obsessively anal,” Sara bit out, causing Ava to pointedly glare at her, then mockingly said, “What? I don’t see why you should be offended by a fact.”

Ava narrowed her eyes at her then opened her mouth to say something but Sara immediately cut her off.

“And besides, like you said, I’m a reckless, belligerent, slutty.” Sara saw Ava open her mouth, but she held up a gloved hand to shut her up, and continued, “an outlaw, alcoholic, incompetent, adult-child person. Think of all the improvements you could make to my character if you partnered me up.”

Ava looked at her strangely. “This is the FBI, not a rehabilitation centre. It's not my job to make you a better person." A pause. "I don’t think there’s anyone in this world who can do that job.”

“I think that was meant to be offensive, but I’m going to pointedly ignore it,” Sara said flippantly. “Also, you’re wrong.”

“I’m never wrong,” Ava said matter-of-factly.

“I seem to remember,” Sara said thoughtfully, “that it was my wiles and impulses that got us the files that you have Zari and Gideon currently decrypting.”

“Let's save the bragging for IF we actually get something useful from it, shall we?” Ava said dismissively as she put the mitts on and held her arms up to Sara, then gestured for her to do the same. “1-2-3-2.”

“I'm just saying,” Sara said, then threw a jab, a cross, a left hook, and another cross, “that I'm pretty great at making people talk. I guess I have the kind of face that makes people want to tell me things, you know? I'm like the FBI’s very own Lucifer Morningstar,” she said smugly, then her face lit up as though she was struck by a sudden thought. “Oh, my god. Sharpie, we're the FBI’s Deckerstar!”

Ava looked at her intently. "I don't know what that means,” she said, and then threw Sara a scowl. “And how many times do I have to tell you NOT to call me that until you get it through your thick skull?” Then, “1-2-3-6."

"Deckerstar?” Sara repeated excitedly, then threw a jab, a cross, a left hook, then a right uppercut. “Like the new Sculder.”

“What’s a Sculder?” Ava asked. “1-6-1-3-2.”

Throwing the punches, Sara said, “Scully and Mulder. The two FBI agents who work in X-Files Division.”

Ava’s brows briefly knitted together in confusion. “2-4-1-6b." Then, "I don't know any agent Scully or Mulder, and I’ve been with the FBI for almost 11 years; there’s no X-Files division here.”

“What?”

“What?” Ava echoed, looking rather lost.

Sara briefly shook her head, looking at Ava questioningly, then threw the punches. “Forget Sculder. Deckerstar is the ship name of Decker and Morningstar."

"I still don't know what that means," Ava said, now looking completely confused. “1-4-1-2.”

Sara put down her hands, letting out an impatient sigh. Ava, too, put down hers.

"There's this police detective, right?” Sara effused as she started talking animatedly. “Her name is Chloe Decker. In some twist of fate– wait, no, it isn't actually a twist of fate because the whole thing is orchestrated by the guy's dad. Anyway, this really charming, handsome, hot, rich guy named Lucifer Morningstar comes hurtling into her life by injecting himself into an investigation she’s working on. He later becomes her civilian partner because he can charm people into telling him things. Zari introduced me to them a few months ago. She's a big fan. Okay, so…” she said as she held up her left forefinger, “Decker and Star," then her right, "because of Morningstar, equals Deckerstar." Sara put her forefingers together, then paused. "In our setup, you're Chloe because you’re the cop and because I'm the incredibly charming,” Sara put a hand to her chest, looking pleased with herself, causing Ava to roll her eyes, “and very helpful civilian, that makes me Lucifer."

Ava snorted out a laugh, then muttered under her breath, "Well, you ARE the devil."

Sara, who didn't hear what Ava said, craned her head a little. "Sorry, what was that?"

"Nothing,” Ava said tersely. “Those two, are they with the MPDC? I don't think I've met either of them, and I’m almost certain I’m acquainted with all the cops there. Their consultants, too."

Sara stared at Ava incredulously. "Okay, you know what, Ava, nevermind," she said dismissively, then shook her head as she ducked her head down. "Unbelievable."

Ava thew Sara a contemptuous look.

"You're the one who started going on about this Deckerstar. Which reminds me, Lucifer is a Latin term for Venus- a morning star. What sane and loving parent would name their son after what you people call the actual devil considering his last name is already Morningstar?"

"God," Sara said flatly, looking at Ava with a blank expression on her face, “and His wife.”

“Well,” Ava said, plainly, “I feel sorry for Mr. Morningstar. He must have been ridiculed endlessly as a child for being named twice after the ruler of the so-called Hell. He might as well had been named Morningstar Morningstar.”

Sara could only stare at Ava in utter stupefaction.

“I… Wha- I- I can’t.” At a loss for words, Sara shook her head. “I can’t have this conversation with you anymore, Ava. I just can’t.”

“Then don’t,” Ava admonished, then clashed her mitts together twice. “Arms up!”

The next 15 minutes were spent with them doing punch combinations (and snarking at each other). After which, Ava called it a night and told Sara to cool down. She, for her part, went to the locker room and came back soon after, carrying something in her hand.

Ava sat on the bench and redid her shoelaces as it must have loosened some time earlier. She ought to go hit the showers, but as she dragged her eyes from her shoes, her gaze had once again found Sara who was currently a few metres away, stretching, her side turned to Ava.

She took a moment to study Sara. The other woman was wearing a loose grey sleeved shirt tied into a knot on the back, a pair of white trainers and black leggings. Even with a simple outfit, Sara still managed to look good. It was quite unfair, really.

Ava's thoughts had just taken her back to how Sara danced earlier, when the latter turned her back to her then bent over, fingertips touching the floor, giving Ava a literal front-row view of her–

Oh, sweet god.

Ava's eyes widened just as her jaw dropped; and as heat crept up from her chest to her face, she turned her face away so abruptly she was afraid for one second that she would get whiplash.

Her dream last night instantly replayed in her head- Sara doing things to her, suddenly turning her into a very holy woman with how many times she had said the word G–

“So you believe in God, then? Ava asked hastily, her reddened face still turned away, hoping Sara would turn back around and face her instead because she really didn't want to have a gay panic-induced heart attack in the middle of the stupid FBI training room.

“Oh, we're sharing now?” Sara replied dryly as she turned to look at Ava.

Ava, for her part, having seen from her peripheral vision that Sara had gone and finally faced her, had never been more grateful for remembering how to breathe properly.

“Fine,” Ava said dismissively, finally turning her face back to Sara. “Don't tell me. I don't really care.”

Sara walked over to the bench nearest to her and across from Ava. “I don't,” she said after a few seconds of silence. “If you really must know.”

“I literally just said I don't care,” Ava remarked, forcing irritation into her voice while simultaneously untangling her brain from the gay mess it unfortunately turned into.

“Then why'd you ask?” Sara retorted.

If Sara wasn't so rude, Ava would have told her that she remembered her saying she didn't like the silence, and that she was just being considerate by striking up a conversation, but since Sara decided to be a jerk, Ava hummed instead.

Or maybe you could have told her that you needed a distraction in a desperate attempt not to stare at her ass, a little voice posed.

Her VERY nice ass.

Ava mentally shook herself off, then shrugged nonchalantly. “Well, at least we have that in common.”

Sara shot her that infuriating smirk. “Were you hoping there were more?”

“I was hoping there weren't any at all,” Ava quipped back. “If you really must know.”

Sara lowered her lashes to hide her smile at Ava's clever way of repeating her own words.

“Somehow, you being an atheist doesn’t surprise me at all, b–”

“I urge you not to finish that sentence, Lance, before you say something offensive,” Ava warned, frowning darkly.

Sara rolled her eyes.

“I was going to say that most highly intellectual people don't believe in God because they have scientific minds. You’re an atheist because you have science that might explain what most people call divine providence; miracles, for example.” After a brief moment, Sara added, “Even magic.”

“I wouldn’t really use the word ‘miracle’, but in the hopes of sooner concluding this riveting dialogue,” Ava said sarcastically, causing Sara to will her lips not to curl up into a smile, “I will.” A pause. “And you're right–”

“What was that?” Sara asked, cutting Ava off.

“I said you were right wh–”

“I'm sorry.” Sara cupped a hand behind her ear. “What did you say? I couldn't quite hear you over the sound of my being right.”

Finally catching on that she was being messed with, Ava ground her teeth together, then looked at Sara, although with an impassive expression on her face, and said, “You're infuriating.”

“And right, apparently,” Sara said smugly, chuckling. “I'm right. According to you.”

Ava shot Sara a glare, not amused at the latter’s struggle to contain her chuckle. Attempting and failing to turn her expression sober, Sara gestured a hand towards Ava. “Please continue.”

Ava let out an annoyed huff, but did as Sara asked anyway. “‘Miracles’ are things that science can explain. Just not yet. Not at the time it happens.”

“Let’s pretend for one second that I didn't understand your meaning,” Sara said sarcastically.

Ava breathed out a frustrated sigh.

“Say, a person’s incurable illness got ‘miraculously’ cured today, right? At this time, we don't know how it was possible; but years from now, probably after a few more of the same or similar cases occurred, somewhere, someone is going to figure it out eventually; that in retrospect, it was because of the person's body’s unexpected response to the medicines or unanticipated effect of medical technology, or what is more probable– it was the person's own body chemistry that cured them.”

When Ava saw Sara arching up her eyebrows, she continued, “Assuming I believe the miraculous events from the Bible, there’s still a scientific explanation for each. The star of Bethlehem is probably caused by the impossibly rare occurrence of several planets aligning; or the parting of the Red Sea– an atmospheric phenomenon of some really powerful winds could have caused it. I could go on.”

“Jesus Christ,” Sara mumbled under her breath, ducking her head down.

Ava, hearing the same, looked at Sara questioningly. “I do not believe in God. What makes you think I believe in his supposed son?”

Sara shook her head, looking at Ava with a mix of complete fascination and amusement, and biting her lip to try and hide the small smile hinting at the edges thereof.

“Just how much of a nerd are you?”

“Being one isn't a bad thing,” Ava said defensively.

Sara held up her hands. “I didn't say it was.” A pause. “You're really telling me that you believe in miracles and yet you don’t believe in luck?”

Ava shot Sara an impatient look. “Like I said, ‘miracles’ can be scientifically explained. Luck is an incongruous concept.”

“What we, the common folks, call luck, YOU call probability. You’re literally a mathematical genius. Shouldn't you be big on probabilities? Between miracles and luck, it's the latter you should have confidence in.” With Ava not replying, Sara continued. “I suppose you have something to say about magic, too?”

Ava sneered.

“You think making one’s fingers smoke without fire is sorcery? It’s all about chemistry. Or an egg in the bottle? It’s purely physics. What people consider magic, science most definitely CAN explain.”

“Oh, yeah?” Sara asked mockingly. “Then how does science explain unicorns or fairy godmothers or shapeshifters or witches, huh?

Ava’s eyes widened in disbelief, then she looked at Sara as if she had grown a second head.

“You CANNOT be serious.”

When Sara just looked at Ava with a straight face, an outraged expression spread across her own.

“That is not the kind of magic to which I refer! Those things are fairy tale magic. They definitely do not exist, therefore, I don't believe in them.”

Sara shrugged her shoulders flippantly. “Magic is magic whatever description you ascribe to them.”

Ava let out a harsh little laugh.

“Well, of course you believe in those kind of magic,” Ava said, a mix of frustration and resignation in her voice. “You ARE a child, after all.”

Sara's shoulders gave a lurch, and a choked laugh escaped her. She quickly covered it up by coughing.

"I think I'm coming down with something," Sara said in between her fake coughs. When she "recovered", she tried and failed to not look at Ava with tender amusement.

Of course she didn’t believe in those things. It was ridiculous, but she could see how Ava was becoming more and more annoyed the longer they talked, and if there was one thing Sara realised in the weeks that she’d been working with the team, it was that she really thoroughly relished in Ava’s visible frustration with her.

“You know...” Sara said in a tone that had Ava bracing herself for what she was about to hear, “you’ve said more sentences to me in the last three hours than you had since I got here.”

“I would have much rather preferred if those sentences were cut all the way down to zero,” Ava responded impetuously.

No sooner than she said it that Ava got hit with a hot, sharp pang of guilt for her harsh words. Perhaps she could have phrased it differently, but all the same, it would have come out harsh; even for her, especially when Sara wasn’t trying aggravate her by saying what she said, and had only stated a fact.

Ava dragged her eyes up to Sara’s to perhaps attempt to backtrack, but the look on the other woman’s face made her stop.

Why… is she smirking?

An uncomfortable silence– at least for her part, had passed and Ava had become very much aware that Sara was gazing– no, Sara was staring at her with a gleam of something in her eyes and Ava was really getting confused by, and just couldn't stand, more so, what she was almost sure was gentleness lurking behind those icy blue eyes. Needing a way to avoid meeting Sara’s gaze, Ava looked away as she cleared her throat and reached for the layers of cloth she laid on the bench earlier, and tossed it to Sara.

“What are these?” Sara asked, unfolding a cloth in her hands.

“Your workout gear, like the one trainees use at the Academy. Also, this.” Ava tossed a key chain to her. “One is for your locker here in the training room, the other one is for the locker on our floor. In there, you’ll find a standard FBI shirt, khaki pants, wind breaker, cap, and Kevlar vest. The locker number is pressed on the head of the keys. They’re FBI properties so don’t lose them. Give them back to me when your arrangement with Rip is done.”

“You mean once we close the case or when he releases me from my contract with the Bureau, whichever comes first.”

Ava hummed. “If you don’t enrage me enough to warrant me to murder you first.”

Sara ducked her head down and pressed her lips together to keep herself from letting out another laugh.

Damn it.

This was NOT the fucking plan. She meant to antagonise Ava every chance she got, and consequently, the agent was supposed to be all up on her case or riding her ass often enough, so Sara could go back to hating her, and not finding every damn thing she was saying and how she was saying it, incredibly amusing.

Sara pushed the thoughts away for now, having decided to deal with her internal turmoil later.

“If you were always gonna me give these workout clothes, then why did you still ask me to bring my own?”

To Sara’s utter surprise, Ava grinned. Sure, she had seen her do it at the bar on Friday more times than Sara was prepared to see, but this one– the grin Ava currently had on her face was because of and directed at her. She put it on the Ava's face, and for reason she didn't want to know, it made her heart soar in her chest, and sent her stomach into knots.

Fucking hell.

“It was a test,” Ava said smugly. “I was testing you. To see if you’ve finally learnt to do ask you’re told.” She paused. “I'm genuinely surprised you passed.”

Sara narrowed her eyes at Ava in mock irritation.

Ava realised she must have said something Sara could use with which to prod her because the next thing she knew, the woman had on that infuriating smirk of hers.

“You were testing me, huh,” Sara said, her voice teasing. “Ooorr... maybe, you just wanted an excuse to text me last night because like I said, I’m growing on you.” She clicked her tongue then very slowly shook her head. “I warned you to be careful, Sharpie.”

Ava rolled her eyes and stood up. She was making her way back towards the locker room to get in the showers when Nate appeared in the doorway.

“Guys,” he said, eyes flitting between Ava and Sara. “That file we took from the target last week? Gideon and Zari got something.” He paused. “Gideon said to tell you that you’re gonna want to see it, Ava.”

Chapter Text

Gideon said to tell you that you’re gonna want to see it, Ava.

Ava and Sara briefly looked at each other then hurried back down to their floor; Sara grabbing her gym bag on her way out.

When the three of them got to the Console Room, everyone else, except for Lily who was also making her way to the room, was already in attendance.

“Gather around, Legends! The tech goddess will speak,” Zari said theatrically, causing Ava to duck her head down a little and her lips to curl up into a small smile. She glanced over at Sara who was shaking her head as she rolled her eyes at Zari, which told her that this must be a regular thing for the two of them.

“The files,” Zari began, “as all of you have been made aware were heavily encrypted; thousands of bit which, ordinarily, would take years to get to. Fortunately for the FBI, you have two of the best hackers slash tech geniuses slash all-around badasses in the world...”

As Zari went on with her spiel, Ava slightly leaned towards Sara, eyes still on Zari, and whispered, “Is she always like this?”

Sara huffed out a laugh.

“Oh, yeah. It’s best if you just go with it. If you interrupt her, she’ll just make her speech longer out of spite.”

“Got it,” Ava said, bringing her attention back to Zari and internally wishing the woman finished her speech before her anticipation for and anxiety over what Nate said she would want to see, overtook her.

“...without further ado, I present you,” Zari concluded, as she tapped on her tablet. “This.”

One by one, folders flew in from the bottom of the huge monitors in front of them, each with a name.

“Does any of those folder names ring a bell, team?” Gideon asked expectantly.

As everyone skated their eyes along the folders, Sara and Zari looked at each other, silently communicating, then shook their heads.

“There,” Ray said, pointing at the monitor. “Fourth row, third column.”

Nate let out a loud Holy crap! just as Ava quietly said, “Genesis.”

“What's Genesis?” Sara asked, turning to Ava.

Ava turned to Amaya and gave her a nod, signalling her to apprise both Sara and Zari of what Genesis was.

“About two weeks before the two of you joined the team,” Amaya confided, “we took into custody one of Darhk’s known allies. We interrogated him, but he didn't break. He said he'd rather rot in prison and live than betray Darhk and die. He did, however, slip once. According to him, Darhk's plan has already been put in motion and that whatever we do, we can't stop ‘Operation Genesis’. We were apprehending him for the criminal activities he had already engaged in at the time; you know, violent crimes, organised crimes. The works. It was the first time we’ve heard of Genesis.”

“Okay,” Sara said absently. “Do we know what that is?”

“No,” Ava replied briefly. “Not yet, but we believe that everything that Darhk has been working on for months, years even, is for the execution of that operation about which we haven't gotten much information, because every person associated with him who we have taken into custody so far has refused to cooperate.”

Sara shrugged. “You gotta give it to them. At least they're loyal.”

“They're not loyal to Darhk, Lance," Ava remarked. “They're afraid of him.”

Sara hummed.

“I mean… it’s called Genesis. Doesn't that mean the beginning or creation? I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Darhk just randomly picked a word from a dictionary to use as a name of his grand plan.” A pause. “What could that psychopathic maniac possibly be creating?”

“I agree. Darhk–”

Sara turned her gaze on Ava, her lips curled up into a teasing smirk.

“Aww,” Sara cooed. “That’s the second time today that you've agreed with me, Sharpie.” Snapping her fingers, she exclaimed, “I knew I was growing on you.”

As the rest of the team bit back their smiles, Ava rolled her eyes at Sara.

Turning to Gideon, Ava said, “Darhk is meticulous. He didn’t assign that specific name to his operation randomly or on a whim.” Nodding towards the monitors, she asked, “What's in the other folders?”

“Nothing relevant,” Gideon replied. “At least not to our case. They're mostly of Darhk's legitimate dealings. Zari and I have gone over them twice. The only thing that seems of importance is that folder,” she said, cocking her head towards the monitor.

“Let's see what's in it, then,” Ava said decisively.

“Okay, see,” Zari chimed in, “that's where it gets a little tricky.”

“Tricky?” Ava asked, her brows dipped into a slight frown. “How do you mean?”

“You’d think that the files would be in this folder, right?” Zari said, typing on her tablet. “But no. The bastard has folders within folders within fol–”

Ava held up a hand then gave her head a light shake.“Too many folders. Got it. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is,” Zari replied, pressing one more key, “each folder is encrypted. With codes completely unique from the others. Which means we have to decrypt it separately as well.”

Ava raised an eyebrow at Zari in a mocking challenge. “And is it going to be a problem for you and Gideon?”

Zari shot Ava an offended look. “Really, Ava?”

Ava raised her arms up in surrender, lips quirked up into a small smile.

“I had to ask.”

“Can't we just track down the buyer of the files?” Ray chimed in, speaking for the first time. “We can get the footage of the trade-off from the hotel. That way, we’ll know what the buyer looks like and he can lead us to his boss. Maybe they've already decrypted everything.”

Zari shrugged her shoulders flippantly. “Not possible.”

“I mean, I know you’re the best, Z, but maybe whoever those guys are, have one comp genius working for them, too.”

“No, I mean, it's literally impossible for them to decrypt the files because they have nothing to decrypt. I thought I already explained this before we went on that mission.”

“Uh, no?” Ray said, eyes flitting across everyone in the room who was looking as confused as he was.

“What are you talking about, Z?” Sara asked.

“My DRC?" Zari looked at her teammates expectantly. "It's a sucker. It sucks.”

“Well, clearly it doesn’t since we have the files because of it,” Ava said.

Zari let out a chuckle.

“No, Ava. I mean, it sucks. Literally. I designed it so it sucks all the information from a hard drive and right into its internal flash memory.”

“You’re a genius, Z!” Ray exclaimed cheerfully, giving Zari a high-five.

Looking smug, Zari said unhesitatingly, “I am, in fact, a genius.”

“Wow, okay,” Nate remarked sarcastically, causing Amaya and Gideon to snort out a laugh.

“You couldn’t have told us this when I don’t know, maybe before we went on that mission?” Sara asked.

“I did tell you,” Zari insisted doggedly.

“Well, actually, Z, you said–”

Nate shook his head as he cut Ray off.

“No, you didn’t. You said your device reads and clones data from a hard drive. That's why you named it DRC. Not DRCS. No mention of sucking capability.”

“Ahh,” Sara exclaimed, then clicked her tongue. “So many jokes I could make out of that. So little time.”

Turning to Amaya for confirmation, Zari asked, “I told you guys, right?”

Amaya gave her a small smile. “I’m afraid you didn’t, Z.”

“Well, clearly, I forgot,” Zari said indignantly.

“Aha!” Nate exclaimed. “See, I told you, you didn’t.”

Shaking her head in baffled disbelief at her bickering teammates, Ava brought up a hand to her forehead and started rubbing it.

“Can we… focus, please? What does it matter if Zari didn’t tell us? We’ve got the files, and the only people who know about them are Darhk and his minions and everyone in this room. I’m perfectly okay with that.”

Zari gave her a little bow.

“Thank you, Ava,” Zari said, then turned to Nate and Ray, feigning offence. “No thanks to both of you.” A pause, then, “You gotta give it to Darhk, though. His security program is something else. Admirable, at the very least.”

“Criminal, Zari,” Ava said lightly. “We don’t admire criminals.”

“Right!” Zari exclaimed, backtracking. “Of course, we don’t. Obviously. He’s a highly despicable man,” she said with an exaggerated disgust, causing Amaya to look at her fondly.

Turning to the console, Zari tapped some keys.

“Gideon and I haven’t decrypted everything, but at least now we have something to go on.”

Opening the Genesis folder, she continued.

“A folder, El Dorado and one of its subfolder is Project 880 and in it... is this,” Zari said and an image of a cipher appear. “I don’t know what that means, though. We’ve checked and cross-referenced it with every scripts and language, including ancient ones and the documented now-antiquated codes used by spies, and we got nothing. Zilch. So we created a decrypt sequencer to analyse the symbols. It’s running now but so far, the translation results come up to…” Zari trailed off, making a “0” with her hand.

“Give it time, Z,” Ray said, a hopeful tone in his voice. "You guys just quite literally started running it.

“We’ve already agreed that Darhk doesn’t do anything at random,” Nate said, “so we have to assume everything in that folder has a hidden meaning or something. Let’s start with El Dorado.”

“The golden one,” Ava translated promptly.

“True,” Nate agreed, nodding. “It could also refer to the Legends of El Dorado.”

Amaya halfheartedly rolled her eyes.

“We all know you’re the history buff on this team, Nathaniel. And the resident geek,” she said, hand vaguely gesturing for Nate to continue.

Grinning, Nate said, “The legend tells of a tribal king among an indigenous group in Columbia who, during initiation, would cover himself up with gold dust then dive into a lake. Over time, the story changed from that of a man to a city, to a kingdom, and finally, an empire.”

“How exactly does that legend help us decrypt everything?” Zari asked impatiently.

“Well, I don’t know… yet. You guys just asked me to tell you what El Dorado is.”

“What about Project 880?” Ava asked, then turned to Lily.

Everyone shrugged then Amaya, Ray, Nate, and Gideon all turned to Lily as well.

Looking around the team with a confused expression, Lily said, “What are you all looking at me for? I’m just the girl who works Forensics. That means I do Forensics stuff.”

Amaya let out a soft chuckle.

“We’ll figure it out as we go along,” she said, then tipped her head towards the monitors. “We need to know what that text means.”

“Oooh. Nate, look,” Ray said cheerfully, pointing to the monitors. “That one looks like a snowflake.”

Looking at where Ray pointed, Nate huffed. “It does look like a snowflake.”

“In the meantime,” Lily said, turning to Ava. “Ava, that cryptic note is essentially a puzzle, and there’s none that you haven’t solved. You think you can do that one?”

Ava hummed. “I don’t know yet. I certainly haven’t seen this before.”

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her team, Sara had been frozen in place, eyes grown a little wide as soon as the cryptograph pop up on the monitors.

Of fucking course, Sara thought.

The fucking bastard.

Sara had two choices here– either she speed things up for all of them and go on with their first lead, or fruitlessly wait for Zari and Gideon to decipher the text, because that was NOT going to happen, no matter the FBI’s vast tech resources, and how smart those two were.

Shaking her head resignedly, she quietly said, “Francis Henry Davenport.”

Zari turned to Sara, squinting her eyes and craning her head forwards a little. “Did you say something, Sara?”

“Francis Henry Davenport,” Sara echoed, a little louder this time. “That’s what the cipher translates to.”

All eyes turned on her, looking at her with bemused curiosity.

“How did you know how to translate it?” Ava asked, brows knitted together.

“My knowledge is vast,” Sara replied facetiously, earning a death stare from Ava.

Because it’s essentially a language developed by and is used within the League of Assassins, but I can’t tell any of you that.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sara said dismissively.

Ava fully faced Sara, her face stern.

“The man we’re hunting used that code in what we now know is the huge break we have been waiting for on this case for months.” Ava raised a hand and pointed a finger to the monitors. “That right there is a cryptogram whose text is neither documented nor had seemingly been used before; which means, this is a unique cipher specifically crafted for a purpose to be used by a specific group of people.” A pause. “And you... just read it. Right now, I can’t think of one possible reason why the target of my task force used a series of secret texts that one of my civilian consultants can conveniently read.”

Keeping her eyes on Sara, her expression hard, Ava said firmly, “It MATTERS. I’m going to ask again, Lance, how did you know how to translate the text?”

“Look, Sharpe,” Sara stressed, her expression just as hard as Ava’s, “we can waste our time talking about how I knew how to read the text OR we can go ahead and find out who this Davenport guy is.”

Ava drew in a breath, narrowed her eyes at Sara, then held up a finger.

“We are not done talking about this,” she said, then turned to Gideon. “Is Davenport on our database?”

“He is. He made a request for a clearance a while back,” Gideon answered, tapping the screen on the console and bringing out Davenport’s information. “Francis Henry Davenport. Born and raised in Ohio, has been living in Rockville, Maryland with his family for years. He’s an art professor at Montgomery College. I've also looked at other databases. No record. Not even a parking ticket. He’s clean.”

“How is a man that squeaky clean involved with a psychopathic criminal?” Sara asked rhetorically.

“Guess we’ll have to pay Mr Davenport a visit tomorrow,” Ava decided. “Great job Gideon and Zari.” Addressing the whole team, she said. “Thanks to the files we got on our mission last week, at least now we can move on with the case.”

Hearing Sara theatrically cleared her throat, obviously reminding Ava it was all thanks to her, she rolled her eyes.

“What was it you said earlier in the training room, Ava?” Sara asked, making a show of trying to remember something. “I think it was ‘Let's save the bragging for IF we actually get something useful from the files we got.’ It wasn’t an IF. It was a WHEN.” Raising a brow then grinning smugly at Ava, she said. “This is me. Bragging. I’m bragging.”

Ava once again rolled her eyes at Sara then turned to the team. “Everyone, go home. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

Dragging her eyes back to Sara, she said. “You can use the showers upstairs if you want to freshen up now.”

“That’s alright,” Sara replied. “I’ll just shower at home.”

Sara gestured for Zari to head out. Halfway through the door, she turned back when she heard Ava called her name.

“Lance,” Ava said, instinctively clasping her hands behind her back. "You did well during training tonight. You managed to learn in just a few hours what others usually do in days.”

Smirking, Sara tipped her head to the side.

“You’re really going soft on me, aren’t you, Sharpie? Next thing you know, I’ve replaced Amaya as your best friend,” she said teasingly, earning a quick, sharp Hey! from Amaya.

Sara chuckled.

Ignoring Sara’s teasing remark, Ava said, “We’ll train as often as we can. If neither of us is tired or working on something, we’ll do it every day.”

Sara gave her a nod. “See you all tomorrow,” she said as she turned to leave.

Reaching the elevator, Zari spoke, her voice had a knowing tone.

“So…” Zari said, dragging the o. “We’re gonna talk about how you knew how to read the cipher, but for now… training with Ava, huh?”

Sara hummed.

“Does she not know that you can kill someone six different ways with just your index finger?”

Sara halfheartedly rolled her eyes, just as the elevator door closed on them.




The next morning, Ava had just gone back from an unscheduled meeting with Assistant Director Bennett, when Zari popped her head out of the Console Room and yelled across the whole floor.

“LEGENDS! COME QUICK!“

Unhappy about Zari’s yelling but curious about what could possibly have caused her to do so, Ava waved over Sara, Amaya, Ray, and Nate, motioning for them to follow her.

“Zari,” Ava said as soon as they got to the Console Room, her tone almost admonishing, “next time, please approach us, or if you can't, use your cell phone to get us here. Do not bellow. We’re not in a jungle.”

“Sure, sure,” Zari said dismissively, her tone told Ava she wasn’t listening at all to what she just said, eyes focused on the monitors airing live coverage news.

Ava shook her head resignedly. “What’s going on?”

“We pinged Davenport’s phone,” Zari said, turning to Ava. “We got his number from the online directory of the school he teaches at. You know, just so we know exactly where you need to go when you pay him a visit later today.” A pause. “He’s currently in a bank.”

“Okay?” Ava asked, brows drawn together a little. “So he’s making a transaction. What about it?”

“And the bank he’s in…” Zari said, trailing off, then turned her gaze back on the news streaming, “is currently being held hostage by a man with a bomb vest.”

Following where Zari and Gideon were looking, the rest of the team snapped their heads towards the monitors.

“Oh, boy,” Ray exclaimed, eyes a little wide. “That’s not good.”

“Shouldn’t he be in Montgomery College right now?” Nate asked. “You know, teaching?”

“I highly doubt that Davenport’s skiving off work is the most pressing matter right now, Nathaniel,” Zari said sardonically.

“Ava,” Sara said, getting Ava’s attention, her tone almost ominous, “we CANNOT let Davenport blow up. He’s the first link to Darhk that this team has in months.”

Huffing out determinedly, Ava turned to the team.

“Okay… everyone else, please keep us updated on the news. Amaya, Nate, and I will drive up to Rockville. It’s a 30-minute ride. Get your comms and vest and let’s go,” she said, then turned on her heel.

Walking towards the elevator, Ava said, “I’ll make a courtesy call to Maryland field office; let them know we’re coming in their backyard. Amaya, please liaise with the man-in-charge of the hostage situation. Get him on the phone. We need to be apprised of what’s happening there. Nate, you know what to do. Amaya and I will drive together.”

Focused on giving Amaya and Nate instructions, Ava hadn’t noticed that Sara had been trailing behind them until they got on the elevator.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m coming with you,” Sara said with finality.

Putting on her stern face, Ava said, “No, you’re not. This isn't a mission.”

“Exactly!” Sara exclaimed. “You're not even the one running point. All of us are just gonna be flies on the wall in Rockville. What trouble are you afraid that I could possibly get into there?”

“Shall I make you a list?” Ava said dryly.

“Look, Sharpie,” Sara said, blocking the elevator door to keep it from closing before she could get on. “You either let me get on this elevator and come with you, or we’ll just stand here and wait for Davenport to possibly get blown up to hell. The longer we stand here, the closer he gets to his untimely violent death.” She shrugged. “It’s up to you.”

Ava drew in a breath then clenched her jaw. Through gritted teeth, she said. “Just get the hell on.”

Satisfied, Sara smiled smugly.

“Good choice… partner.” Getting on the elevator, she said enthusiastically, “Now, let’s go save Picasso!”

------------------------------

After talking to the Rockville Police captain, Ava spoke through the comms, telling the team that the hostage taker, Anthony Hearst, was an employee of the bank who was let go by David Farrell, the bank manager, for his constant absences or tardiness. One of his demands was that the Rockville PD give him Farrell. If they didn’t, he would blow himself up, together with the 25 hostages; including Davenport, a pregnant woman, a kid, and a man on a wheelchair.

“Has the Hostage Negotiations Team drawn up a criminal and mental history profile, yet?” Nate asked.

“Yes,” Ava replied. “He has no priors or history of mental illness.”

“Wait, so this is a case of a disgruntled former employee?” Sara, who was driving in a separate car with Nate, asked, her tone almost judgmental.

“Not quite,” Ava said. “Apparently, the reason behind Hearst’s tardiness and absences is his 14-year old sick kid who’s fighting cancer. After he was let go, the kid got worse because his treatments had been stopped. Since Hearst wasn’t an employee anymore, he, or his son, the beneficiary, was no longer covered by the insurance which is one of the benefits if you work at the bank. His savings had also been wiped out because he had to pay for things not covered by said insurance, and he's covered in debts.”

“You said one of his demands,” Sara said. “What are the rest?”

“Just one more- make sure his son gets the proper treatment as long as he’s alive. The Rockville PD captain is coordinating with the hospital with regard to that specific demand.”

“So the kid’s still alive, then?” Nate asked curiously. “What about the mother?”

“He’s alive. The treatment was working on him, but now, without it, we don’t know for how much longer. And Hearst is a single father. His wife left them when the kid was nine.” A pause. “He’s having a mental breakdown, and he blames Farrell for his child dying earlier that he has to… That’s why he wants him.”

“This is a case of a vengeful father, then,” Nate said matter-of-factly.

Ava hummed.

“We have 25 possible casualties in that bank with him; one of whom is a person-of-interest in our case. We need to handle this as cautiously as possible, Nate.”

“I’ll know what to do once we’re on the site. I just need to assess the situation from there,” Nate said reassuringly. “You and I have done hostage negotiations countless of times in the BAU. We got this, Ava.”

“I hope so,” Ava said. “Alright, we’re almost there. Keep your comms on at all times, just in case. And wear your Kevlar vest.” After a brief pause, she added, “I was talking to you, Lance.”

Ava expected and braced herself to hear for a quip back from Sara, and felt relieved but slightly curious when she was met with silence, instead.

Sara had tuned out Ava and Nate as soon as she heard Hearst’s motivation was revenge. Personally knowing a thing or two about it, she was well aware this wasn’t going to end well for either him or everyone in that bank.

------------------------------

Arriving at the site, Ava introduced herself and the team to Captain Garcia, and they were told that the time Hearst gave the authorities to hand over Farrell was almost up. Farrell, however, couldn’t get any faster because he was coming in from a business trip in Pittsburg.

As Ava and the captain talked, Nate and Sara scanned the surrounding. The site had been contained– the public was separated from the vicinity by police barricades, the media wasn’t allowed to go nearer to the entrance of the bank, the Bomb Squad were at the corner, ready once they were needed, and S.W.A.T snipers were positioned all over the place.

“Do we have eyes inside?” Ava asked.

Gesturing for the team to follow him to the Rockville PD mobile command, Capt. Garcia said, “Yes. We have security feeds. The bank is equipped with cameras all over, but there’s no audio transmission. We’ve been communicating with Hearst through a land phone.” Getting on the vehicle, he turned to Ava. “You said Dr Heywood is a crisis negotiator? Maybe he can give it a try. Our Hostage Negotiations Team isn’t having much luck, to tell you the truth. That phone’s about to ring any second now. Time’s almost up.”

And just as the captain said that, the phone rang. Nate answered it and introduced himself to Hearst. As he and Nate talked, Sara eye's were peeled on the screens, watching the man as he became more and more agitated, pacing as he gripped his gun, either rubbing its nozzle across his temple or pointing it at the terrified hostages.

In the middle of Nate's bargaining with Hearst, Sara saw the latter angrily screamed at the phone’s mouthpiece, took the detonator out of one of the vest pockets then pressed his thumb down. Sara didn't need audio to know that the hostages started screaming in horror.

Ava who, like Sara, was watching the screens, too, turned to Nate and made a gesture. As she and him silently communicated, Sara took one last look at the screens, taking in Hearst’s behaviour. Making a decision, she briefly closed her eyes and took a deep breath before carefully slipping out of the mobile command, so as not to be noticed by Ava.

"Sara,” Zari drawled over the comms, “please tell me you're not the idiot I’m seeing on the news right now who's walking TOWARDS the bank."

Hearing what Zari said, both Ava and Nate, who had just gotten off the phone, jerked their heads towards the screen flashing the live coverage; and true enough, Sara was walking towards the bank, holding her arms up after she had taken her vest off. Ava and Nate looked at each other briefly before they rushed off the mobile command.

Ava held a finger up to her ear, her stomach dropping while watching Sara.

“Lance,” Ava said, trying to keep her voice as level as possible, despite every nerve in her body telling her to scream. “I’m sure between the time you went home last night and coming to work this morning, you hit your head so hard and that has affected your rational thinking, because there is no way in hell that my untrained civilian consultant was thinking clearly when she decided to walk straight into a bomb zone; so I need you to turn around and walk back here. Now, please.”

Sara, attempting to make light of their grave situation, let out a soft chuckle.

“Yours, huh? And since when do say ‘please’ to me?” she said teasingly, still making her way towards the bank.

“GOD DAMN IT, LANCE!” Ava grated in genuine fury and trepidation, her voice betraying a slight, fearful tremor, her heart beating out of her chest. “I’M NOT SCREWING AROUND! AS YOUR COMMANDING OFFICER, I AM ORDERING YOU TO STAND DOWN AND GET THE HELL BACK HERE. RIGHT NOW. NOW, LANCE.”

“You should know by now I’m not good at following orders.”

"Sara, what the fuck are you doing?!" Zari asked, her tone admonishing. "Listen to Ava, for once."

“I’m buying us some time. We’re not losing Davenport. There's a reason his name is in that file. He's important to Darhk's operation. Otherwise, why would Darhk code Davenport's name? I’m not gonna let him die in there. Or anyone, for that matter,” Sara said decisively. Still walking towards the bank entrance and choosing not to heed Zari, she said, “Z, find out which hospital Hearst’s son is staying at. When I give you the signal, I’d like you to get him on the phone with Nate so he can patch the call through Hearst.”

"Signal?” Zari repeated anxiously. “What signal?"

Sara heard Ava say, “She's out of her damn mind, Nate.”

She huffed.

“You’ll know when you hear it, Z.”

As soon as she said it, Sara stopped right by the entrance, coming face-to-face with Hearst, the two of them separated only by the glass door, the latter’s head peeking out of it.

“Mr Hearst, my name is Sara Lance. I’m a consulting detective for the FBI. I’m unarmed, okay? Look,” Sara said as she lifted her shirt up a little then turned around to show that she wasn’t carrying. “I’m just here to talk, so please don’t shoot anyone, and more importantly, don’t take your thumb off that button,” she said, cocking her head towards the detonator.

“I already told you, people, what I want,” Hearst said angrily, his hand tightly gripping the detonator, while the other one holding the gun. “I’ve given you an extension of my timeline, and yet Farrell still isn’t here.”

“I know you have,” Sara said sympathetically, “but Farrell is coming all the way from Pittsburg. We need a little more time.”

“What you people need is a much stronger motivation,” Hearst said in an eerily calm manner, “so for every 15 minutes that Farrell isn’t here, I’m going to shoot one of the hostages.”

Drawing in a breath, Sara decided to change tactic.

“Listen to me, Hearst. Do you see those men up on the roof?” Sara asked, turning her gaze up. “And on the ground? Those are S.W.A.T. snipers. This kind of situation is exactly what they gear up for. I’m trying to help you, alright? I want to keep you alive, but the moment you kill someone, if you so much as hurt them in any way, then there’s nothing I can do for you. Do you understand? All this trouble you're taking will have been for nothing. I’m here as a sign of good faith. Okay? I’m putting my life on the line here. All I ask is for you to give us a little more time.”

Now even more agitated, Hearst put his gun to his temple, shaking his head vigorously, prompting Sara to hold up her hands.

“Okay, okay. Look,” Sara said, trying to get Hearst to focus, “You want to give the police a stronger motivation to give you what you want? Then take me.”

Sara heard her whole team voice out an angry reaction, all of them talking over one another. Zari and Ava had the same outburst.

“LANCE, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!”

If the situation wasn't so dire, Sara would have laughed at Ava’s use of the F-word. She would have teased her endlessly that she, always so proper, had finally said something that was considered worse than “hell” or “damn”.

“It's okay,” Sara said, looking directly at Hearst, but meant for it to reassure her team. “You can have me, but I need something from you, too. There's a pregnant woman, a kid, and a man on a wheelchair, among your hostages. I need you to let them go as a sign of your good faith. In exchange, you can take me.”

“Why would I give up three hostages for one who is just as much of a civilian as they are?”

“Because,” Sara answered, “I'm not just any civilian. I'm the best PI in the Midwest, and my job even takes me to this side of the country. I'm so good at my job that the FBI specifically sought me out to work with them on what’s probably their most important case in the last two decades.”

Not getting the reaction she wanted from Hearst, Sara said, “I'm also the sister of one of its highest directors. He'll give anyone anything just to make sure nothing bad happens to me.” Seeing him take a little more interest now, she pressed on. “Trust me, you want me more than you do those three. I'm giving you higher leverage by letting you take me instead.”

After mulling it over for a moment, Hearst said, “I'll get them. Wait here.”

As soon as Hearst fully closed the door, Amaya spoke in an uncharacteristically angry manner.

“Of all the stupid and reckless things you've done in your life, Sara, this, by far, might count for the worst,” she said, causing Sara to turn, watching her team from afar.

Sara let out a laugh, dry and humourless. “I wish I could tell you that that's true, Amaya.”

A beat.

“Sharpie,” Sara said, “I know you're angry judging by how quiet you've become. You're probably imagining all the ways you can kill me. When this ordeal is over, you can do so. I promise I won’t stop you. Right now, I need you to trust that I know what I'm doing.” A pause. “I know I haven't really done anything to earn it, but I need you to trust me. I promise I won’t turn my comm off so you and the team can hear what’s happening inside.”

“You better not die today, Lance,” Zari chimed in, worry in her voice despite the obvious angry tone, “because I want to kill you myself for trying to pull this stupid shit and putting all of us through this.

“It's gonna be okay, Z,” Sara said reassuringly. “I promise.”

“I swear to fucking god, Sara.”

“Hey,” Sara said lightly, “when have I ever broken a promise?”

Emitting a loud sigh, Zari said quietly, “Never.

Chapter Text

Hearst shoved Sara into the centre of the room, gun in his right hand and the cylindrical detonator in his left. He told her it had been 12 minutes since his last deadline and if Farrell wasn’t delivered to him in the next three minutes, he would shoot one hostage.

Sara had been trying to build rapport with him by getting him to talk to her, but Hearst just kept pacing across the room, until he stopped right in front of her, checking for the time on his watch.

“Time’s up!” Hearst said as he stepped past Sara and walked over to where the hostages were huddled together.

Sara’s eyes widened and she hastily caught up with Hearst, her heart thudding in her chest.

“Wait! Just… wait for just one goddamn minute,” Sara said as she held her hands up, putting herself between Hearst and the hostages, panic and frustration in her voice.

“Listen, I know why you’re doing this, alright? I know you feel like you've lost everything.”

“Easy...” Nate warned, drawing the syllables out.

"You’ve lost your wife, your job,” Sara said matter-of-factly, her tone sympathetic, “and now, even though he’s still alive, you feel like you've already lost your son.”

“DO NOT TALK TO ME ABOUT MY SON!” Hearst exclaimed wildly, stepping forwards and pointing his gun at Sara.

Without even flinching, and still maintaining eye contact with Hearst, Sara said, “I know what it feels to lose the most important person in your life, but the difference between you and I is that your son is actually still here; he’s still alive. He's in the hospital right now waiting for his father to come visit him. You have a chance- you still have time to spend it with him. Don’t waste it doing...” She made a vague gesture towards the room, “This. How do you think he's gonna feel when he finds out that his dad died and killed 23 innocent people with him? Before doing something you can never undo, please… just... think about your son.”

“I AM thinking of my son! I’m doing this for him!”

“No, you're not,” Sara said sternly. “You’re only thinking about yourself and you’re doing this for no one else but you. What you are... is a coward.”

"Sara!” Nate exclaimed. "We do NOT piss off an ARMED hostage taker. Hostility isn’t how you build rapport. Do NOT antagonise the target. He’s already unstable as it is. One wrong move and that thumb on the detonator will slip. What you need to do is appeal to him emotionally. Show that you empathise with him."

Sara hesitated then briefly shook her head as though trying to dismiss something from her mind.

“All this… what you’re doing– asking for Farrell, holding all these people hostage... This isn’t what you want. Not really. What this is, is just an excuse. You’re using this situation and making it an opportunity so you can have what you really want because you can’t do it on your own, so you’re willing to let innocent people die with you if it means you’ll get what you’re hoping for.”

Sara briefly paused, watching Hearst’s face for any telltale.

“Deep down, you want to die. Isn’t that right, Anthony?”

"Sara, what are you doing?" Amaya asked, her voice quavering with panic.

“You want to because you'd rather be dead now than feel the paralysing pain you're going to feel when you lose your son. You'd rather leave him alone now than deal with his death later."

Sara paused when something in Hearst's expression shifted.

"Did it not occur to you what would happen if you killed all these people? They have families, Anthony. They have people in their lives whom you're going to subject to the same pain you're feeling right now if they die with you today; to more, even, because you'll be giving their loved one a horrible, violent death they certainly do not deserve. I don't know you but I know you're a good man. You're a good dad. I refuse to believe that the same guy who stuck by his kid all this time and raised him on his own would leave another child somewhere fatherless or motherless by killing their parent.”

Slowly dragging her gaze from Hearst, Sara looked up, straight into one of the cameras behind him and quietly said, “Donuts.”

"Did you really just say donuts, Sara?" Nate asked, confused. "Really an odd time for you to be asking for dessert."

"Sara didn’t ask for donuts, you idiot! That’s the signal! It’s meant for me," Zari stated, already calling the hospital’s number. "Only that asshole would mock you with your favourite food while she’s being held at gunpoint by an unstable man who's also armed with a bomb, and you’re not even in the same room with her. Stupid prick. I don't know why I put up with this dick."

Sara bit her lip and quickly ducked her head down for a brief second, trying to hide her sudden inopportune smile caused by Zari’s jabbing remark.

"What's his name?" Sara asked in a compassionate tone. "Your son, what's his name?"

"That's good, Sara. Say Hearst's son's name to him. He needs to hear it," Nate said. "Label his emotions. Give what he's feeling a name. Or at least recognise it."

Hearst hesitated for a moment then said, "Kyle."

“I understand that you're blaming Farrell for Kyle's deteriorating health,” Sara continued, slowly putting her hands down. “If he hadn’t laid you off, your son would still have the insurance coverage that was paying for his treatments. You were fired because you kept missing work or coming in late, and I’m assuming it’s because you were with him. You did what any good father would. You prioritised your child above anything else, as should always be the case.”

"You're doing great, Sara," Nate said encouragingly.

Sara briefly paused when Hearst took the gun off her face, backed away a few steps then started pacing again, rubbing his right wrist against his temple.

“I’m telling you this as someone’s daughter–” Sara carried on, trying to get through to Hearst. “If I knew I was dying, I’d rather have my dad by my side for however long a time I had left, than spend it wishing he was with me until my time came. Kyle isn’t afraid to die, Anthony. As young as he may be, I can tell you that he’s probably already accepted his fate.

"Do you know what it feels to lie somewhere knowing that any second you'll be dead? It feels cold... and lonely, really lonely... like everybody you love is a million miles away. You'd almost wish you were panicking and terrified instead. That's how your son will feel when he dies and you're not with him, because what he’s really afraid of is dying alone. So please... don’t let him.

"If you die today, then... when Kyle does, too, there will have been no traces of him; of him ever existing. For some of us, that’s what we’re really scared of– that after we die, we won’t be remembered; that no one will notice our absence. It would be as if we were never here; as if we never lived at all.

"If you insist on carrying out this plan of yours, you will die, and by then, there will have been no one to remember your son. Memories of him will die with you. You’re the only one he has left, Anthony. He’s counting on you to make sure that when he dies, a part of him will live on. And that part is you. Right now, you’re the best part of him. Don’t take that away from him by dying.”

When Hearst slowed his pacing, then stopped altogether, looking every bit shattered, Sara knew she was finally getting through to him.

“You think you're doing this in Kyle’s name, but I’m telling you… this isn't something he's gonna want to remember his father by. What you're doing.. if someone here, yourself included, dies today, your son's last memory of you will be that you were a killer. He's gonna live the rest of his life knowing that his father did an unimaginable thing.”

Hearst let out a dry, mirthless laugh.

“Unless some miracle happens, it's not gonna be a long rest-of-his-life.”

“Then let's hope a miracle happens and Kyle lives for a really long time.” Tipping her head quickly, Sara said, “I can see your cross necklace. You’re a man of faith. Should I assume you believe in miracles?”

“Do you?” Hearst asked.

If Sara believed in God, she would say She sure had a perverse sense of humour and was playing some sick prank on her right now for putting her in this exact situation, having this specific conversation.

This entire mess just became almost comical to her.

Shaking her head lightly, Sara let out a soft huff.

“No, I don't. But what I believe in, or don’t believe in, more to the point, doesn’t matter; what does is what you believe.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of Sara's lips.

“You know, someone recently told me– very recently told me that miracles do happen, and they're things science can explain. Just not yet. Do you know what she used as an example to explain to me what she meant?”

Without waiting for Hearst to reply, Sara said, “A person suffering from an incurable disease suddenly becoming cured… like Kyle.”

Hearst listened as Sara told him what Ava said to her just the night before; and by the time she was done, he was looking considerably calmer.

Sara's lips quirked up as fondness, unsought as it might be, found its way within her.

“I may not believe in miracles but I believe my friend. You should, too. She's very smart, you know? REALLY really smart like you wouldn’t believe. One of the smartest people in the world, objectively speaking; easily in the top three, but she's incredibly annoying and she constantly drives me crazy.”

“You said you lost someone,” Hearst said after a moment. “Who was it?”

“My big sister,” Sara replied, a wistful tone in her voice. “Like you, I blame someone for my pain. I let my rage for that person consume me that I got myself–”

Realising what she was about to say, Sara cut herself off, quickly looked away, then shook her head lightly; and then the phone rang.

Jerking her head towards where the phone was, Sara said, her voice light, “I believe that’s for you.”

Sara stayed in her spot, Hearst’s back to her as he talked to his son, watching as his shoulders hunched forward and began to shake. She didn’t catch everything he was saying, but she thought she heard him say I’m so sorry, son, I promise I’ll see you soon, and I love you, Kyle, before hanging up and walking back to her.

Cocking his head towards the hostages, Hearst said, “You can let them out now.”

Sara’s face lit up. Not giving Hearst an opportunity to change his mind, she moved towards the hostages then quickly turned back.

“You’re not going to suddenly let go of that button, are you?”

“No,” Hearst said briefly. “I made a promise to my son that I’ll see him soon. I don’t break my promises.”

Sara smiled. “Neither do I.”

*****

Back in the mobile command, Ava, Amaya, and Nate watched as Sara ushered the hostages out.

They saw Sara hold up a hand to her ear, then hear her say, “They’re coming out now, guys. Make sure to grab Davenport.”

Watching Sara in awe, Nate quietly said, "Unbelievable."

"Great job, Sara," Amaya said. "Now, come right out, too, so the bomb squad can take care of Hearst."

“Not yet.”

"Sara, please…" Amaya pleaded.

“It’s okay, Amaya. Everything’s okay,” Sara said reassuringly. “This will all be over soon.”

Sara walked back towards Hearst, then said, “Hold out your arms a little so I can see the C4 clearly, okay?”

A beat passed while Sara examined the vest.

“Your vest has an anti-tamper trigger. The detonator, do you know how to disarm it?”

Heart shot her a rueful smile.

“I didn’t actually bother to learn how to since I didn’t plan on staying alive.”

“That’s alright,” Sara said reassuringly. “I need you to kneel so it’s easier to lay the vest down on the floor once you’ve taken it off.”

When they were both kneeled down, Sara instructed, “Now, hold out your hand to me a little. Don’t remove your thumb from the button until I’ve slid down mine. Do you understand? Once I have it secured, take the vest off, slowly, then VERY very carefully lay it on the floor. Got it?”

Hearst nodded.

“When it’s done, you get out of here,” Sara concluded.

A look passed through Hearst's face then he ducked his head down.

“I’m gonna get hurt out there, aren’t I?”

“Emotionally, you are. Getting hurt that way is part of life. Most of us can’t escape that,” Sara said, half-joking. “But if you meant if you’re gonna get hurt the second you walk out of this bank, then no, you won’t. They’re not gonna hurt you. I promise.”

Speaking directly to the team, Sara said, “He’s not, right guys? I gave him my word that nobody's gonna hurt him out there. Don’t make me break it.”

"We won’t," Amaya said.

Sara gave Hearst a nod, then he went on to do as she instructed. When it was all done, he stood up.

“Now get out of here,” Sara said.

Stopping at the door, Hearst turned.

“Thank you, Sara… for talking me out of doing something so horrible.. and for not making me let my son die alone when the time comes.”

Sara shot her a small smile and a nod.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

After Sara had gotten inside the bank, Ava, Amaya, and Nate went back on the mobile command with the captain, watching the live footage through the security cameras.

All of them watched as Hearst stepped towards Sara and shoved the gun in her face. Finding herself suddenly clutching her chest as she watched, Ava expected for Sara to at least back away and show even the tiniest shred of fear, but not even a muscle in her face twitched; instead, Sara stared at him while she tried to get through to him. Ava and Amaya looked at each other briefly, probably thinking the same thing– that Sara was either incredibly brave or staggeringly stupid.

Ava’s heart hadn’t slowed since the second she saw Sara on the screen walking up to the bank. If anything, it just kept spiking up, especially watching Hearst move towards the hostages, and when Sara placed herself in front of him and then went about provoking him.

This woman is really out of her damn mind, Ava thought.

She should say something. Ava knew she should walk Sara through getting through to Hearst, but she was just too overwrought and too angry to speak, so instead, she just let Nate do all the talking.

The longer Sara talked in an effort to get through to Hearst, the more attentive Amaya became. Ava noticed how, every once in a while, she would shift where she stood. As expected, after a while, out of the corner of her eye, Ava saw her swipe a finger across the skin just below her eye.

Out of everyone on her team, Amaya was the one very attuned to her own emotions, and especially to others’, which was why she said she never tried to become a profiler because emotional detachment was something she had a hard time doing. Her best friend was an empath and Ava just knew that she could feel the gravity of each word Sara was saying to Hearst to get through to him.

As for her, listening to Sara– no, this whole thing triggered something in her and she had been actively fighting it since she saw Sara get inside the bank.

This was one of the times when she cursed her having Hyperthymesia, because if she gave in to the memories that had been slowly pushing themselves up, whatever she felt when they happened, she would feel it now with just the same intensity, if not more; and considering the situation they were all currently in, it wasn’t really a good time to get lost in those memories, so she swallowed the tightness in her throat and focused instead on watching and listening to Sara.

... Then Sara started talking about death- about dying, and it raised some questions almost the same time a bell in Ava's head tolled so loud that she found herself shaking her head emphatically to dismiss what it conjured.

They all waited with bated breath for Sara to successfully get through to Hearst, and when it looked like it was well on its way, Ava’s heart started calming down a little, until Sara made an indirect mention of her when she and Hearst started talking about miracles, albeit, her heart racing was for a whole different reason.

The fact that Sara actually listened to something she said and was now using it to hopefully get through to an obviously very troubled man was something that made her quite good for the first time since this whole mess started.

And then Sara referred to her as her friend; said she believed her, and it touched an emotion in her so unexpectedly that she found herself abruptly mentally shaking it away.

Of course Sara would say that. She had to if she was hoping to get Hearst to stand down. It didn’t mean that she meant what she said, except Ava thought she heard a hint of fondness in Sara’s voice when she described her as annoying and said she constantly drove Sara crazy.

Despite the mocking words, Ava didn't hear the usual jabbing tone in Sara's voice; and Nate and Amaya noticed it, too, judging by the way they both let out a soft chuckle.

It was soon after that that the phone in the mobile command rang. Knowing who the caller was as Zari already told them, Nate didn’t waste any more time than necessary so he just gave a few words to Hearst’s son then patched him through the phone in the bank.

They watched anxiously as Hearst talked to him until they heard the former tell Sara she could let the hostages go.

Ava turned to Capt. Garcia who hadn’t said a word since they got back on the vehicle and gave him a nod, letting him know to meet the hostages out front.

After the captain left, Amaya told Sara to come out too but the latter refused; worry, anxiety, and fear creeping their way back in all of the Legends. They listened and watched as Sara gave Hearst instructions on how to deal with the bomb, making Ava’s brow dipped into a deep furrow, because how would a PI know what to do with a bomb?

As soon as Hearst was out the door, Nate spoke.

“I can’t believe you did it, Sara,” he said cheerfully. “You actually did it!”

“Great!" Zari exclaimed flatly. "Now get your asses back here so I can kick Sara’s."

“Just stay put, Sara,” Amaya said, the last ounce of worry finally leaving her. “The Bomb Squad is–”

Amaya cut herself off as she, Ava, and Nate watched Sara expertly disarm the detonator with ease as though this wasn’t the first time she had done so.

Turning off her comm, Amaya turned to Ava in time to see her turn off hers, her face had gone unusually impassive, and eyes were peeled on the screen as she watched Sara tilt her head back, breathe out a sharp sigh of relief, stand up, and make her way out of the bank.

“Well, his dad is a cop, right?” Amaya said dubiously. “Maybe he taught her how to disarm a detonator?”

They both knew that no normal, loving father, regardless of him being a cop, would ever let her daughter anywhere near a bomb.

Instead of replying, Ava turned to get off the mobile command.

“Get Davenport and let’s go home.”

------------------------------

Nate, Sara, and Davenport, who was riding with them in the backseat, rode in silence until Nate broke it by asking Sara if she was okay.

Dragging her gaze from out the window, Sara turned her head to face Nate and gave him a soft nod and a little smile.

“I’m just a little tired,” she said reassuringly. “I’m fine."

She wasn't. Of course she wasn't okay. She was the furthest thing from being fine.

She just found herself with one foot in the grave. Again. And she knew she should be used to it. Even though there hadn’t been any similar incident in quite a while, she knew she would still be used to it. Hell, she had lost count of the number of times she had been on the verge of death.

This time, however, was different because she could have just let the police and every law enforcement officer present at the bank to deal with the situation with Hearst; she could have avoided risking her life, but she chose to because she had a feeling none of them would have been able to get through to him. Not with what she saw; not with what she knew in her heart to be the case.

She should feel proud of herself. She should be happy, and she was. After all, she saved 26 people today, but this whole thing also left her exhausted, dejected, and every bit broken.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Amaya expelled a deep sigh then turned her head towards Ava.

“Ava,” she said when she could no longer bear the silence in the car as they head back to HQ, her tone gentle. “You, of all people, would understand the dangers an unbalanced person poses. It's normal that you were scared.”

“I wasn't scared,” Ava countered hastily, eyes not leaving the road.

“Yes, you were,” Amaya said, her lips turned up into a sad, little smile. “You were more scared than you were angry, and that's okay, Ava. You, me, Nate, Zari, the whole team– we were all scared for her. Sara’s one of us now. We would have felt her loss if today ended differently.”

Amaya saw Ava’s hands tighten their hold around the steering wheel, her knuckles turning white with the force of her grip, a muscle clamping in her jaw.

“That look you have on your face right now... In all the years we’ve been friends, I’ve only ever seen it once, and it's only been a week since,” Amaya said matter-of-factly.

“You’re angry and that's perfectly understandable. What Sara did…” Amaya trailed off, shaking her head lightly.

“I don’t even have words. What she did today was dangerous, yes. To us, it was impulsive and reckless. You would be justified if you wanted to give her a piece of your mind, but just know that as impulsive and reckless as her actions were…” Amaya hesitated, searching Ava's face for some sort of shift in her expression.

Seeing none, Amaya continued, “It was also incredibly brave of her to walk up to the bank and do everything else that she did. Before you do what I’m afraid you might do, just remember that while doing all those things, she was risking her life, too. She wanted to help, Ava. And although she could have done so in some other way that didn't involve endangering the lives of the hostages more and her own, we both know that you don't do something as dangerous as walking straight into a bomb zone just for kicks. She may not have used her rational thinking from the moment she decided to step in but she did use her emotions. It’s what had gotten through to Hearst.

"Those things Sara said… the way she talked to him.. I don’t think it was just a spiel, Ava. So please, hear her out first. Listen to what she has to say.”

Still watching Ava intently, Amaya carried on.

“I’m your best friend- I know you better than anyone, which is how I know what's going through your mind. It would be totally remiss of me if I didn’t say anything, so let me just say this– if Sara had gotten herself killed today, it wouldn't have been your fault. Do you hear me, Ava? She’s a smart woman. She knew the risk she was taking and she took it anyway. It was her conscious decision to do everything she did today in Rockville. We both know her well enough now to know that nothing- no one could have stopped her from doing what she felt she had to do.

"I need you to stop thinking about what might have happened if the situation had turned to worst. If you keep at it, not only will it give you headaches and put you through extreme stress which might be a lot more than you can handle, but you might also subject yourself to the one thing you have been working so hard not to happen ever again. You've been doing so well, Ava. Don't let what happened today spoil all your hard work.

"I know your brain never stops thinking so if it really needs to think of something, then think about how 26 people, Hearst included, get to go home safely to their families today... and it's all because of her.”

------------------------------

Zari, Ray, Gideon, and Lily were already gathered at Sara's desk when they arrived. After they had checked in on everyone, Ava had Nate escort Davenport to the interrogation room and had asked Amaya to ask Rip if he wanted to join the rest of the team in the Console Room to watch her question Davenport.

Just before Amaya left for Rip’s office, she laid a hand on Ava's arm and gently said, “Please, remember what I said.”

As the team made their way to the Console Room, Ava’s voice stopped all of them mid-step.

“Lance,” Ava said, her voice sharp with dawning ire. “A word.”

Chapter Text

“Lance. A word.”

Sara froze mid-step. She briefly closed her eyes and hung her head, feeling absolutely deflated.

Letting out a defeated sigh, she lifted her head up, gave the team a nod, silently telling them to go ahead without her, then turned to face Ava.

She knew this was coming. She more than expected to be chastised by Ava, because what she did today wasn’t something that could just be slid over like those pranks she had been pulling on her.

Sara wished, however, that she didn’t have to deal with Ava's rebuke now; not when she already felt emotionally dismantled as it was; even more so, she didn’t want to break entirely, especially in front of Ava.

Left with no other choice, Sara followed Ava into the latter's office, and because she was now familiar with every face the agent would make whenever she was dealing with her, she was already bracing herself to be verbally filleted by her.

Instead of walking around her desk to sit behind it, Ava leaned down against the edge of it, arms crossed over her chest.

From a distance, Ava would look relaxed to anyone, but because Sara was standing just a few feet from her, she knew there was nothing casual about the rigid set of Ava's jaw or the freezing look in her greyish-blue eyes.

Summer storm eyes, Sara thought.

“I want to know– no,” Ava started in a calm voice that belied the anger and perhaps something else streaking through her, “I NEED to kn– I need you to tell me what possessed you to march towards that bank and offer yourself up to the target as his hostage. I need you to explain to me and make me understand why I had to watch my civilian consultant try to pull that kind of stunt when there absolutely wasn't any need for me to.”

“You’re angry,” Sara concluded on a sigh.

“Did you expect me to rejoice in the way you handled things back in Rockville?” Ava inquired, her eyes already beginning to spark with dangerous fire.

Pausing, Ava gritted her teeth together in an attempt to stop herself from losing complete control of her temper.

“What in the world were you thinking?” Ava asked, her voice rising a little. “In what reality was it okay for you, a civilian– an untrained one, at that, to negotiate with an unhinged man holding more than two dozen hostages, who, not only had a gun in his hand, but was also armed with a bomb strapped to his body?”

Looking at Ava with a pained expression on her face, Sara uttered in a strangled sort of whisper, her voice slightly shaky.

“Ava...”

Caught completely off-balance by Sara’s solemn tone and the quiet resigned way she said her name, Ava stared at her, now rather wishing that Sara was instead brusque– an attitude that was her normal, and to which Ava had somehow become inured, and therefore, she had learnt how to deal with.

Ava expected some scathing remark from her as had always been the case whenever they would find themselves at odds with each other, which was practically every time, but the longer she stared at her, the more she wished Sara would revert to her usual unpleasant self so that Ava would at least have the defence of anger and every unpleasant emotion she was feeling at the moment.

She barely had time to think of what or how to respond when Sara surprised her even more with what came out of her mouth next.

Eyes now downcast, Sara said, “I’m sorry,” apologising quietly in a voice that held so much more gravity than Ava knew what to do with.

She sounds so tired, Ava thought.

Actively willing herself to pay no mind to how Sara’s body language screamed that of defeat and despair, Ava mentally shook herself off, not letting herself get distracted by the way Sara’s shoulders were slumped inwards over her chest, her head now tilted downwards, and by the glaring absence of the usual mischief in her eyes that were now trained on the hands she was fiddling with.

Those goddamn eyes.

Ava uncrossed her arms then curled her fingers around the edge of her desk as though she was propping herself for what was to come.

“What you did today was careless, impulsive, and extremely dangerous; not to mention, incredibly stupid,” Ava remarked, ignoring the emotions that were clogging her voice.

“The situation was already volatile as it was without you actively and directly injecting yourself in it. The target had a gun, Lance, and a bomb. You had your comm on while we were on the way to Rockville so I know you heard me tell Nate that we needed to handle the situation cautiously; and yet, you went around doing the exact opposite, and therefore, exposing the hostages even more to getting shot or blown up.

"Your decision... your actions could have triggered the target to escalate. Even if you weren’t aware of what the general protocol was for hostage negotiations, I know you’re smart enough to have known that making yourself an intermediary, let alone be one of the hostages, was a complete deviation from it.”

Ava could feel it. She could feel the anger rising in her chest, and because she barely got angry, she didn’t know how to handle it. She didn’t know the first thing about compartmentalising such intense, unfamiliar emotion. The only thing that was stopping her from fully exploding on Sara was Amaya’s words echoing in her head. She almost wished her best friend were here to coach her on what to do.

But more than that, she wished Sara would just look at her. She wished those icy blue eyes were staring straight at her so there was something that would make her stop talking and forget everything else around her even if it was just temporarily, just as they had never failed to do so before.

“I gave you a direct order and you disobeyed it,” Ava continued when it seemed like Sara wasn’t going to meet her gaze. “The hostages could have died. YOU could have died. You could have exacerbated the situation that was already fraught with danger. I can’t even begin to tell you the kind of mess I would have had to deal with if you had, and–”

“I’ll tell Rip and the rest of your superiors that I acted against your direct order,” Sara said earnestly, cutting Ava off, still not looking at her. “You shouldn’t be punished for something that was my decision alone.”

“You think that’s what I’m angry about? That I would get in trouble with them?” Ava asked incredulously, straightening herself up and turning to Sara so she was now fully facing her, looking at her in wild confusion and mounting anger.

“I couldn't care less about what they might do with me! I am angry about the fact that you endangered the lives of everyone in the bank even more than they already were before we arrived! In your impulsiveness, you put an unnecessary huge risk in your life which never should have happened in the first place; and in the process, you made me feel t–”

Already on the verge of drowning in angry frustration, Ava didn't realise what she was saying until Sara’s head shot up at her, her brows knitted into a slight furrow, her questioning eyes levelled on her, causing her to stop herself mid-sentence.

There was a long beat that felt like it wore on forever as Ava absently scanned Sara’s face; looking like it was a stockpile of wrestling emotions, her seemingly pain-filled eyes giving her away the most and about which Ava had started to wonder.

Still had lots to say, Ava briefly ducked her head down and swiftly shook it in an effort to seem decisive, then looked back up at Sara.

“Not only did you undermine my authority but also that of Capt. Garcia. He's probably explaining the whole thing to his chief right now."

Ava caught a slight shift in Sara's expression, albeit, no less distraught.

"In all the years that I've been with this agency, I never once had to deal with something like this. Civilians go as far away as possible from a potential or an actual crime scene. They scurry off at the first sign of danger for fear of their lives... And then there's you.. Walking straight into a bomb zone like you were just on your way to work. Even law enforcement officers would think twice about doing the same. Do you have some kind of death wish?"

Ava used Sara's silence to regard her, noticing her face become more and more distressed by the second.

"This is exactly why I was so adamant about not having a civilian working with this team. The way you do things- your methods... That's not how we do things here. You do not have a clear understanding of the dangers this job involves. One tiny move, one seemingly small decision can cost you life; it can cost you everything. You so much as blink and the one thing you're tasked to safeguard, the very thing you want to protect might be gone. In this job, even a second matters because sometimes, that is all it takes to either save someone's life or lose it. Do you know what the worst part of everything that happened today is for me?” Ava said, her voice ragged with her own garbled emotions.

“If you had been shot to death… if you had been blown up in that bank, it would have been on me, Lance. It would have been my fault because whenever we're out in the field, you're my responsibility. As your commanding officer, I am responsible for you. Don't you get that? You were in Rockville today because I LET you come with us when I should have ordered you to stay back. Had you died back there, I would have found myself adding your death on my mental list of people whose death I have cau–”

Catching herself, Ava cut herself off and hastily jerked her eyes away, internally kicking and mentally cursing herself that she had already said more than she should have; a lot more than she would have had if she was level-headed and not flying into a rage.

Dragging her gaze from a spot on the floor, Ava looked back up at Sara, and her heart wrenched at the way she was looking at her.

Clearing her throat, Ava steeled her voice. “Have you got nothing to say for yourself?”

“I just wanted to help,” Sara said plaintively, her voice almost a whisper.

“You wanted to help?” Ava echoed acidly. “There were dozens of help out there, Lance! People who are specially trained to deal with those kinds of situations! The Rockville Police was there, so were the S.W.A.T. and the Bomb Squad!”

Already yelling, Ava missed Sara’s quiet He was desperate.

“Amaya and Nate were there! I was there!”

“HE WAS DESPERATE, OKAY?!” Sara finally blurted out and just as quickly as she had, she deflated.

“Hearst was desperate. He went into that bank with a mission. He had one goal and that was to take vengeance on the man he blames for his life falling apart. He was gonna get what he came there for one way or another, and he had no intention of getting out of there alive.”

“And just how did you know that? Did I miss the part where he told you all this?” Ava asked mockingly. “Between the time we got there and the second you decided to walk up to the bank, did he somehow telepathically tell you that? Was I–”

“Because,” Sara interjected, her unshed tears choking her voice, “I recognise a desperate man when I see one.”

Because I was even more desperate when I was hunting the men responsible for my sister’s death.

“What he needed,” Sara continued, forcing firmness into her voice to keep it from shaking, “was neither the chance to fulfil his mission nor to deny him of said chance. If he had gotten his hands on the bank manager, he would have killed him right there, and with them, every person in that bank. You know he would have. The same thing would have happened if the authorities didn't give him Farrell. I’m not as smart as you are but I am smart enough to know that there was no way the authorities would have let Farrell go in there knowing he'd be walking straight to his death.

"Without anything to steer Hearst away from his demand, robbing him of the chance to avenge himself is what would have made him escalate. And you and I both know, either he would have blown himself up and everyone else all the way to kingdom come, or the snipers on the roof would have gotten to him first. And I… I just... I wanted to keep that from happening.”

Ava snapped.

“That man is mentally unstable! He was unpredictable! Who knew what he could have done?! The one thing that was certain was that it wouldn't have fared well to the hostages!..."

Sara briefly flicked a glance at Ava's sides, noticing her hands curling into fists.

"...He’s also a terrorist! He instilled terror in a lot of people today and possibly inflicted trauma! One from which they may never recover!..."

Sara watched as Ava's face turned almost red, her hands looked like they were balled too tightly that they were trembling a little.

"...They might live the rest of their lives struggling with a trauma-related mental illness!..."

Sara knew what this was. She recognised the signs- Ava's curled fists, her whole body tensing, nostrils flaring, the look in her eyes; the intensity of it- they were all pointing to an imminent strike.

"...It's going to drastically change the quality of life of those people so much so that it's almost paralysing! Do you have any idea what that's like?!"

Sara quickly took a step back, her eyes widening a little when she thought Ava was making a move to advance on her.

Ava flinched at the sound of her own voice, more so at the sight of what she was sure was a flicker of fear in Sara's eyes; hammered home by her backing up a step, causing her to look at Sara with fleeting panic in her eyes.

Sara, for her part, had her brows furrowed and was now looking at Ava with avid curiosity.

Ava looked down at her hands then unclenched the shaking fists that she wasn't even aware she had balled at some point, so hard that her fingernails dug into her palms.

Looking back up at Sara, Ava opened her mouth as if she intended to speak, fully intending to refute what she was certain Sara thought and what caused her to recoil where she stood, but for some reason, no words came out.

Ava ducked her head down, closed her eyes, then drew in a deep breath and slowly let out a long one to calm her racing heart.

She lifted her head to Sara, doing her best to make her voice sound even.

"The target gave himself a possible death sentence the second he walked into that bank and then threatened the lives of everyone in it. It wasn't your job to save him. Had he escalated, neutralising him–”

“You mean sniping him,” Sara interjected, cutting Ava off.

“Taking him down,” Ava continued, her voice hard and tight, “would have been the righ–”

Sara shook her head a little forcefully.

“The detonator was already armed even before I went in there. It was what made me decide to step in. Had he been sniped, the hostages would have died, too.”

“The Bomb Squad and the S.W.A.T would have found a way around it, and then the target–"

"His name is Hearst."

"The target," Ava echoed firmly, "could have been taken out had he escalated. That would have been the right course of action because that's what would have saved the lives of the hostages. In this line of work, Lance, there are sacrifices that are as unavoidable as they are necessary. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a life to save many.”

Sara would have laughed. She would have laughed harshly in Ava's face while she told her she just sounded like a government lackey who acted in the guise of loyalty to the country to justify their getting rid of its citizens; but because she was so emotionally drained and felt like utter garbage, she didn’t want Ava to have another reason to go off on her and consequently drag out this conversation even more.

She just wanted to get it over with so she could at least try to stop her head from spinning and to lift the lead weight off her chest and perhaps breathe.

“He didn't deserve to die just because he felt that he was owed something,” Sara said instead, trying to keep her voice as level as she could. “What he needed was a redirection.”

“If anyone on this team who could have given him that, it was Nate. Not you. He's the one who specialises in crisis negotiation; that was his job– what he was trained to do. You walked around Chicago doing PI work. What exactly made you think you were the best person to give that man redirection?”

Sara looked down again, not wanting to see the fire in Ava’s eyes that was now burning the brightest.

“Because…” Sara trailed off.

It felt like an eternity for her until she surprised herself by saying, “Because nine years ago, I was him.”

Ava looked at Sara in frowned confusion.

A huge part of her was telling her to stop it right there; to not give Ava any detail of the circumstances that happened all those years ago, but a small voice in her head, potentially an insidious one, was telling her she should go for it; that perhaps telling Ava was what would make her understand why she felt the need to do what she had today; to take such giant risk in her life, and perhaps, if she told Ava… maybe.. just maybe, she would understand her; even for just a little, even if it was just for now.

Without giving herself more time to change her mind, Sara took a deep breath.

“As you already know, almost a decade ago, a man took away the person that mattered the most to me. I was so consumed by anger, so driven by my desire to avenge Laurel so I went around looking for him. It took me a while to find him, and when I did, he beat me to a pulp…”

Sara paused, biting her lip for a moment to keep her chin from quivering.

“...then shot me, for good measure. He left me to die on the street the same way he did Laurel. I gotta give it to him; at least he was consistent,” she said, huffing out a dry, humourless laugh.

“There's a difference, though, between my sister and me... Help came too late for her. She couldn't be saved."

A beat.

"I could have died, too– no, I did die. For 48 seconds, I was dead on the table, but someone thought I was worth saving so she didn't stop until my heart started beating again. She didn't give up on me.”

Pausing, Sara glanced waveringly at Ava who seemed like she was listening intently at her.

“At the time, I didn't even care that I was weak,” Sara carried on, dragging her eyes back down, her voice achingly raw. “I still attacked him, and I would have done it again too, for as many times as needed until I had successfully avenged my sister. I still wouldn't have stopped until one of us was dead for good. It didn't matter to me one bit if I lived, even less if I died because truth be told… I had been dying way before he put a bullet in my chest.”

Sara cleared her throat, her eyes taking a keen interest in a spot on the floor near where Ava was standing.

“The only reason that I didn't go after him again– the only reason I'm alive is that someone gave me the same redirection I gave Hearst today. I was given a purpose; one I'm still trying to fulfil to this day. If I hadn’t been given that, I wouldn’t be standing here. My parents would have lost the only child they had left not even a year after they buried their eldest one.”

Several moments of silence passed and Ava still hadn’t said a word. Taking it a sign to continue, Sara swallowed, preparing herself for what she would say next.

“My going after the man who hit me so hard in the head that I passed out, and who killed Laurel was fuelled by revenge. He took the life of my sister. I wanted to return the favour by taking away his. I thought that if I did, maybe I'd rid myself of the pain and gui–"

Sara cut herself off and quickly shook her head as if she was clearing it.

"I thought that maybe if he was dead, it would stop the pain that was slowly eating me alive."

Sara paused and cleared her throat when her voice broke.

"But Hearst... his actions today were driven by his love for his dying son. I'm not condoning it in any way, but I do understand where he was coming from. I get why he did it.

"If I was given another shot at life even though I probably didn't deserve it, why shouldn't he? I wanted to give Hearst a chance to not die today because, in some ways, I saw myself in him. He was filled to the brim with rage for the man he blames for ruining his life, and even if his son is still alive, I knew Hearst was already mourning him. I knew he was because I saw it.

"The look he had… it was grief– the kind that is so great that it leaks out from every part of you because it cannot possibly be contained within. I would recognise that look anywhere. I would because I still see it every time I look in the mirror,” Sara whispered past the all-too-familiar tightness in her throat, still scrupulously keeping her gaze lowered.

“I know you’re ups– I know you're furious for what I did, but I’d like to say that I didn’t do it in the hopes that it would get you to feel what you’re feeling now. Nor did I want to get you in trouble with your superiors. I wasn’t thinking of you; of messing with you when I walked up to that bank. Hell, I wasn’t even thinking of me. I think the fact that there was a huge chance that I’d get blown up and yet I still went in there is a pretty strong indicator that I wasn’t thinking of myself at all.”

Sara drew a long, shaky breath as she mentally steeled herself, terrified that the tears burning the backs of her eyes were going to fall. Her pride and now-fragile spirit would never permit her to break down and shed them, especially with Ava in the room to witness them.

She wasn’t going to lose it here.

“For the longest time, I have never allowed myself to be anyone’s responsibility. And I think you've known me just long enough now to realise that I don't take orders from anyone."

Not anymore.

"You never could have made me stay back here while you were off to Maryland even if you had threatened me with bodily harm. If I had known that you felt that you were responsible for me, I never would have let you continue to feel that way. I know what it’s like to be responsible for someone’s life; even more so, to be responsible..."

Sara broke off, taking a brief moment when she felt her voice was going to crack again.

"...to be responsible for someone’s death; to know– to feel that it’s your fault. It’s the kind of burden I would never... ever impose on you. So just... I'm relieving you of that burden. You’re not responsible for me, Ava. You never should have been.”

Sara swallowed the lump pressing into her throat then forced herself to lift her head up to finally meet Ava’s eyes.

“After all," she said in weary resignation, "if you hadn't felt that you were responsible for me and my actions back in Rockville resulted in a different way than it had– if the worst had happened, it would have been one less problem for you.”

Ava drew her brows together in what Sara could only take as confusion.

“You would have successfully rid yourself of me permanently... and you didn't even have to lift a finger,” Sara concluded then turned to leave, dragging her heavy feet out of Ava’s office.

Chapter Text

Leaving Ava’s office, Sara made her way towards the restroom and stayed there for a few minutes to compose herself.

When she got to the Console Room, everyone, Rip included but except Ava, was already there. The moment she walked in, all of them, save Amaya and Nate, started talking over one other, clearly expressing how they felt about her actions back in Rockville.

Ray was visibly upset, asking Sara what she was thinking. Gideon and Lily gave her light disapproval. Rip, having been apprised of what happened, flat-out admonished her and wouldn’t even let her speak; and Zari, who, understandably, was the most upset out of all of them, went straight for a hard punch in her arm, gave her the hardest rebuke she had ever received from her, and then jerked her into her arms.

Considering what she just put Zari through, Sara allowed her to hold onto her for however long her best friend wished until Gideon spoke.

“Ava’s in the interrogation room with Davenport now,” Gideon said, cocking her head towards the monitors.

For the next 10 minutes, the team watched Ava try to get Davenport to tell her what his connection to Darhk was, to no avail. All he kept saying was that he didn’t know Darhk on a personal level and he wasn’t aware why his name would be in the file.

Sara wished she could see Ava’s face while she interviewed him but the cameras in the interrogation room were set up in the corners behind her, only showing Davenport’s front; two more with a stand were placed by the table so there were close-ups of a person's front and side profile.

When it looked like Davenport wasn't going to give Ava anything and after he asked for a lawyer, the team saw Ava stand up and turn to leave.

“I don’t understand,” Nate said, his brows dipped in confusion. “Ava’s the best interrogator I know. She could get any suspect or person-of-interest to talk within the first five minutes.”

Turning to Amaya, he said, “I don’t think her head was fully in that interrogation, Amaya. Something’s definitely going on with her.”

A wave of guilt found its way in Sara’s chest.

Of course something's going on with Ava, Sara thought.

She’s furious with me.

Briefly ducking her head down, Sara cleared her throat.

"Davenport was obviously lying. He kept squirming in his seat and was sweating a lot."

"We can't really charge the man for excessive hidrosis, Sara," Zari said wryly.

Sara rolled her eyes, stared thoughtfully at the floor, then absently started tapping her middle finger against her thumb– a tic Zari knew Sara did when she was deeply thinking and was on full detective mode.

Zari leaned in a little towards Amaya.

"At the bar last Friday, you told Sara to watch your best friend while she did her thing," she whispered, smiling.

Tipping her head towards Sara, Zari said, "Now, it's time for you to watch mine."

Amaya turned to look at Sara in time for her to see the latter's eyes shot up then turned to Gideon.

"Gideon, have you checked his and his wife's financial records?"

"Yes. There's no unusual transaction or anything that might raise a red flag. There is, however, a record of a second mortgage that Davenport took out on their house 10 months ago. That's not illegal, per se."

"How about under his kid's name?"

Gideon shook her head. "Nothing on that one, too."

Sara threw her head back and groaned audibly.

"We're missing something," she said, frustration leaking in her voice.

After a few seconds, she straightened her head back, eyes a little wide as though she just thought of something.

"He's an artist, right? He paints," Sara said matter-of-factly.

Gideon tapped on the console screen then some photos showed on the monitors.

"He used to. Records show that he had a couple of exhibits and shows both here in D.C. and Maryland."

The team was in the middle of looking through Davenport's artistic works when their attention got caught as Ava walked into the room, slowly stopping when she saw everyone's eyes on her.

Sara saw the way Ava froze when their eyes met. When the latter broke eye contact, Sara willed herself not to follow Ava's movement. She failed, however, when, after just a few seconds, her eyes landed back on Ava, very much aware that the agent looked like she had been crying, judging by how her eyes were pink-rimmed and puffy.

The thought that she had something to do with it, that perhaps Ava's getting so mad at her was what made the woman cry, didn't sit well with her. Sara knew based on experience that sometimes when she would get furious, she would end up crying.

To keep herself from looking at Ava longer than she wanted to and before anyone noticed, Sara moved next to Gideon.

"Some artists use a pseudonym in lieu of their legal name. Please tell me Davenport used one."

"He did... I think. Let me double check," Gideon said as she pressed something on the console screen, zooming in at the bottom of one of Davenport's painting. "See that name at the bottom? Farrington Haven. It's safe to assume that that's Davenport's pseudonym."

Sara's face lit up, a smile starting to tug at the corners of her lips.

"Now, please cross-reference it with everything we have on Davenport. See if there's any record under that name. Bank statements, public documents, whatever. If you find a financial record and if Farrington Haven is indeed Davenport's business name, the account should be a business one. Otherwise, the account would be illegal and he'd be liable for fraud."

"Give me a second," Gideon said as she tapped on the screen. After a beat, she turned to look at Sara and smiled. "Well, I'll be damned."

Gideon pressed a button then copies of what looked like a bank account application appeared on the monitors.

"That's him, right?" Sara asked, her voice hopeful.

"It is," Gideon confirmed. "I'll put up the transaction history." A beat. "Here."

"There, look," Sara said as she pointed to the monitors. "$20,000 dollars every month for the last five months. $10,000 dollars each, deposited every other week. I don't know about you but an art professor from Rockville, Maryland should not earn that much. Even an Ivy League full professor earns less than that monthly."

"I agree," Rip said, speaking for the first time in a while, then turned at Sara, a small smile playing at his lips, clearly enjoying watching Sara do what he knew she was good at. "What's next, Sara?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"See if you can find anything else under that name," Sara said to Gideon then turned to Zari.

"Z, can you find out if something big happened in his family five months ago? Or a couple of months further back?"

Zari nodded in acknowledgement and looked down at her laptop.

"If it's digitally recorded, I'll find it," she said, as she started tapping away.

After a moment, Zari exclaimed. "Ah, shhhit."

Zari tapped a key and showed what was on the screen to the monitors- photos of the scene of an accident, hospital records, hospital and medical bills, etc.

"Eleven months ago, Davenport's kid was involved in a car accident that left him a quadriplegic," Zari said matter-of-factly.

"That's one month before Davenport took out that second mortgage," Sara said, then turned to Gideon. "Gid, will you pull out his bank records again? Show me who deposited that money."

"No problem," Gideon said as she pressed the screen before showing the record on the monitors. "Looks like they were deposited by three different business accounts."

Sara stared at the monitors for a moment before snapping her head towards Zari.

Zari, for her part, took a few more seconds before realisation dawned on her. She turned to look at Sara; both of them wearing the same surprised look on their faces.

"Are those...?" Zari asked, trailing off.

"Yes," Sara answered, then quickly turned back to Gideon. "Does Davenport have any living family member?"

"Mmm, let me check." A beat. "Nope. An only child. Both parents are dead."

"How ab-"

"Same with his wife's parents," Gideon said, cutting Sara off. "But she does have a brother."

After Sara saw the brother's name, a sly smirk spread across her face.

Turning to Gideon, Sara said, "One last thing... I need you to look up Christopher David Petersen."

"Why is he important?" Gideon asked curiously.

"Because..." Sara drawled, "he's in the Project 880 folder. The other cipher you showed me when I got here this morning translates to his name."

"Ah," Gideon exclaimed. Tapping the console screen, information popped up. "Christopher David Petersen. Works for the Department of Treasury as–"

Cutting off Gideon, Sara whipped her head towards Rip.

"I need you to get me in the interrogation room with Davenport."

"Absolutely not, Director Hunter," Ava said, speaking aloud for the first time since she walked in. "She’s not trained to interrogate suspects or people-of-interest."

Sara didn't say anything back, nor did she turn to face Ava. Instead, she just closed her eyes for a brief second, swallowing and silently praying to whoever was listening that Rip would allow her to talk to Davenport.

Rip looked like he was mulling it over when Ava spoke again.

"Rip... Sir, Davenport already lawyered up. None of us can talk to him without his lawyer present."

When Rip hadn't said anything, Sara made her appeal, her eyes almost pleading.

"He doesn't even have to talk. I just need him to listen to me. If what I say gets him to talk, then great. We get a win. If it doesn't… well, then he doesn't talk. He can't say that he was forced into talking, but I'm almost certain I can get him to talk, Rip. I promise. You just have to trust me. Please."

Rip let out an audible sigh, and Sara was scared he was about to say no. When he still hadn't said a word, Sara looked at him intently.

"Rip... I promise," she said, stressing the word, hoping Rip hadn't somehow forgotten that she always kept her promises.

It felt like forever for Sara before Rip finally spoke. "Alright."

“Gideon! Send all that information to my tablet!” Sara instructed as she ran out of the Console Room, not hearing the rest of Ava’s vocal disapproval of Rip’s letting her talk to Davenport.

When she got to the interrogation room after grabbing her tablet from her desk, Sara paused at the door, closed her eyes, then drew in a deep breath, prepping herself up and hoping she wouldn't blow up her one chance to get the man to talk.

After feeling herself ready, she turned the knob and walked inside.

"Mr Davenport," Sara began as she walked towards the centre of the room where Davenport was seated. "How are you doing? My name is Sara Lance. Consulting detective for the FBI."

"I already told your colleague I'm not saying anything else without my lawyer."

"Oh, you don't have to talk," Sara said as she pulled out the chair and sat across from Davenport. She leaned back in her seat then crossed her arms over her chest.

"I'm just here to tell you a story. I convulse rather violently when I don't get constant attention, and my teammates aren’t giving me any because they’re all still pissed because of the stunt I pulled in Rockville, so you're the next best thing."

Davenport looked at her bemusedly.

"So I had this English teacher in 8th grade, right? Mrs Oswald. She was a bit old and talked a little funny," Sara recalled. "One day, she came in the room and told the whole class that she'd be gone for a week and that there wasn't a substitute teacher. Of course, we all cheered because we were thinking we'd have another free period for the rest of the week. That was until she gave us the title of a book for us to write a report on; due when she got back. Naturally, I got frustrated. Nevertheless, I read it. You see, I was on a scholarship so I had to keep my grades up although I wished every day to burn the whole school to the ground. So yeah, I went to the library for the next few days during her period. I didn't expect to like the book, but admittedly, it had its appeal. I ended up enjoying it."

Sara paused to make sure Davenport was listening. When the look on his face told her that he was, she continued.

"Do you want to know what the book is about, Mr Davenport?" she asked as she shifted comfortably in her seat.

"I have a feeling you're about to tell me regardless," Davenport replied sarcastically.

Sara smiled.

"It's about this guy, alright? Philip. Average American guy. He's an artist– a painter, specifically. The thing is, he comes from a piss poor family so he doesn't really have the means to pursue his love for art. Then one day- he's 16, by the way, he meets this older woman; not by many years, but still... older. They fall in love, yada yada yada. Soon enough, th–"

"Do I have to listen to this story?" Davenport asked impatiently, cutting Sara off.

Sara shrugged her shoulders.

"I told you I convulse when I don't get attention. It can get pretty gnarly. And besides, this room is an FBI facility. I have clearance to be in here anytime I want. I like to come here every once in a while. It reminds me to never do something that will make me end up on that other side of the table. Calms me down, really. Also, it's not my fault you're in here the same time I am."

Davenport looked at her like she'd just grown two heads.

"Shall I continue? Sara asked, not really waiting for his response. "This woman introduces Philip to a man, Romero, who he later finds out is a criminal mastermind," she said animatedly. "Do you know what criminal activity Romero is involved in?" Sara asked, feigning excitement, eyes widening a little.

"I don't know, Miss Lance. Can't imagine I do," Davenport said sardonically.

Sara laughed.

"You just sounded like the woman who was here with you earlier. Agent Sharpe? She's sort of my boss, but compared to her, I like you. She and I.. we don't like each other, because I'm the fun one and she sucks the fun out of everything. And please call me Sara," Sara said, sending Davenport her best smile.

Her words left a bitter taste in her mouth, especially knowing that Ava was watching in the Console Room, perfectly hearing everything she was saying; but she had to say them. She needed to make Davenport feel at ease with her, and if it meant dragging Ava, then so be it.

Sara let a beat pass before she continued.

"Anyway," she said, uncrossing her arms and leaning over the table a little, "The guy's involved in counterfeiting US money," Sara mock-whispered, her eye's not leaving Davenport who, Sara noticed, froze.

Sara shot Davenport a smirk, crossing her arms again over her chest as she leaned back in her seat.

"Philip ultimately gets sucked into the criminal world. Romero teaches him everything he knows about counterfeiting, even though he and the woman who introduced Philip to him end up breaking up. Now, because Philip is an artist, he learns pretty quickly and becomes a better counterfeiter than Romero. He even says making counterfeit money is a lot like painting. So for Philip, he thinks, not only is he making art, but he's also literally making money.

"Anyway, whenever the US Treasury releases new money, Philip studies it. He learns what the bill's new features are, focusing more on the security, watermark, the ink. You know, the whole shebang. He does that so he can think of ways to defeat every security hurdles... which he does impressively, to tell you the truth. Soon enough, he becomes rich. But you know, you and I both know happiness doesn't really last.

“True enough, Philip comes under the radar of the US Secret Service– that's the agency who has jurisdiction over counterfeiting cases, just so you know. They're a real piece of work, I tell you. No one wants to deal with them.

“So anyway, Philip gets investigated, right? Remember, this is fiction, and unlike out here in the real world, fictional bad guys always end up either dead or in prison. He gets sentenced 25 years but doesn't live long enough to fully serve his time because he gets shivved after five years, leaving his poor innocent wife and kids to suffer in humiliation for life because the head of their family is a piece of garbage. End of story."

Sara studied Davenport as he fidgeted in his seat. His eyes, Sara noticed, had become shifty as soon as he heard the word counterfeiting.

After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence for Davenport, he spoke with feigned confidence in his voice.

"Thank you for that engrossing story. You can leave."

"But I have another story," Sara said almost petulantly. "A bit similar to the first one."

Sara paused.

"There's this man. Like Philip, he's a painter, too. And an art restorer. He's quite a versatile man if you ask me. Let's call him..."

Sara made a show of thinking it over by tapping her forefinger against her chin.

"Farrington. We'll call him Farrington."

At the mention of the name, Davenport's head shot up at Sara.

Satisfied that Sara got his attention, she continued.

"So Farrington is a talented painter and an even better art restorer. He scored a few exhibits but after a while, business becomes slow. Money becomes scarce so he looks for another gig, because, after all, he has a family to feed. He takes up a job as an art professor in some college. It pays enough, so he's happy. So are his wife and kid, until a tragic accident one day that leaves the kid paralysed from the neck down."

Sara heard Davenport cleared his throat then started fidgeting again.

"Hospital bills mount, so Farrington takes out a second mortgage on their family house. After the kid gets discharged, the bills don't stop there because Farrington still has to pay for his kid's medical care. You see, poor kid has to be watched all the time because if he doesn't get his medicines as scheduled, he'll be in such excruciating pain. Those medicines are way too expensive for Farrington to afford for as long as his kid is alive. He also has to get regular check-ups and whatnot. Not to mention, Farrington's already drowning in debt.

"Then one day, his brother-in-law offers him a high-paying job that will solve all Farrington's money problems. All he has to do is do some teeny-tiny counterfeiting," Sara said, squinting her eyes a little and bringing her forefinger and thumb close together.

Sara paused to gauge Davenport's reaction. At this point, the man had already started sweating.

"A person will just about do anything if his back is against the wall. So he accepts the job. Whether he likes doing it or not, it doesn't really matter. Farrington counterfeits money for this evil man who turns out to be on the FBI Ten Most Wanted. For his services, he gets paid $20,000 a month. That's quite a hefty money, don't you think so, Mr Davenport?"

When Davenport didn't respond, Sara spoke again.

"Does that story sound familiar to you? she asked, lowering her eyes. "It should. After all..."

Sara slowly raised her gaze to meet Davenport's, her face suddenly turned hard.

"It's YOUR story... Farrington Haven."

Davenport's face twisted in a pained expression, his face turning pale. When Sara kept her hard eyes on him, he swallowed hard.

"I- I don't know what you're talking about."

Sara hummed.

"No? So you're telling me your brother-in-law, Ian Shaw, isn't working for Darhk? You can deny it all you want, Mr Davenport, but our records clearly show that he does," she bluffed.

When Davenport didn't say anything, Sara pressed.

"As I said, you don't have to talk. I'm not forcing you to. But we know there had been 10 deposits to your business account for the last five months, $10,000 dollars for every other week, by three separate corporations. Shell corporations. The illegal kind, might I add. Do you know whose name those companies are registered under?”

Without waiting for a reply, knowing that the response would be in the negative, Sara continued.

“Kenneth Bender. I'm sure you don't know that guy. Hell, not a lot of people do. At least not by that name. You know him... as Damien Darhk.”

Sara watched as Davenport cleared his throat then wiped the sweat off his forehead.

“Kenneth Bender was the name he was given after he was born.”

Sara paused.

"So let me try to get this right– Shaw, your brother-in-law is aware of your talent. Maybe he learned it from your wife. Doesn't really matter. How you learnt to counterfeit... I don't really care about that. Neither will the USSS. Anyway, he tells Darhk. Darhk gets you to work for him. Because your financial situation is in dire straits due to your son’s constant medical care and your accumulating debts, you agree. You counterfeit for him with the help of Christopher David Petersen–”

“I don’t know who that is,” Davenport interjected.

Sara took her tablet and tapped on the screen a few times.

“This is him,” she said, sliding the tablet on the table towards Davenport.

When he looked down at the picture, Sara saw recognition on his face.

“He works for the US Department of Treasury. He helps you overcome the security hurdles with the information he gives you. And then he works to have that money pass as though they’re officially made by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Now, did I miss something?”

Instead of answering, Davenport laid his hands on the table and started fiddling with them.

“Do you know what the penalty is for counterfeiting, Farrington? A fine of $250,000 and a prison sentence for up to 20 years, depending on what you counterfeited and for how much."

As Sara watched Davenport's face become even more conflicted, she was internally cheering.

"Man!" Sara exclaimed, grinning as she slammed her palm on the table, causing Davenport to jump in his seat. "The Secret Service will have a field day with you."

Sara paused.

"You’re gonna go away for a very long time, Farrington. We know your counterfeiting for Darhk. Money, bank notes, cheques, other instruments of legal tender."

Davenport's eyes shot up at her, looking completely panicked.

"I only counterfeited money! Bills, that's it. Not the rest. And I was doing it under duress. Mr Darhk threatened to kill my family if I didn't do as he asked."

Sara smirked, feeling incredibly proud that she just got him to admit his connection to Darhk and that he was indeed a counterfeiter.

She schooled her features back to looking nonchalant, then she shrugged.

"You think the Secret Service is gonna care that you were being terrorised by a madman into counterfeiting for him? The only thing that those people will care about is that you're a threat to this country's financial system and economic stability."

Davenport's face contorted, then he swallowed.

"Let's not waste both of our time, alright? I'm having the worst day in a while and I'd really like to leave this building as soon as possible, go to a bar, and possibly drink myself to death, but I can't do that unless I've told you everything I need to say, so..."

A pause.

"You have two choices here, Farrington. Either you continue to refuse to tell us what we need to know and we hand you over to Secret Service. You can try your luck with them, but I'm telling you now, a deal is off the table with them. You will go to prison for your crime. You'll do your time. Or… you cooperate with us. Tell us everything you know, and maybe we can put in a good word with the US Attorney."

Several emotions seemed to pass through Davenport's face.

"The offer expires the second I'm out of this room," Sara said firmly.

After two full minutes of Davenport not saying anything, Sara stood and turned to leave. Halfway through the door, she stopped and turned to face him.

"Let me just say one last thing..."

Sara paused to brace herself.

"Today– and this is in case you've completely forgotten what happened today in Rockville... Today I incurred the wrath of my sort-of boss, and consequently, risked losing my place on the team that I actually like being a part of, for once, because I gambled with my life to save the lives of everyone in that bank. Yours included. Don't squander it by spending the next 20 years locked in prison just because you refuse to roll on the man who not only threatened your family but also forced you to commit a crime; and therefore, leaving your wife and son alone to the mercy of this life.

"Your kid... he's been through enough. He’s suffered enough and he’s going to suffer for the rest of his life stuck in a bed or chair. What do you think is going to happen to him with his father incarcerated? How do you think he’s going to feel knowing his father would go to prison because of what happened to him? He's already in constant agony, but the truth... the knowledge that you aligned yourself with a psychopathic maniac because of and for him... It's going to break your son more than his accident did. No child deserves that kind of pain. Just think about that before you completely throw your life away.

"By not giving up Darhk to us, to the FBI, you're essentially protecting him. You're protecting a wanted criminal. Ask yourself a question– whom do you want to protect more? Is it Darhk? Or your son?"

Sara paused. She could feel a knot forming in her throat, and the sting of tears that had started to pool in her eyes; her chest tightening. After shaking it all away, Sara drew in a breath before continuing.

"You don't even know half of what Darhk has done. The things he did– the things he still does, they destroy people's lives, Mr Davenport. They ruin families. Don't let him ruin yours."

With that, Sara turned towards the door, but before she could open it, Davenport spoke, stopping Sara.

"Wait."

Davenport waited for Sara to turn and face him before he spoke again.

"I want an immunity deal. Turn me into a state witness, whatever works. I'll testify against Darhk, but I want my family and myself to be in witness protection. Give me that and I'll tell you everything I know."

Sara nodded. "We'll see what we can do." She paused. "Thank you."

Sara made a move to turn around but stopped by Davenport’s voice.

“Miss Lance,” he said, a little quietly. “Thank you.”

“You don’t have a deal yet–”

“Not for that,” Davenport said, cutting Sara off. “For risking your life to save mine and everyone else’s back in Rockville. I don’t think I’ve ever met a braver woman before.”

Not finding her voice, Sara just gave Davenport a small nod before leaving.

Closing the door to the interrogation, Sara leaned against it and pulled her head back to keep her tears from falling. Letting out a sharp huff, she made a beeline for the elevator, sending Zari a text message as she got thereon.

Chapter Text

“...It took me a while to find him, and when I did, he beat me to a pulp, then shot me for good measure.”

Ava’s body tensed as though she had just felt a physical blow.

Amaya told her to hear Sara out– to listen to what she had to say; whatever reason Sara had that would make her understand why she did what she had in Rockville.

She was ready to hear anything, anything at all, even something that she might normally consider petty, but what she wasn’t expecting was… this.

She didn’t even know how to begin to process what Sara was telling her; especially when it conflicted with something she had read about on the file she had on her.

Ava’s face had become an amass of shock, disbelief, perplexity, and anguish the longer she listened. She was a profiler- reading people was one of the things that made her such a great one; and although she once told Amaya that she couldn’t get a read on Sara, now could very well be the first time that she was reading her clearly.

Everything about her right now– her body language, her face- her eyes, especially, the tone of her voice– they all told Ava that Sara was feeling defeated and completely shattered.

Ava opened her mouth a few times, fully intending to speak despite the heavyweight that had accumulated in her chest, but the husky poignancy in Sara’s voice kept snatching her breath away.

She was just about to say something after Sara said she was relieving her of the burden of being responsible for her when Sara finally lifted her head up and met her gaze; and the look in her eyes made Ava stop, her heart dropping to her stomach.

“...You would have successfully rid yourself of me permanently, and you didn't even have to lift a finger.”

Ava stood in stunned silence as her startled gaze settled on Sara’s departing back, her face whitened as if Sara had slapped her and her mind was whirling as the other woman’s words echoed in her head.

It seemed to her that her entire office was beginning to move. When she felt that her legs were no longer strong enough to support her, she fumbled around her desk and sat in her chair. She curled her fingers around the edge of it and gripped it tightly, closed her eyes, then started breathing measuredly.

Although it seemed impossible, she tried to clear her mind of everything else that was overwhelming it so she could focus on getting her pounding heart to slow down.

------------------------------

Ava stood up from her seat as soon as Davenport asked for a lawyer.

She could have handled that interrogation a lot better. She knew she could have, but everything just felt wrong even before she walked into the room.

If her head was fully in what she was doing, if she wasn’t thinking of anything else, she could have either intimidated or tricked Davenport into telling her what she needed to know in no time, but she couldn’t focus as her mind kept bringing her back to everything that happened in Rockville, and more so the whole conversation she had with Sara in her office.

Ava hastily made her way out as the hammering in her chest and the ringing in her ears started.

Closing the door to the interrogation room, she made a beeline for the restroom and locked its door behind her.

With her heart slamming against her ribs, her hand instinctively flying to her chest, and her knees feeling like they were going to give out, she felt as if time had stretched on for ages until she finally reached the sink.

“No…” Ava whispered hoarsely, bracing one palm on the sink, her right hand still on her chest, as pieces of painful memories that she had buried with too much difficulty kept flickering in her mind, doggedly pushing themselves up so they would play in her head with all their little details and without pauses.

Ava squeezed her eyes shut as hot and sharp pressure pushed behind them, pressing her eyelids tightly together.

Open your eyes!

Ava snapped her eyes open.

The burning she was feeling in her chest started sending balls of fire across her whole body, her throat felt dry and tight, and the ringing in her ears was getting louder by the second that her head felt like exploding.

Finding it hard to breathe, she undid the top two buttons on her shirt, gasping as she went and fighting back the sting of tears that were threateningly close to the surface.

Your chest feels like it's ablaze. You need to breathe.

With her chest constricting, feeling like her lungs were closing in on themselves, all the air being sucked out of them, and her whole body thrumming with every emotion that was shaking her, Ava breathed, “This is not happening.”

She hurriedly turned the cold water knob with a shaky hand, placed the inside of her wrists under the spout, and let the cold water run against them.

As perfect as her memory was, she couldn’t remember the last time she cried. Perhaps she blocked it or what caused her to cry then, more to the point, out of her mind. The closest time she had to crying was when she was reading the files she had on Sara referencing Laurel– her death, more specifically.

She was so good at compartmentalising that all her tears got stored so deep inside of her. She had held them back for so long that she started believing there was nothing that could force her to shed them, but now, as she remembered the people whose death she felt she was responsible for and by which she had always been tormented, as she played how they died in her head like she was watching a montage in HD, as she felt how she had as intensely as when she lost them, she let shattered sobs wracked her body and hot, unforgiving tears pour from her eyes, and only managed to stop when her throat felt raw.

Until she felt that there were no tears left to shed, Ava cried for the people she lost, for the relationship she had with each of them, and for the future none of them would have; but most of all, she was crying for herself.

Everything for which she had worked so hard to avoid the very thing of which she wanted to steer clear was soon going to be of no use, because she knew that what just happened was only the beginning; it wasn't even the worst, and as much as she wanted to get a handle on it, it was something over which she had little control over.

As the cold water did its job to ground her, Ava worked to even out her breathing and slow her heart down, giving all her focus on the feel of air as it slowly filled her lungs and of the water as it touched her skin.

When she felt that her grip on herself had somewhat returned, Ava washed her face, dried it and her hands, and made herself as presentable as one could be after they had just some sort of a breakdown in a restroom.

Giving herself one final look in the mirror, Ava took a deep breath and heaved it out.

“Keep it together, Sharpe. You got this,” she muttered to herself then made her way towards the Console Room.

------------------------------

Ava walked into the Console Room but stopped when she saw everyone's eyes on her, shocked at seeing Sara with them, her heart stopping in her chest. She had expected for her to leave after what happened in her office; not that she would blame the woman if she did.

Uncertain of what she just walked into, Ava quickly tore her eyes off of Sara and walked over to Amaya who was eyeing her with a tinge of worry on her face.

"Everything okay, Ava?"

"Yeah," Ava answered then cleared her throat, avoiding Amaya's eyes for fear that her best friend might see she wasn't being totally truthful. “I just needed to use the restroom.”

Ava settled her gaze back on Sara who wasn't looking at her but had a look of concentration on her face.

Turning to Amaya, Ava asked, "What's happening?"

"Oh, right. You’re not caught up." Amaya said, realising Ava missed everything before she joined them. "Sara is convinced that Davenport was lying."

"Well, of course, he was,” Ava said promptly. “He kept fidgeting and was sweating profusely."

Amaya pressed her lips together to keep herself from huffing out a laugh but apparently did a poor job at it because Ava shot her a puzzled look.

"What?" Ava asked curiously.

Amaya smiled.

"That's what Sara said. I mean, she said it in lesser articulate words, but still."

Amaya tilted her head slightly, a teasing little smile on her face.

"You know, the two of you barely get along and yet, you're starting to think alike. I think it's cute."

Ava rolled her eyes. "I'm still not caught up."

Amaya snapped her fingers.

"Right. Zari thinks Sara's in full detective mode. Since Davenport wouldn’t admit it, Sara’s trying to figure out his connection with Darhk. She asked Gideon to pull out the Davenports' financial records but nothing stood out of ordinary. She thinks we were missing something, then Sara realised that he's an artist.”

"We knew that already," Ava remarked.

Amaya nodded.

"Yeah, but just before you walked in, Gideon was showing us that Davenport had some exhibits and shows here and in Maryland. And now..." Amaya trailed off, cocking her head towards Sara who just moved next to Gideon.

Ava watched as Sara’s face lit up every time her suspicion panned out. It didn’t even occur to her that, as an artist, Davenport might have indeed used a pseudonym, and from there, she would have had the same information on him that Sara was getting now; or perhaps she would have thought about it if she hadn’t been thinking with half a mind since the drive back to Rockville.

Where Sara was going, the questions she was asking– they were exactly the kind of questions any investigator worth their salt would ask. She could see it now- why Rip wanted Sara to work with the Legends. This was the side of Sara she had always wanted to see ever since Rip insisted on having her on the team. It was a refreshing sight to see her in her element, and it immediately reminded her of herself whenever she was neck-deep in a case.

If she was being honest with herself, she found it rather engaging to watch Sara. She especially liked the smug little smile she would get every time she worked things out.

Until now, while Sara was on detective mode, she didn't think it was possible that the woman's smugness would get her to feel anything other than making her seethe in anger.

When she turned her eyes turned to Rip who was looking pleased and proud, she knew he had been expecting Sara to figure things out.

Except for the times when Gideon showed something on the monitors, Ava had kept her gaze peeled on Sara; and she hadn’t even realised she was staring until the latter whirled her head towards Zari, a slightly startled look on her face.

Ava dragged her eyes to the monitors to see what caused Sara’s and Zari’s reaction and found a list of bank deposits made by three business accounts. She didn’t recognise any of them. She would know if they were of Darhk's because the FBI had all his accounts and assets frozen when they started with the case; but judging by the look on both Sara’s and Zari’s faces, it told her that the two of them knew something the rest of the team didn’t.

Ava wanted to ask. She had been wanting to chime in, especially when Sara mentioned the second cipher. She wanted to ask her again how she knew how to translate it, but the uneasiness she felt by having to directly address Sara was sending her nerves into a riot, so she decided to keep mum; that was until the other woman asked to get in the interrogation room with Davenport.

"Absolutely not, Director Hunter,” Ava said firmly, her eyes on Rip. “She’s not trained to interrogate suspects or people-of-interest."

Ava expected an argument from Sara. She expected for her to fight her on her objection to let her talk to Davenport, but to her surprise and puzzlement, the other woman didn't say anything back- no quip, no snide, no sarcasm. Sara didn’t even turn to look at her. She wasn’t sure whether she felt more relieved or disappointed.

Nevertheless, Ava asserted her objection by saying that Davenport had already asked for his lawyer and they couldn’t talk to him without his counsel present. She was sure Rip wouldn’t violate a man’s basic constitutional right just to humour his surrogate sister, until he went ahead and gave Sara his permission.

"Rip!" Ava exclaimed, sounding outraged. “Davenport has a right to have his counsel present the next time any of us get inside that room! Why would you let Lance, of all people, talk to him?!”

"I have the utmost faith in Sara, Ava," Rip said confidently. "Besides, she did say she wasn't going to coerce Davenport into confessing."

"Yeah," Ava said sardonically, "because her words have always been dependable."

Ava immediately felt bad as soon as the words left her mouth.

Rip let out a soft chuckle.

"SHOWTIME!" Zari exclaimed as she saw Sara enter the interrogation room.

Leaning in towards Ava, Zari cocked her head towards the monitors.

“You want to know how good of a detective Sara is, Ava? Watch and listen," she said, smiling, her voice laced with pride for her best friend.

The whole team moved their gaze towards the monitors as Sara stood across Davenport and introduced herself to him.

When Sara mentioned convulsing, Zari snorted, Lily and Gideon just smiled, Rip chuckled, while both Ray and Nate laughed.

"Classic Sara," Nate commented, grinning.

Ava, on the other hand, was looking at the monitors with an incredulous look on her face.

"What the hell is she doing?"

Zari turned to look at Ava.

"Relax, Ava. Sara's got it," she said, then turned her eyes back to the monitors. "Have a little faith."

"I told you I convulse when I don't get attention. It can get pretty gnarly…"

Ava pinched the bridge of her nose then turned to Rip.

"Are you gonna let this go on, Rip? I don't see Davenport suddenly giving us something important just because Lance is proving to him that she can read."

"Give her time, Ava."

Ava let out a frustrated sigh then turned her attention back to the monitors where Sara had continued telling a story.

After Sara made that snide remark about Ava sucking the fun out of everything, everyone in the Console Room, save for Ava, held their breath, straining not to look at Ava.

After a second, Zari turned to look at Ava, her face sobered.

"She didn't mean that, Ava. Sara's just building rapport with Davenport."

"Oh, I'm sure Lance said that just for that exact reason," Ava said sarcastically, eyes trained on the monitors.

It wasn’t that Sara was the first person to say that she sucked the life out of everything. She had heard it far too many times in her whole life, especially as a teenager, but it never once bothered her.

It didn't... until now... when it was Sara who said it.

"Anyway, the guy's involved in counterfeiting US money."

"Anybody else seen Davenport’s reaction?" Nate asked as he looked around the team who were all nodding.

Ripped hummed. "Sara's on to something."

The team watched attentively as Sara continued with her story, paying special attention to Davenport’s reaction to it.

When Sara finished, Ray spoke first. "Now what?"

"Patience," Zari said, drawing the vowels out.

"But I have another story. Quite similar to the first one."

"Here we go," Zari remarked, smiling.

All of them were all ears as Sara told what they all knew was Davenport’s own story. They saw how his body responded to every word she was saying; how it was giving him away by showing classic signs of distress, nervousness, and fear.

Ava realised Sara got him. All the other woman had to do now was to get Davenport to willingly admit his connection to Darhk and–

“Kenneth Bender… You know him as Damien Darhk."

Ava knew she wasn't the only one surprised but that information when everyone in the room, except Zari, looked between one another, shaking their heads lightly and looking thrown off.

The number of questions she wanted to be answered was piling up the longer Sara talked to Davenport, but she didn’t want to miss anything of what was happening in the interrogation room so she tabled asking Zari for later.

When Sara slammed her hand on the table, Amaya saw Ava almost jump backwards from where she stood.

Leaning in towards her, Amaya asked worriedly, “Ava, are you okay? You seem–”

Ava promptly shushed Amaya, cutting her off, her eyes intently watching the monitors.

"I only counterfeited money! Bills…”

“Holy crap!”
“Holy sh–”

Both Ray and Nate exclaimed at the same time.

“Sara just got Davenport to admit why he was on that file you have on Darhk,” Rip said matter-of-factly, sounding pleased. “This is good. If she gets him to have that in writing, that will be one step closer to getting Darhk.”

Ava wished she could see Sara’s face right now. She wished she could see her giving Davenport that infuriating smug smirk of hers knowing that she got him to blurt out what exactly it was that he did for Darhk.

For someone who wasn’t trained at all to do interrogations, Sara was doing a fantastic job at keeping her cool when she heard what was essentially a confession. She didn’t even look bothered as she stood up to leave when Davenport chose to stay quiet after she gave him a choice. If anything she seemed incredibly blasé about the whole thing.

"Let me just say one last thing…"

Ava wanted nothing more at the moment than to see Sara’s face. The tone of her voice… she sounded exactly like she did when the two of them were talking earlier– defeated and broken; that and every word Sara was saying seemed to cause a twinge in Ava’s stomach.

“Give me that and I'll tell you everything I know."

A collective Yes! exploded in the Console Room.

Her whole team was cheering for Sara’s success in getting Davenport to give them something, but Ava could hardly hear what they were saying because her mind was too busy trying to process everything she just heard. She had so many questions, she didn’t even know where to begin.

“And that, Ava,” Rip said, a proud little smile on his face, pulling Ava out of her thoughts, “is why I wanted Sara to join your team.”

Ignoring the remark, Ava briefly closed her eyes and shook her head as if to clear it. When she flicked them open, they had a hard look in them.

“Did you know Kenneth Bender was Darhk’s real name?”

“No,” Rip answered flatly. “It was a surprise to me as it was to all of you.”

“We have all the necessary documentary evidence that proves Darhk’s personal background. There’s nothing in there that even suggested Damien Darhk is not his birth name.”

“You wouldn’t have known, Ava,” Zari chimed in. “None of you would have.”

“You have. You knew,” Ava countered, almost accusingly. “This agency has the most advanced technology in the world. You can trust me on that. Its best investigators are all in this room, and yet, we didn’t find a single record of Darhk being Kenneth Bender. None of us knew, so how did you and Lance find out?”

“Sara and I are really great detectives?” Zari said half-jokingly, forcing a smile onto her face and half-deluding herself that Ava would just let this one go.

When Ava gave her a dark, threatening look, Zari’s face fell.

“I can’t tell you that.”

“What do you mean you can’t tell me that?” Ava asked, already feeling frustrated. “Both of you signed a contract when you joined this task force. One of the stipulations therein is that we share information. Neither of you gets to withhold anything especially if it’s vital to our investigation.”

“You don’t understand, Ava. I mean, I can’t tell you,” Zari said with a twinge of regret, then turned to Rip, looking a little helpless.

“Last Sunday at your house… That thing Sara said to you about...” Zari hesitated, wanting to be careful on how she phrased her words, lest she inadvertently revealed something that wasn't hers to share to the team, “about someone getting their hands on something…?”

Ava dragged her eyes from Zari to Rip in time to see understanding dawn on his face; as to what, she had no idea.

“It’s not important right now, Ava,” Rip said.

“THE HELL IT ISN’T!” Ava exclaimed in a sudden flare of anger, causing a startled look on every member of her team, Rip included.

“Last time I checked, I am still the leader of this team. I think I deserve to know what my civilian consultants know that I and the rest of my team apparently don’t!”

“Ava, hey,” Amaya said, as she sidled up to Ava and gently put a hand on her arm, intending to calm her down.

“Please calm down, alright? I’m sure Sara will tell us what she knows. She probably didn’t even know she had to bring up Darhk’s real name to Davenport and that it would be relevant to our investigation until she saw those bank deposits."

"How is Darhk's real name not relevant to our investigation?!" Ava asked angrily. "Even a trainee would know that it could be everything. Lance and Zari had that information and yet they sat on it for weeks! We hit a wall on this case some time ago. Had they shared that one important detail, we could have sooner made greater progress on this investigation."

"No, you couldn't have," Zari said matter-of-factly. "I'm a computer girl, Ava. It's what I do. And I'm telling you, you wouldn't have found anything even if we told you about Kenneth Bender. Nothing that would lead us directly to Darhk, that is. If you don't believe me, then have Gideon run his name through every database. You can see for yourself."

Ava was about to say something when Amaya squeezed her hand around Ava's arm.

"We can ask Sara everything you want to know when she comes back.”

IF she comes back, Ava thought.

“Where is Sara, anyway?” Rip asked, instinctively turning his gaze towards the door. “She should be back here.”

Just then, Zari phone chimed. After reading the message, she looked up at Rip.

“It’s Sara. She said you and Ava would know what to do next. She clocked out.”

That seemed to have curbed Ava’s anger, thinking that Sara couldn’t wait to get out of HQ when all she had ever shown since she joined the team was her relentless desire to be involved in every part of their investigation; big or small.

“But it’s not even 5 P.M. yet,” Ray commented, his brows slightly drawn together. “Sara likes sticking around late.”

“Ray,” Nate said, “Sara just went through something traumatic. Unlike us, she doesn’t have the training on how to deal when something like this happens. I’m actually surprised she waited this long before letting the toll of that happened today affect her. She probably wants to get some air and be alone for a moment.”

Turning to Rip, he said, “Sir, I’d like to recommend that she undergoes a psych eval with our resident clinical psychologist.”

Rip nodded.

“I’m ordering it, then. Can you take care of that?”

After Nate nodded in affirmation, Rip turned to Ava.

“I’ll give the US Attorney a call later, then you and I can go meet up with her in person tomorrow. I’ll coordinate with the US Marshals Service, too. Let me worry about that side of things. In the meantime,” Rip looked around everyone, “do as you all usually would.”

------------------------------

Hours later back in her office, Ava had just finished her paperwork for the day and was considering going home earlier than usual.

Amaya checked in on her before she and the rest of the team left about an hour ago, asking if she was okay. When she reassured her that she was, Amaya bid her goodbye, saying that she was going to give Zari a ride home as she had been calling Sara and that her calls kept getting unanswered and she was starting to get worried about her.

In the quietness in her office and with nothing else to do, Ava’s mind pulled her back to Rockville; the things Sara said to Hearst as she attempted to get through to him, more specifically.

At first, she thought it was just some line designed to calm Hearst down- something that would make him think twice about what he intended to do; but now, with everything she was made privy to, she knew that Sara said it because it happened to her– she almost died.

A terrible sense of guilt, remorse, and shame washed over her. There she was, almost screaming her head off at Sara about living with trauma, asking her if she knew what it was like.

In her angry state earlier, it had totally slipped her mind that not only did Sara lose her sister, she was also attacked on the same night by the same man who, as she was now aware, also beat her up, shot her, and left her to die not one year after Laurel's death.

Ava closed her eyes and lowered her face into her hand. "God, I'm such an idiot."

She pictured a grief-ridden younger Sara, beaten up and shot, lying on the pavement just waiting to die, and who could have died as tragically as her sister; perhaps, even more... and her heart ached the same time a flash of anger seared through her chest at the man who was the cause of all of Sara's anguish.

This what it– the look she always saw in Sara when she wasn't being a little shit; the look she would get when she thought no one was watching; the same tormented look she'd been seeing since Sara joined her team. She always thought it was because of Laurel's death, as one would expect; but now, with what she had been clued in on, she knew that Sara was haunted by what by happened to her, too; both on the night Laurel died and the night she herself almost did.

Sara had been on the brink of death– no, she did die; that was why Ava felt the sincerity in Sara’s voice when she heard her tell Hearst about how it felt to wait for death; that was how she knew Sara wasn’t lying to her earlier about almost dying nine years ago.

Ava knew that feeling well. She wished she didn’t, but the harsh truth was... when you blur the lines between life and death, it wasn’t panic or fear that you would feel. It was exactly what Sara said– cold... and lonely.

What Sara said about not being remembered after dying as what people were really scared of made her think.

Ava shook herself off before she found herself in a downward spiral and thought instead of the questions brought on by everything else that Sara told her.

Who saved Sara's life? And the purpose she said she was given, what was it? Was that what she tried to achieve during the years which weren't on the files Rip gave to her? What could she possibly have been doing during all those years that required her to practically fall off the face of the earth?

There were too many questions swimming in Ava's head that it was giving her a headache, but the other thing that she got from Sara which stood out the most, aside from the fact that she almost died, was that she felt responsible for someone's death... and now all Ava wanted to know was whose death did Sara feel was her fault.

Ava shook her head and focused on the rest of the conversation she had with Sara, and what the latter said to Davenport just before she left.

What Sara said in the interrogation room about Darhk– how he destroyed lives and ruined families... even to someone impartial to their investigation, it would sound as though she was talking about him with a hint– no, with a lot of familiarities, and it was making the gnawing itch at the back of Ava’s mind even more persistent; the same itch that kept telling her she was missing something about the whole Sara-Darhk connection.

There was a small part of her brain that told her that perhaps it was Darhk who killed Laurel; that it was the “personal” history Rip told her about when he first mentioned bringing Sara into her team, but everything in the police report told her there wasn’t a foul play. Laurel was killed in a random robbery that tragically resulted in a homicide. Besides, any doubt that she had about that had disappeared the moment Sara mentioned going after the man who killed her sister. So perhaps Sara lied in her statement when she said she didn’t recognise the man who attacked her and Laurel.

Perhaps she told the truth. Ava knew that when something traumatic happened, a person’s brain would attempt to protect itself by blocking the memory of such an event to help get through it. Perhaps that was what happened. At the time of giving her testimony, Sara didn’t have a recollection of what the man looked like, so perhaps it was only after that she remembered but that she didn’t bother telling the police since she wanted to hunt him herself.

Either way, whoever killed Laurel almost a decade ago, whoever it was that shot Sara and left her to die nine years ago... it wasn’t Darhk. If it was, Sara would have been crazy for even thinking of confronting him by herself. Ava was certain that if it was indeed Darhk, Sara would have definitely gone to the authorities since at the time of Laurel’s death, he was already on trial. Sara being a witness would have made for a stronger case against him. So it couldn’t have been him.

It was something else. Ava’s brain was telling her something else and she couldn’t quite figure it out yet.

On their drive back from Rockville, Amaya said that Ava was more scared than she was angry. And perhaps she was right– no, Amaya was right.

She was scared. What she had felt from the moment Sara walked up to the bank until she was safely back out, was fear; and it was the kind that she hadn’t felt before, which was very telling because she had faced and been through a lot of dreadful things. Any fury she felt earlier was driven by that fear, by pure panic, and an awful sense of foreboding that a repeat of the things that had been haunting her for a really long time was going to happen.

She couldn’t get the last thing Sara said to her out of her mind– that if she had died in Rockville, it would have been one problem solved for her; that she would have gotten Sara off the team definitely. The insinuation of that statement, the tone of her voice and the look on her face when Sara said it to her… it felt like a sledgehammer hit her in the chest.

She wanted to say something as soon as Sara’s words left her lips, but those same words had her tongue tied and her feet glued to her spot; and now she probably didn’t have a chance to put over what she had to say about it since she was quite certain Sara wasn’t going to come back. It was rather clear when she said she was relieving her of the burden of feeling responsible for her.

Ava should be happy.

From the very beginning, she had been very vocal about her displeasure of Sara joining her team. If Sara didn’t come back, that would be one less stressor for her– the biggest stressor, if she was being completely truthful– since Sara’s absence would mean she would no longer have to worry about having to constantly give lectures on professionalism, she wouldn’t have to deal with someone who seemed to take joy in breaking protocols and making her angry, her nerves would be at peace knowing she didn’t have to be cautious about coming into work one day and possibly ending up having a heart attack caused by Sara’s regular juvenile stunts.

More than that, she wouldn’t have to deal with what she knew in her heart, but with which her mind hadn’t quite caught up, Sara had somehow managed to awaken in her.

All things considered, she knew she should be happy.

Except she wasn’t. If anything, she hadn't felt this worse in quite a while.

As much as she didn’t want to admit it at first, Sara’s presence on the team had changed each of her teammates for the better– Rip smiled and laughed more often now. Ray and Lily had become more interactive with everyone. Nate had taken his nose off his books and had brought out his goofy side. Gideon had become less serious, and Amaya had been considerably more beatific than ever.

As for her… well, admittedly, Sara challenged her; she intrigued her, unlike anybody she had ever met. To her, Sara was a walking contradiction.

She didn’t want to think about what else had possibly changed about her since Sara hurtled herself into her life because if she did, it would just give her another thing to think about and she already had more than enough of it to go around.

She had also been made aware that Sara liked being part of a team– no, Sara liked being a part of their team; she said so herself, and that her liking working with them showed in the way she acted around the Legends, and mutually, how they acted around her.

Every member of her team would be affected if Sara left. If she (and consequently, Zari, because she didn’t think she would still work with the Legends without Sara), didn’t come back, Ava didn’t even know how their absence would affect the dynamic within her team.

More importantly, Sara had proven her usefulness to their investigation.

When Rip told her all those weeks ago that he had a feeling Sara knew things about Darhk that the FBI didn't, she was highly dubious; but based on everything she heard while Sara was tracing Davenport's connection to Darhk, it gave her the conclusion that Rip's suspicion wasn't baseless at all. As to how Sara had gotten her hands on all that information, Ava didn't know but she was going to find out, one way or another.

She knew that in the line of job she did, information was currency. Sara did know a lot about Darhk, even details as tiny as a low-profile man like Ian Shaw who worked for him; information Sara had on him which seemed to be leading them to however they were going to apprehend him.

Sara was invaluable to the team. She knew that now. Every progress they had made since Sara joined the team was because of her– she was the reason they got the files at the hotel; the files which Ava was now fully convinced contained everything they needed to take down Darhk, once and for all. It was also because of her that Davenport was put under their radar, and consequently, they found out about one of Darhk's projects. If Sara hadn’t translated the cipher that led them to Davenport, they wouldn’t have anything with which to go on.

That was another thing that had started to bug her.

How could Sara have known how to read that specific coded script? Why had Darhk used it? More to the point, where could both Sara and Darhk have learnt how to use and decipher such texts? Was it pure coincidence that the target of her team’s investigation and the civilian her boss wanted to bring into the team who also happened to have a “personal” history with said target, both understood the text?

Except she did not believe in coincidences.

There had to be something else; some link between them that she had yet to connect. She knew a lot about secret codes and symbols to know that for at least two people to understand a very unique set of codes, they would have to have been in the same group of people– an agency or organisation or alliance or a league. The problem with that logic, however, was that she knew, with absolute certainty, that Sara wouldn’t be caught dead in any sort of alignment with Darhk.

How did Sara know how to disarm a detonator? Where could she have learnt it? Could her father really have taught her how to do it?

What had she possibly gone through that she didn't even flinch when Hearst shoved his gun to her face, not to mention, knowing that he had a bomb on his body? A part of her was telling her it was because Sara had already looked death in the eye once, so any fear the woman had of it was gone; except a bigger part of her told her that if anything, Sara should have been more terrified for her life. Any person in that situation would have been.

Anybody… but Sara, apparently.

Whatever the answers were to her pile of questions, Ava was going to get them out of Sara, whatever it took, but for her to actually do that, she first needed a way to get the woman back… back with the team, that was.

------------------------------

Ava was driving home when her thoughts had once again taken her to Sara.

These days, and to her utter bafflement and frustration, that was all she had been doing– she had been thinking of her. She couldn’t get Sara out of her stupid mind and it was getting exhausting. She had convinced herself that it was because of her desire, almost-pathological need to figure Sara out because the woman was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

She had always been drawn to things she didn’t understand. Admittedly, there weren’t much of them, but when she stumbled upon something that made her really think; if there was something that she was having a hard time solving, she wouldn’t stop until she had. It wasn’t a hobby or something to do to pass time. It was just who she was. And she would be damned if she let one puzzle in this world be left unsolved by her.

It was with that determination that Ava noticed she was on the street where Sara and Zari lived. Even from a distance, she could already see Amaya’s car parked outside, which would make sense since she gave Zari a lift home. As soon as she passed by, she saw Sara’s car was parked a few feet in front of Amaya’s, which meant...

She's home.

Ava shook herself off when she felt her heart jump in her chest. Not having prepared herself for what she decided earlier to do, she hit the gas before her own impulsiveness made her do something she was yet to be ready for; except for the rest of her drive, the thoughts of Sara became even stronger.

Several miles past Sara and Zari’s place, Ava abruptly pulled in to the side of the road, pulled up the hand brake, and audibly groaned as she slumped her head against the steering wheel.

“GOD DAMN IT TO HELL!”

Five minutes later, Ava made a U-turn and found herself driving back to Sara’s.

------------------------------

Ava had been sitting in her car outside of Sara’s place for ten minutes. She kept changing her mind about whether to get out of the car and walked towards the house, or drive off and just forget about the whole thing. Her adamance to do what she came here for was rooted in her apprehension that Sara might slam the door in her face and Ava would have made a fool of herself.

Ava threw her head back and once again groaned.

“A fierce leader who could take down an army and you’re having anxiety over having to face a human bonsai,” Ava said to herself, shaking her head in frustration over herself.

After five more minutes of stiffening her own resolve, she got out of her car.

"Just walk up there and talk to the woman. No big deal," Ava muttered to herself as she took steps towards the gate, anxiety brewing heavy in her stomach.

Heart slamming into her ribs, she drew in a deep breath, slowly blew it out, then rang the doorbell.

Seconds felt like an eternity for her until the gate opened to reveal Sara, looking like she had just been crying if the red, puffy eyes that were currently roving over Ava’s face, and pink nose were anything to go by.

From where she stood, she could also smell alcohol on Sara, which meant she really went to a bar after leaving HQ today like she heard her tell Davenport earlier in the interrogation room. Knowing Sara had a very high alcohol tolerance and using the amount of alcohol she drank last Friday night as a reference, she wondered just how much Sara had to drink to make her look like she drank a whole bar dry.

“Ava…”

Chapter Text

"You're kidding!" Zari exclaimed, eyes wide in a mix of disbelief and amusement.

"I wish I was, Z. He wanted to make everyone S'mores," Amaya said in between her laughs. "Ava and I had to physically restrain him from walking over to his father, the Deputy Director of the FBI, mind you, to stop him from squishing his dad's face in front of everyone."

Zari threw her head back as she let out a shout of laugh.

"Lily, of course, was mortified," Amaya stated matter-of-factly. "The Ayahuasca did come from her lab. She would have been in big trouble if Deputy Director Heywood found out she left some psychedelic tea lying around for anyone, his son no less, to take."

"God, I wish I had seen a high Nate wanting to pinch his dad because he thought he was a giant marshmallow," Zari said, laughing as she wiped a tear from her eye.

Amaya chuckled. "It was very entertaining."

Zari and Amaya both turned towards the door upon hearing the sound of the gate. After a few seconds, Sara clumsily swung the door open, fumbling on her way in.

Lifting her head up, Sara’s face broke into a grin.

“TOMAZ!” Sara exclaimed, one arm held out. “You are my best friend in the whole wide world!”

Realising something was off with Sara, Zari surged to her feet and rushed to the former's side at the door.

“God damn it, Sara! How much did you have to drink this time to get yourself drunk like this?!” Zari asked, settling Sara on the couch next to Amaya. "Jesus Christ."

Sara chuckled. "But I don't believe in–"

"Shut your mouth," Zari said firmly, cutting Sara off. "I'm not in the mood for your sass right now. You know you're drunk and yet, you still drove. You couldn't have called so I could come get you? First, you walked into a bomb zone like a fucking tourist entering a hotel, and now this? Do you have a death wish?"

Sara blinked, looking a little bit confused, her eyes glazed over.

"I think Ava asked me the same question earlier but I didn't get to answer," she confided, then hummed. "Maybe you two can ask me again tomorrow. I may have a different answer then."

When Sara made a move to stand up, Zari pointed a finger at her, speaking in admonishing tone.

“SIT YOUR WASTED ASS BACK DOWN! I'm getting you some water.”

“Okay, mom!” Sara exclaimed, throwing Zari a salute her way.

Grinning, Sara tucked a leg under her as she turned to Amaya.

“She can be so sweet and caring sometimes, I'm so lucky.”

Letting out a soft huff, Amaya placed a hand on Sara’s knee then turned her expression sober.

“We haven't had a chance to talk since we left Rockville.” A pause. “Are you okay, Sara?”

“Here. Drink this,” Zari said, handing Sara the glass of water, and sat on the coffee table in front of Amaya and Sara. When Sara only half-emptied the glass, Zari ordered, “ALL OF IT.”

“I'm fine,” Sara said, handing the glass back to Zari after she chugged the rest of the water down. “I'm perfectly fine.”

“It's okay if you're not,” Amaya said gently. “What you did today–”

“Ava already gave me an earful,” Sara said promptly, cutting Amaya off because she really didn't need another person giving her a dressing-down.

Not today. Hopefully not ever.

Amaya looked at Sara softly.

“I was going to say that what you did today was harrowing and probably draining.”

Oh, Sara thought.

“Do you want to talk about it?" Amaya asked thoughtfully. "I don't think you’ve even stopped for a moment to deal with what happened.”

“Oh, I’ve dealt with it alright,” Sara said coolly, waving Amaya off. “It’s dealt with.”

“Drowning yourself in alcohol isn’t how you deal with things like this, Sara,” Zari chided.

Sara flickered her eyes between Zari and Amaya then beamed.

“I feel like a rebellious teenage daughter being reprimanded by my moms.”

“I’m being fucking serious here,” Zari berated, standing up and walking around the coffee table, feeling the surge of emotions that she held back at HQ earlier.

Zari gestured towards Sara.

“You look like you drank yourself half to death again like you aren't already a bottle away from being a fully fledged alcoholic; all because you went ahead and did something stupid today.”

Sara let out a sharp, somewhat-resigned sigh.

“This isn’t a joke, Sara. We all could have lost you today. I could have lost you, and for what?!” Zari said in angry frustration, her voice slightly shaky. “You're the only family I have left. If you had died, I would have no one.”

Hearing the gravity of Zari’s tone and now seeing just how much her recent actions affected her best friend, Sara hastily turned towards Zari, slightly sobering up, her face suddenly serious.

“Hey! Z, hey. Come here,” she said, reaching a hand out to Zari.

Dragging the coffee table closer to the couch, Sara let Zari settle back on it, holding the latter's hand for comfort.

“You know how I can be sometimes. I just- I wasn’t thinking. Clearly, I was being stupid.”

Sara leaned in and rested her forehead on Zari’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I'm here, okay?”

Zari’s features softened at the remorse and sincerity in Sara’s voice; and knowing that Sara’s resting her forehead on her shoulder was her best friend’s version of giving, or in rare occasions, needing a hug, she said, “You’re such an asshole.”

“I know,” Sara said quietly.

After a beat, she settled back into the couch and absently started fiddling with her hands, her eyes on them.

“I’m going to say something and I know you probably don’t want to hear it but I’m going to say it anyway because you're my friend and I care about you,” Amaya said, causing Sara to lift her eyes to her.

Sara nodded.

“Risking your life like that isn't always going to be worth it,” Amaya said, her tone serious and yet, still gentle. “Endangering your safety just to make sure that a person of interest in our case, who, at the time, we weren't even certain was going to give us something important, didn’t die, wouldn't have been worth losing your life over. You almost gave everyone a heart attack, especially Ava." A pause. "You can't do something like that again, Sara.”

“You and the team do it all the time,” Sara countered promptly.

“Because we’re federal agents. We became even more aware of our mortality the day we received our badge. Risking our lives is part of our job, Sara. That’s what we signed up for when we joined the Bureau. It's us who ought to put our lives on the line in pursuit of Darhk. Not you. You shouldn't feel the need to gamble with your life just to close this case.”

Sara let out a laugh– a dry, humourless, almost-bitter laugh.

“I can't really help it, Amaya.”

“Of course you can,” Amaya stated decisively. “Your interest in the case is no bigger than any of the Legends.”

“Yes, it is,” Sara said firmly then swallowed a sudden surge of tears. “There's no one on the team who has a greater reason to throw Darhk in prison than me.”

Zari jerked her eyes at Sara with barely-hidden alarm.

“Sara...” she drawled, her tone warning, intending to stop her best friend from drunkenly blurting out something she wasn't or would never be ready to share.

“You're a civilian consultant, Sara,” Amaya stated frankly, feeling slightly frustrated over Sara's stubbornness. “You–”

Amaya was right– what happened was harrowing, but it had little to do with the fact that she almost died today because that wasn’t new to her. It was more of her being forced to deal with a circumstance that made her think of the most painful thing she had ever felt in her life.

She was exhausted– no, she was drained; not just from the events of today, but more so from having to hide two fundamental truths about her from the people whom she now considered her closest friends.

So perhaps she had been wanting to lift off some weight brought on by having to carry such huge secrets. Perhaps, deep inside, she wanted or perhaps was desperate for another person in her corner, because the next thing she knew, she was looking at Amaya straight in the eye and cutting her off with the words that had never once failed to break her heart.

“Damien Darhk had my sister killed.”

There was a heavy silence that filled the room for a few moments before Amaya found her voice, her eyes wide with a mix of surprise and bewilderment.

“Whaaat?” Amaya breathed.

“Laurel...” Sara whispered, her voice raw with tears that had once again started to swell in her throat. “She wasn’t killed in a random robbery. Darhk sent someone to kill her.”

“But… the police report. There was no evidence of foul play. Ava let me read it..” Amaya trailed off, still in disbelief. “Your testimony... you said–”

Sara closed her eyes as tears started to fall down her cheeks, shaking her head as if doing so would convince her friend of what she just disclosed.

When she opened them again, she told Amaya what she could, in excruciating details– her and Laurel getting dinner, them walking home, Turner being the one who did the actual killing, how she knew he was ordered by Darhk to kill her sister, her waking up in a hospital, her telling her dad what happened, and his decision to hide the truth from the rest of the world to keep her safe from Darhk. The only detail she left out was why exactly Darhk had Laurel killed.

By the time Sara was done, Zari was protectively holding her right hand, and Amaya, her left.

“Sara…” Amaya whispered, her own tears streaking down her cheeks. “I am so so sorry. I… I didn’t know.”

Sara huffed out a dry laugh.

“Of course you didn’t. How could you have known?”

Sara sent Amaya a reassuring smile.

“Aside from Turner and Darhk, before tonight, only five people in the world knew about what really happened that night- me, my dad, Rip, someone else, and Zari. And now, there's you.”

Sara looked at Amaya waveringly. “I won’t blame you if you tell the o–”

“Thank you for telling me,” Amaya interjected. “I know it must have been hard to share it with someone you haven’t known for long.”

“Trust me, it wasn’t hard to tell you,” Sara confided, giving Amaya a small smile.

“It's true,” Zari chimed in, nodding to herself. “It took me a little over a year after meeting her to find out. And she didn't even tell me. I figured it out myself. I had to do some hardcore sleuthing.”

Sara let out a low chuckle then turned to Amaya. “I'm sorry that I upset you.”

Amaya almost laughed.

“You just told me some painful truth and you are sorry that I’m upset? Don't mind me, okay? I cry over everything. Especially over something like this.”

Sara gave Amaya the faintest of nod.

“It’s not my story to tell or my secret to share,” Amaya said after a few moments.

“But I'm too close to the case, Amaya. I’m too involved. Unlike all of you, it’s personal to me. If I had been anyone else or if you knew the truth before I joined the team, you wouldn't want me anywhere near this case, would you?”

Amaya opened her mouth to say something then closed it again when no words came out.

"I'll tell them," Sara said after a moment. "I know Laurel's death has nothing to do with your current investigation but I should tell the team. They need to know. They deserve to; Ava, especially. Just... just not right now. Not yet."

Sara briefly ducked her head and swiftly shook it.

“What am I saying. It doesn’t matter now, anyway. I’m pretty sure I just wasted my last chance to stay on the case... On the team. You should have seen Ava when she was talking to me. She was so angry, Amaya. A lot angrier than she was when I broke protocol on our first mission together. For a quick second, I thought she was gonna attack me.”

“Okay, first of all, Ava would never hurt you. Not if you didn't attack her first. And even then, she would first attempt to get you to back off without having to hurt you. Ava doesn't tolerate violence that is uncalled for. She doesn't resort to it if the same can be avoided," Amaya stated. "Secondly, she wasn’t really angry, Sara. Just like the rest of us, she was just scared for the hostages. For you.”

Sara huffed.

“I doubt that she was. Ava... She doesn't strike me as someone who gets scared. I mean, I'm aware that she's afraid of snakes, but it's an irrational fear. Almost all of us have at least one. And I know I often get a rise out of her but taking no account of that, she seems so... collected, you know?"

Sara paused, looking contemplative for a moment.

"On our first week with you, when Alex's team was bringing in these men from their spec ops and waiting for transport... there was this one guy who seemed almost... rabid. He was cuffed with his hands in front of him. You didn't see how the whole thing went down because you, Zari, and Nate went downstairs. Anyway, he managed to wriggle himself free from Agent Harris then pulled a grenade out of the grenade pouch on Harris' tactical vest.

"While everyone else backed away in fear, pointing their guns at him as they all screamed at him not to pull the pin out, Ava weaved her way through everyone with her hands clasped behind her back, just casually walking up to the guy like she was simply window shopping. She took one look at him, Amaya. Just one look then she tilted her head a little to her right and held out her hand. Didn't say a word to him. Next thing I saw, the guy was handing the grenade back and he actually looked ashamed. You both should have seen it. It was... incredible. I've never seen anything like it."

Sara’s lips twisted in a small smile, still looking pensive.

"And don't even get me started with how highly unbothered she is by that cocksure Cole. Ava actually looks bored to death whenever he tries to get her to take his bait."

Both Amaya and Zari laughed.

"I also know that she's aware of what the other agents, male ones mostly, say behind her back. They're not nice things," Sara continued. "But Ava... she never strikes back. Instead, she settles the score by showing them exactly why she was the one who was given her rank." A pause. "I may get under her skin so easily but I can understand that. I mean, you would have to be made of stone to not be affected by my relentless attempts at driving you up the wall. I'm incredibly insufferable."

"I am overjoyed by the fact that your drunkenness hasn't damaged your self-awareness," Zari said dryly.

Amaya chuckled.

Sara rolled her eyes at Zari.

"What I'm trying to say is, Ava seems unfazed by anything else. I don’t know if she’s wired that way, if it's because of her genius brain, or if she just has stellar compartmentalisation abilities. If it’s the last one, it sure rivals mine and I thought I was the best at it.”

Amaya gave Sara a small smile, looked thoughtful for a moment, then narrowed her eyes a little as if she was gauging something.

“Ava will probably kill me for telling you this but I feel that I need to.”

Sara nodded faintly.

“The Ava you see at work isn't the Ava outside of work. Not in the things that matter, anyway.”

Sara's brows dipped. “How do you mean?”

“She’s saying lay the fuck off Ava and stop being a dick to her because she’s probably got so much going on about which we are not privileged to know,” Zari chimed in.

Amaya halfheartedly rolled her eyes at Zari and shook her head lightly, a fond smile tugging at the corners of her lips.

“I'm saying, she could really use some break. She's had a rough go. Things haven't been easy for her…” Amaya trailed off, cautious of what to say. “And lately, with this case… I know it stresses her out because it stresses me out; even Ray who we all know is the personification of positivity. Can you just imagine how stressed-out Ava might be? She's Ava.”

Sara, Amaya, and Zari all chuckled lightly.

“I mean, when you say it like that…” Sara broke off, smiling. After a beat, she said, "Is, uh, is she okay? You should probably check on her, too."

"I did. A couple of times. Even offered to stay over at her place but she turned it down. She said everything was fine. I didn't believe her for one second, but Ava... She's..." Amaya trailed off for a moment then let out a sigh. "The second she feels pushed to talk about something she doesn't want to talk about or is not ready to, she closes off; and with her, that's never a good thing. The last time, she almost–"

Amaya cut herself off when she realised what she almost let slip, then swiftly shook her head.

Sara, for her part, furrowed her brows in curiosity.

After a moment, Amaya continued.

"The point is, I'd rather wait until she was ready enough that she herself would want to initiate the talk than have her completely shut down on me and everyone. It has happened a few times before and I'm telling you, it's worse than when I first met her; and the Ava I met more than a decade ago was so... as people described her, cold. She seemed... emotionless and unfeeling. The only thing she was focused on was graduating from the Academy. Nothing else.

"The thing is, she didn't even find the training hard. I knew that the moment she reassembled a military grade gun that she watched an instructor field strip once on our first week. The guy wasn't even giving instructions as he went since we weren't at that part of the training yet. Even if we were, the gun was the kind of marksman rifle issued to the Marines and definitely not one of the weapons trainees are taught to shoot. We were just passing along the Firearms Training Unit that day. When asked when she learnt how to do it, Ava said, 'Just now, by watching you field strip it.' The instructor asked Ava to do it again, only that time, it was a competition between them. Ava asked for five seconds before they started. She just looked at the disassembled parts. Because she has high spatial intelligence, she was already field stripping and reassembling it in her mind a few times over; and because of her superior memory, she knew which part went exactly where in the gun to reassemble it. I found out about that much later, of course. You should have seen the look on the instructor's face when Ava finished first before he could even slide the charging handle back in."

Amaya laughed fondly at the memory. After a moment, she sobered.

"While the rest of us were struggling with training and feeling pressured, Ava was just letting each day pass, just... waiting to graduate. She topped every class we were in. She was so intense and that separated her from everyone, in every sense of the word; and I know that was how she wanted it to be. Half of the trainees were either in awe of her or found her weird. The other half was nearly terrified of her because the Ava more than a decade ago was the one who would hurt someone with no second thoughts; not because she was angry or seeking revenge because she didn't do either, but because she plainly believed the person rightfully deserved it and that they needed to be taught a lesson if their offence wasn't technically punishable by law. She would do it in seemingly accidental ways, too. Like during sparring or obstacle courses. That's why she wasn't kicked out of the Academy when she..." Amaya gestured an air-quote. "..accidentally broke someone's wrist, because the guy was constantly picking on another nerdy female trainee and Ava saw him shove the girl once.

"There were a few more people after him, including the guy who tripped me because I wouldn't go out with him. Months after graduation, she told me those little incidents weren't accidents at all. That's not who Ava is anymore. If she still was, on the day you almost gave her a heart attack when you pulled that clown and snake prank, she probably would have found a way to get to the rooftop and dangle you over it until your heart beat too fast that you would have fainted."

Sara nodded absently.

"I found out years later that Ava wasn't always like that. In fact, she grew up avoiding conflicts and confrontations because she hated drawing more attention to herself than what her extraordinariness was already bringing to her; not to mention, she's the daugh–"

Catching herself, Amaya cut herself off then cleared her throat, briefly looking away.

Sara and Zari, for their part, looked at each other questioningly.

"But when I met Ava," Amaya resumed, "she was dealing with something which, at the time, she didn't know how to handle well and about which I only found out two years into our friendship. It was mostly why she was who she was when I met her, but you know, in the end, it helped shape the Ava that everyone else on the team knows and loves, but you and Zari have yet to. Everything she went through moulded her to who she is now.. especially the ones that she's still trying to move on from."

"Like what?" Zari asked curiously.

Avoiding the question, Amaya said, “Ava has taken a lot more than any human should ever have to. She's the strongest person I know... but just because she can endure something, does not mean she has to withstand it. And that includes your... well, you know what mean."

Amaya paused, carefully eyeing Sara for a moment as the latter lowered her gaze, looking all the bit contrite.

"Ava doesn't get angry. Well... she used not to, but I've always believed she has lots of latent anger. Believe me, if there is anyone on this planet who has every right to rage, it's Ava. The world has given her so many reasons to, but she wouldn't allow herself to feel it... And then you came along and suddenly her once impeccable self-restraint became flawed. She seems to be in a continual fit of pique. There's something about you that just..." Amaya trailed off, regarding Sara who soon started looking at her strangely.

"What? Why are you looking at me like that?" Sara asked, quirking up a brow.

After a moment, Amaya's facial expression shifted as though she just figured something out.

Ah, shit. This is SO not good.

"As quick and fleeting as the feeling may have been," Amaya continued, ignoring Sara's question, "you have honestly evoked genuine fury in her, and I think I just found out why. For Ava's sake, I hope she never realises it herself."

Sara's brows knitted together.

"Found out what, exactly? And why do you not want Ava to realise it?"

Amaya let out a sigh then smiled a small smile at Sara.

"You don't need to know, either. Trust me, you're better off for it."

A heavy dose of curiosity lodged itself deeply in Sara's head.

A comfortable silence fell among the three of them. After a few moments, Amaya broke it.

"You're often at each other's throat... but the two of you, Sara, have a lot more in common than you both think. Ava may seem hard to understand, especially for people outside the Legends but I swear to you, she is so worth getting to know. If I hadn't been relentless in befriending her back at the Academy, if I had given up on attempting to break through to her after the first few times I tried to engage with her only to end up being stared at blankly by her before she walked away... or first 20 times, really..." Amaya said, huffing out a laugh, "I wouldn't have a best friend... someone who is more of a sister to me. Like I told you at lunch on your first day with the team, you and Ava could be such good friends. You just need to give that potential friendship a chance. I mean, you gave ours one and those you have with everyone else on the team. Why can't you do the same for Ava? Who knows what she can be to you if you just let her see the you I know you really are and not the one you project every time you're with her?"

Sara looked down again, choosing to not say anything.

"Just… please go easy on her. That just might be what gets her to actually kick your ass if you take it too far,” Amaya said half-jokingly. “And I promise you, none of us is trained enough to stop her. Not even me... and I’m a fifth-degree black belt."

Sara huffed, mentally tabling that bit of information Amaya shared about herself.

"I'm serious," Amaya said, smiling. "A few years ago, the Academy hired an instructor with a black belt in two martial arts. Or maybe it was three. I can't really remember. Either way, it doesn't matter. Ava was invited by the assistant director of the Training Division to do a demo with the instructor for the trainees. She beat him easily. The man yielded when Ava had him in a leg figure-four chokehold."

"That's awesome," Zari commented.

"That's not the most awesome part," Amaya said, feeling absolutely proud of her best friend.

Zari frowned a little. "No?"

"She dodged almost all of the guy's strikes and mostly used her shoulders and lower extremity to hit him with." A pause. "Ava had her wrists bound together behind her back the whole time. "

Zari looked at Amaya with wide eyes. "Are you serious?!"

Amaya nodded.

"Oh, that's incredible!" Zari exclaimed.

"It is," Amaya said then turned to Sara. "So, you know... just a little caveat for you, Sara."

Clearing her throat, Sara moved to untuck her leg from under her, and half-rose from the couch, hoping to stop the conversation right there before she got the urge to tell Amaya something else entirely about which she was sure the latter wouldn’t be just as accepting.

“I'm gonna fix myself some coffee.”

Amaya gently placed a hand on Sara's thigh.

“Stay here. You were fumbling your way in earlier. I’ll make you a cup. Black, two sugars, right?”

Sara shot Amaya a small smile and nodded lightly.

“I'll get something to wipe your face with,” Zari said, already on her feet. “You look like hell.”

Sara chuckled. “Thanks, asshole.”

As soon as Zari made her way to the bathroom, the doorbell rang. Amaya moved to get the gate but Sara brought up a hand, rising from the couch.

"I'll get it, Amaya. I can walk alright now."

Sara opened the door and walked over to the gate. Wiping any residual tears off her cheeks with her hands, she opened the gate, and the face that greeted her made her instantly completely sobered up and caused her heart to jump out of her chest.

*****

“Ava…” Sara said in an almost whisper, her eyes showing surprise and confusion. “Wh- What are you… What are you doing here?”

Getting caught off-balance once again by the way Sara said her name but choosing to ignore it, Ava cleared her throat.

“We didn't finish our conversation earlier and I–”

Sara briefly closed her eyes.

“Ava, please,” she pleaded hoarsely. “I'm exhausted. I'm sure you are, too.”

“We didn't finish our conversation earlier,” Ava repeated, ignoring Sara’s reply and how worn-out her tone was, “and I still have some things I would like to say, so you're going to stand there and not talk. You're going to listen to me. Am I clear?”

Defeatedly, Sara gave Ava a small nod and tore her gaze away, but not before noticing the lack of the usual sternness or intensity in Ava's eyes.

“First of all,” Ava began, “you should know that I became a federal agent because I wanted to protect people; to save lives, not to take them. I certainly would never wish that a person’s life gets taken from them.”

Ava paused to gauge if Sara was listening. The fact that she hadn't closed the door on her urged her on.

“If I wanted to get rid of you like you alluded that I did, I would have done so by convincing Rip that the two of us working together was ineffectual. It might have proven to be a difficult feat because, for a certain reason that has just become clear to me today, he was adamant that you stayed on the team. I’m quite certain, however, that he would have eventually agreed to my request. That’s how I would have gotten rid of you, not by wishing death upon you. I would NEVER ever,” she emphasised clearly, “wish for you to die just so I could rid myself of you. The fact that you thought I would... was both insulting and, quite frankly, offensive.”

“I’m sorry,” Sara said quietly, eyes still not meeting Ava’s, “I- When I said that, I wasn’t–”

“I said don't talk,” Ava demanded a little firmly, cutting Sara off and refusing to show how taken aback she was of Sara's apologising to her again. “Secondly, what you did today was careless, impuls–”

Sara nodded her head almost dismissively.

“Impulsive, extremely dangerous, not to mention, incredibly stupid,” Sara said, distinctly remembering what Ava said earlier. “Yeah, I know. You told me.”

Ava let out a resigned sigh.

“You really don't know how to do as you're told, do you?” she asked frustratingly, but the usual bite in her tone was distinctly lacking. “But yes, what you did was all that.”

Ava paused, mentally bracing herself for what she would say next.

“But… it was also incredibly brave.”

Hesitantly, Sara slowly raised her eyes to meet hers.

“Stupid but brave.”

Trying to keep her voice from shaking especially now that Sara was looking straight at her, Ava continued.

“Thirdly, I gave you a direct order because I wanted to protect everyone in the bank; people whose lives you had endangered more, b–

Letting out a frustrated sigh, Sara tore her gaze from Ava once again.

“You already told m–”

“I wanted to protect them,” Ava persisted, effectively cutting Sara off, “because that’s what I do. I've dedicated my life to protecting people, civilians especially; but more than that, I wanted to… more than that, I wanted... ” she hesitated, her heart hammering in her chest, “I wanted to protect you.”

Sara shot her head up at her, her startled gaze fixed on hers.

A moment passed and the stunned look in Sara's eyes morphed into something resembling the vulnerability she saw in her at the bar after she talked about Laurel, and something else entirely– a look that made Ava’s breath freeze in her chest.

Clearing her throat, Ava briefly ducked her head down before continuing.

“I was trying to protect you when I ordered you to stand down. You're like a sister to Rip. I'm not blind. I can see how happier he’s been since he has reconnected with you. If you had died, it would have certainly crushed him. I saw how broken he was when Miranda passed away. Like you, I also see him as a brother, and I couldn’t– wouldn’t let him go through the devastation of losing someone else he loved.”

Ava gestured a hand to Sara.

“Besides, was it not you who said just last night that we're partners now? That from now on, our lives are going to depend on us being protective of each other?”

Sara brows dipped into a furrow.

“I was being protective of you,” Ava stated when she saw Sara’s seemingly confused look.

Sara briefly lowered her gaze then lifted them back up on Ava’s, the softness and uncertainty in her eyes and voice made Ava ache.

“You're just saying that.”

Ava jutted her chin slightly, forcing more confidence into her stance despite her feeling like it was slowly being chipped away the longer she looked at Sara.

“You haven't known me for long so let me tell you one thing about me– I never say anything I don't mean. I find it both counterproductive and a waste of time to say one thing but entirely mean another. So when I’ve agreed to call us partners, it is not to appease you, at all. You and I are two people who are working in the same environment... together, for the achievement of one common goal. Logic tells me that we are, indeed, partners.”

Sara nearly, but not quite, smiled at that. Because of course, only Ava Sharpe would use logic if only to finally convince herself to call the two of them partners.

Nerd, Sara thought.

“As for my fourth point,” Ava continued, her eyes darted towards something over Sara’s shoulder, feeling increasingly anxious by the second. “I would like to say…”

She should say it. If Davenport could say it even after Sara just exposed him for what he really was, what reason could she have not to?

“I would like to say thank you.”

Brows dipped into a confused frown, Sara asked, “For what?”

“For your bravery. For saving the lives of the hostages. Hearst’s, even,” Ava said, hesitantly dragging her gaze back to Sara. “Although I wish you had done things in a different way, or not done anything at all, more so, you did risk your life today to save 26 more. All those people get to live another day because of you. So, on behalf of the Bureau, thank you, Miss Lance.”

Despite the rest of Sara’s features remaining solemn, Ava saw her eyes briefly take on a sudden gleam of suppressed laughter, probably because of how formal she went on with expressing her gratitude.

She’s probably thinking again that I’m such a huge nerd.

Ava cleared her throat, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to another.

“And lastly, I wanted to say that I’m…”

Ava found herself hesitating again, but Sara was looking at her now with a little brightness in her eyes than when she opened the gate for her, and for reason she didn’t want to think about, she wanted to be the one to clear the cloud that had been hanging over Sara’s head since Rockville, if only to see those icy blue eyes again; so without incurring more delay, Ava took a breath and cleared her throat once more.

“I’m sorry.”

“You were right to be angry,” Sara said reassuringly.

“I’m not sorry about that,” Ava hastily corrected, outraged by the thought that she was wrong in her anger.

Sara bit her lip and briefly ducked her head down, trying to hide her sudden wayward little smile caused by Ava's seemingly offended look.

“I know my anger earlier was more than justified,” Ava said matter-of-factly. “I meant, I’m sorry for…”

Ava's brows briefly drew together, her lips pursing involuntarily.

“Earlier, in my office, when I… you thought… and then you… I wouldn't... That wasn't… I didn’t even realise that...”

Ava knew she was fumbling. She knew she was mincing her words and she never minced her words, so she was growing increasingly frustrated by the minute over her being such a nervous mess in front of Sara.

Sara couldn’t help but huff out a quiet laugh.

She seems nervous.

“Is there a chance you could finish that sentence with words and context that I might be able to understand?” Sara teased lightly.

Sara’s teasing tone gave Ava the push she didn’t even know she needed from her.

“I’m sorry if it seemed like I was going to physically attack you. I swear I wasn’t,” Ava said earnestly. “You have nothing to fear from me. I would never hurt you. I do not condone unwarranted, unprovoked violence.”

Sara almost laughed.

You couldn’t hurt me even if you tried.

Sara nodded.

“I know you wouldn’t. And for the record, I wasn’t– am not scared of you, and even if you did want to attack me, I probably would have let you. God knows I deserve it for what I put you through today.”

“No, you don’t,” Ava said instantly. “And you don’t believe in God.”

Sara let out a weak chuckle. “Yeah, no,” she said, shaking her head. “I just meant… It’s an expression.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You already said you were,” Sara said matter-of-factly. “And you shouldn’t even be apologising in the first place.”

“No, I know. Not for that. I mean…” Ava broke off. “I’m sorry about… about what happened to you.. you know… before.”

Ah, that.

Sara gave Ava a nod. “You must have questions.”

Of course Ava had questions. She had a lot of it and the more she thought she knew an answer to one, it just led her to have even more.

“I don’t,” Ava said firmly and without hesitation, prompting Sara to mockingly quirk up an eyebrow. “Okay, yes. I do. Of course, I have questions, but it’s not my business, and unless you want to tell me, which I highly doubt you would ever, I have nothing to say about it.”

It took a beat of still silence before Sara nodded, then looked away.

“Are you okay?” Ava asked in a gentle voice, surprising both herself and Sara, judging by how her eyes shot up to her. “In my… state earlier, I didn’t even ask how you were, considering what you went through in Rockville.” She paused. “So are you?... Okay, I mean. Are you okay?”

Sara almost chuckled at how Ava absently put her hands in front of her and started picking at the skin around her nails. Not wanting to increase Ava’s apparent anxiety, Sara shot her a reassuring smile.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Ava looked at her sceptically.

“You–” she said, vaguely motioning across Sara's face, “This doesn't look fine.”

Realising that Ava obviously noticed she had been crying, Sara scrambled for an excuse- a poor one, at that.

“Oh, this?” she said, pointing to her face, then waved Ava off. “This- it's an allergy. I'm allergic, you see.”

Sara saw Ava's silent To what? on her face.

“I'm allergic to…” Ducking her head, too quietly for anyone to hear, Sara said, “Feelings.”

Ava just stared at her.

“Are YOU okay?” Sara asked, lifting her eyebrows. “Earlier, it seemed to me that there was more to it than just you being angry.”

Ava drew in a quick, quiet breath, unprepared for the question.

“Yeah! Yes, of course, I'm fine,” she said assuringly, trying her best to sound convincing. “It was just, you know… It’s been a long, stressful day, that’s all.”

Sara eyed Ava dubiously but decided not to push, remembering what Amaya said.

“Hostage situations do have a pesky way of dampening someone’s mood,” Ava said jokingly, biting back a smile. “It’s a bummer, really.”

At Ava’s choice of words, Sara’s eyes widened a little, then she laughed.

“I- That was a terrible joke,” Ava said as she ducked her head down, nervously chuckling, her face suddenly feeling hot. “I’m so sorry.”

“I mean, it was a little ill-timed, yeah, but I'm not complaining,” Sara said, holding up her hands. “Until now, I didn’t even know you had a sense of humour.”

Ava shot Sara her trademark glare.

“There she is,” Sara said, unconsciously smiling softly at Ava.

Ava briefly looked away as something flapped inside her at the way Sara was looking at her. Despite the confusion it brought, she dragged her head back up when Sara cleared her throat and spoke again.

“Earlier, with Davenport… what I said to him… when I was... You know, about…” Sara trailed off, hesitating.

Why the fuck am I suddenly so nervous?

“Is there a chance you could finish that sentence with words and context that I might be able to understand?” Ava lightly teased back, using Sara's exact same words.

Sara huffed out a laugh.

“I didn’t really mean it. I... uh, I felt that I had to say it. But still.. I shouldn't have.”

It took a moment for Ava to realise that Sara was referring to her saying she sucked the fun out of everything.

Oh.

Ava shrugged, ignoring the little flip her stomach did.

“Zari was prompt to jump to your defence.”

Sara quirked an eyebrow, smiling a little. “Was she, now?”

Ava nodded, huffing out a laugh. “Mm-hmm. Very.”

“Well, okay, then. See you again,” Ava said, slowly stepping back after a few moments of awkward silence with her and Sara just staring at each other.

“Or not,” she hastily amended, not really fully expecting for Sara to still want to return to work with them– with her, after everything that had gone today, even though she already said everything she wanted Sara to hear.

“It’s up to you.”

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Amaya and Zari were facing each other on the couch, one leg tucked underneath them, and an arm resting on the back of the couch, their fingertips almost touching.

“Thank you for telling me, Z,” Amaya said, looking at Zari with too much softness that made the latter want to just snatch her into her arms.

Walking back in from the bathroom and as soon as she settled on the couch, Amaya not-so-subtly asked her about her family. Without delving into unnecessary details, Zari told her what happened to each member of her family– how her brother died when she was young, and then a few years later, both her parents.

After a moment of comfortable silence between them, Amaya spoke.

“You were wrong, you know?”

“I don’t know what about, but I highly doubt that,” Zari said teasingly. “I'm never wrong.”

Amaya grabbed a throw and chucked it at Zari, both of them giggling.

“What you said to Sara… that if she had died, you wouldn't have anybody...?” Amaya said, letting Zari know what exactly she meant. “That's not true. You have Ava now. And Ray, Nate, Gideon, Rip, and Lily.”

Bridging the tiniest space between their hands, Amaya clamped hers over Zari’s.

“You've got me, Z. Always. We all can be your family, too… if you want. The Legends... even before Rip formed the task force, we were already a family. You and Sara… both of you are one of us now.”

Zari turned to look at their touching hands. Gently turning hers over and linking her fingers with Amaya’s, she thought that if there would ever be a right moment to dive in and just finally ask Amaya out, this was it; whether she said yes or no, was not up to her. If she said no, at least Zari could tell herself that she tried; that she put herself out there.

With her heart racing, she held Amaya’s gaze then took a deep breath.

“Amaya, I–”

Zari cut short whatever she was going to say, and like Amaya, almost jumped in her seat when the door opened, their fingers quickly unlinking.

Impeccable timing there, asshole, Zari thought, already strangling her best friend in her head for interrupting her moment.

“Who was that?” Zari asked as soon as Sara walked back into the house.

“Ava,” Sara said flatly, making her way over to the fridge.

“Ava?” Both Amaya and Zari echoed simultaneously, untucking their legs from under them to turn to Sara, a twin look of surprise on their faces.

“Uh, why was she here?” Zari asked, her eyebrows quirked up in avid curiosity. “What did she say?”

Sara chugged a glass of water down before answering.

“She said she wasn’t sorry for getting angry today,” she said flippantly, then turned to Amaya. “You staying over tonight?”

“Oh,” Amaya exclaimed, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “Uh, no. I'll be on my way a bit later.”

“Okay then,” Sara said then walked towards her room. “I’ll see you guys in the morning.”

“Wait, even me?” Amaya asked expectantly. “You’ll see me tomorrow?”

Sara turned to face Amaya and Zari, a mix of puzzlement and amusement on her face.

“Uh, yes?”

“You mean at work, right? You’ll see me? And the rest of the team? At work?”

Sara huffed out a laugh. It occurred to her that if Ava was not expecting for her to return to the Bureau tomorrow, perhaps the rest of the Legends weren't either.

Wanting to put at least one of her teammates at ease, she said, “Yes, Amaya. I’ll see you all at work tomorrow.” And then just because she couldn’t help herself, she sobered and asked, “Why, should I not? Because if that’s th–”

“Oh, no, no, no, no,” Amaya cut Sara off, half-rising out of the couch. “Of course I’ll see you in the morning. I mean, why wouldn’t I? It’s workday tomorrow,” she said, trying to get the excitement and relief out of her voice.

She had been almost convinced that Ava and Sara’s talk earlier had ended up in another screaming match between them and that it was very likely that her best friend had permanently kicked Sara out of the team because of the gravity of what she did today.

“We have work.”

Sara hummed, holding back a smile. “Good night, Zamaya.”

“Zamaya?” Amaya asked, her brows slightly furrowed.

“Your ship name,” Sara said teasingly. “Zari and Amaya.”

Sara turned towards her door, hearing both Zari and Amaya bit out a Yaasss!, and what sounded like a high five.

------------------------------

Now settled in her bed after taking a quick shower, Sara was on her phone, her thumb hovering over the name she had for Ava, and had been debating with herself for the last several minutes whether to text her or not.

As evasive as Amaya may have been about certain specific things with regard to Ava, what she said to her gave her additional insight into the agent, and she would be lying if she said she wasn't at least curious. Ava had just become even more interesting to her and it seemed that the other woman just keep on surprising her.

Ava’s coming by her place was, to say the least, unexpected; and her saying those things to her… She didn’t even know how to start describing how she felt about it.

Ava had called her brave, told her she wanted to protect her, agreed to them being partners, and said thank you– none of those things she had expected from her. Ever.

More than that, Ava had expressed compassion for what happened to her nine years ago. If there was one thing she had expected from her telling Ava about what happened, it was to be bombarded with questions about it. She had known her long enough now to figure out that the woman did not like leaving things unanswered; and yet, Ava respected her unspoken desire to not be questioned about what she confided to her.

She was also completely taken aback by the gentleness with which Ava asked her if she was okay. Until tonight, she didn’t know she was capable of bringing out any emotion from her that wasn’t negative, but the way Ava had spoken to her, especially towards the end… it told her another thing.

There was also something in Ava’s expression that made her own warnings which she had told herself many years ago to always heed, tolled in one part of her mind, while another part told her to take it as it was– a whit of warmth and perhaps softness towards someone who grieves another– the effect of which still had her reeling.

It was also not lost on her how much it probably took for Ava to come and say everything she had if the nervous energy she felt from her was anything to go by.

Sara huffed out a quiet laugh at the memory.

That was another thing that surprised her tonight; another revelation. She didn't think Ava was the kind of person who got anxious or nervous, and yet tonight, she felt Ava's anxiety and nervousness radiating off of her, so strongly that it was impossible to miss.

So perhaps she and Ava had come to an unspoken truce tonight; an unwritten armistice that could run while they solve the case. Perhaps it was high time she stopped being a dick to her and whatever it was that Ava had somehow spurred in her would be better left unrealised.

Because after everything that happened today… with her taking that leap to tell Ava something only her father, Nyssa, Rip, and Zari knew- with that level of trust she put on Ava who seemed to have softened a little around her edges… what could possibly go wrong?

Without giving herself a chance to change her mind, Sara took a deep breath then huffed it out, unlocked her phone and typed a few messages.

------------------------------

Ava had just gotten back in her room and was getting ready for bed when she remembered that she had not checked her phone since she left HQ. Taking it out of her purse, she snorted out a laugh at the name displaying on the screen.

Sara sent her a few messages sometime after she left her place judging by the time stamps.

    Human Bonsai: i 4got 2 say something b4 u left

    Human Bonsai: thank u

    Human Bonsai: and soz

    Human Bonsai: 4 what i put u and the team thru today

    Human Bonsai: and 4 making u cry if i was the one who caused it

Ava frowned a little. She thought she did a good job at hiding the fact that she cried her heart out before walking into the Console Room; even Amaya, who was just next to her didn’t notice. But apparently, Sara’s deductive skills extended to people even when she had barely looked at them.

When did Sara even have time to observe her when she was so engrossed in figuring out what Davenport’s connection to Darhk was?

With an involuntary small smile playing around the corners of her lips, Ava typed out her replies.

    I didn’t cry.
    Apology accepted.

Not even a minute later and her phone buzzed.

    Human Bonsai: oh sure, of course. u didnt cry the same way i didnt walk into a bomb zone today. okay

    Human Bonsai: also im glad u finally figured out what soz means haha

Ava halfheartedly rolled her eyes. She shook her head and put her phone down on her bedside table, muttering to herself.

“Jerk.”

Chapter Text

The whole team was gathered in the conference room the following morning for a briefing called by Rip when Amaya and Zari walked in together, laughing about something.

“Alright, now that everyone’s here...” Rip began, looking around everyone, then his eyebrows dipped into a frown. “Where is Sara?”

Zari opened her mouth to answer just as the door to the conference room suddenly opened, causing everyone’s head to turn towards it.

Seeing that every pair of eyes was on her, Sara stopped mid-step.

“Uh, what's going on?" she asked, looking mildly confused. "I didn't do anything, I swear.”

Because she really didn't want to fuck anything up this very early in the morning and too soon after she and Ava just h–

“Sara,” Rip said curtly, cutting off Sara's thought. “You’re almost late.”

Oh.

“I was in the break room because I am in dire need of more coffee,” Sara stated dramatically, walking over to the table, then pulled out the empty seat next to Zari and right across from Ava, “but some monster of a person broke our coffee maker.”

Nate held up one hand and put the other on his chest, shaking his head.

“Hand to God, it wasn’t me this time.”

“This time?” Zari repeated. “Just how many times have you broken the coffee maker?”

“Once.”

“Three times,” Ray said, holding up three fingers.

Nate gasped as he turned to Ray. “Ray! The betrayal!”

As Ray and Nate went on bickering, Sara winced, bringing a hand up to her temple, then started massaging it with her fingertips.

“Head’s killing you, huh?” Zari commented mockingly. “Serves you right for your nth attempt at death by alcohol poisoning.”

“Pfft!” Sara exclaimed, waving Zari off. “I was hardly buzzed.”

“Yeah? I see,” Zari said sarcastically. “I couldn’t tell by the way you came home last night smelling like a wholeass distillery.”

“I will have you know,” Sara countered defensively, holding up a finger, “that Leonard accidentally spilt his beer on me when we were making ou–”

Sara cut herself off when Zari lifted her eyebrows up in question, then turned her body towards her so she was now facing her better.

“Leonard, huh?” Zari asked curiously. “I mean, he’s charming, I guess. And not the least subtle about his interest in you. You left HQ early and you came home pretty late. Did you spend all those hours making out?”

“What? No! Don’t be ridiculous,” Sara replied dismissively. “We played cards in his office in the back.”

“Oh, playing cards?” Zari echoed teasingly. “Is that what the kids are calling it these days?”

Sara rolled her eyes, her gaze landing on Ava whom she had been deliberately trying not to look at since she walked into the room because for some reason, having to face the agent was making her a little nervous.

When she got in earlier and saw that Ava was already at her desk probably checking her emails as she usually did first thing, she made a beeline for the break room when she felt anxiety creeping up her stomach... and she was not the kind of person who got anxious. Ever.

And now, Ava was looking at her with the slightest of frown on her face; one that only lasted for a fleeting moment before her features flickered back to neutral, then she looked away.

She chalked it up to Ava being tired and sleep-deprived. She knew the other woman did not sleep well the night before judging by her slightly puffy eyes and the dark crescents underneath them that left her almost looking a bit bruised.

Ava’s whole vibe was also startlingly off and she was vainly trying to ignore the tiny voice in her head telling her that this was all her doing; that despite the two of them somewhat silently laying the events of yesterday to rest last night, Ava was still dealing with it, it seemed.

A horrible pang of guilt had once again settled in her chest.

Mentally shaking herself off, she took her gaze off Ava and turned to Rip.

“Oh, shall I proceed?” Rip asked sardonically, looking around the table. “I wasn’t sure if you people needed more time for your squabbles.”

For the next 20 minutes, the team talked about the recent development on the case, with Sara’s eyes trained on Ava, only looking away whenever Rip would call her attention or if there was anything about which she wanted to have a say.

At one point, Rip asked Zari and Gideon about the progress on the decryptor; both of whom said that they were working to decrypt another subfolder.

When Ray mentioned that at least they had now one less problem if one or more ciphers happened to be in the file since Sara knew how to translate them, Rip thoughtlessly asked her how she could read it.

Sara gave him a look that told him it was something she didn’t want to talk about in front of the whole team.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ava shift in her seat; probably itching to ask– no, demand on knowing as she had on Monday, but for some reason that made her feel more agitated and curious than relieved, Ava said nothing about it.

The team agreed that they would not arrest Petersen until after they knew what Davenport had to say, as doing so might tip off Darhk and his men and they just couldn’t risk their next mission; one which Rip was currently tasking Ava to plan.

Sara, for her part, had been watching Ava who could very well bore a hole into the table by how hard she was staring at it for the past several minutes.

Every once in a while, she saw Ava’s brows slightly draw together, her throat bob, or her lips twitch. She knew the agent was so lost in whatever thoughts that were running through her head because if she wasn’t, she could have at least felt someone staring at her, but Ava hadn’t even lifted her gaze off the table.

As the minutes passed, it was starting to bother her with increasing frequency that Ava looked…

Sad.

She looks so sad.

“Ava…” Rip said, calling Ava’s name for the second time and louder than the first, pulling both Sara and Ava out of their own thoughts.

Sara quickly tore her eyes away before Ava could catch her staring.

“Huh? I’m sorry. What was that, sir?”

“I was saying you can start planning how this team will go about with your next mission.”

“Yes, of course. We’ll get right to it after we hear Davenport’s statement.”

Rip took a brief moment to take in Ava.

“Are you feeling well, Ava?" he asked, worry seeping into his voice. "You’re alarmingly peaked.”

“Yes, I’m fine. I just- I haven’t had much sun, as of late.”

Rip went on about with briefing the team but not before eyeing Ava sceptically, which told Sara he didn’t quite believe the agent when she said she was fine. The worried tone in Rip’s voice that she only ever heard him use whenever he was worried about her, was also very telling.

Surreptitiously, Sara lifted her gaze back to Ava in time to see Amaya lean into her best friend. When their exchange seemed to be over, Ava dragged her gaze from Amaya to her.

She consciously shifted her expression to one with her brow quirked up and a hint of challenge in her eyes, expecting to get some sort of reaction from the agent, but to her surprise and puzzled confusion, Ava just stared at her, her face a blank wall of stoicism, and then she tore her gaze away to turn to Rip.

For the rest of their briefing, Ava seemed to have been intently listening to Rip. She, however, spent it staring at Ava; her curiosity about the agent's odd aura and behaviour building up.

After all points were discussed, Rip turned to Sara.

“Sara, you’ll be meeting with our resident psychologist today. Her name is Dr Kendra Saunders. Nate will take you to her.”

“Uh, why?” Sara asked, confused.

“Because you might not know where her office is,” Rip answered, holding back a smile knowing exactly that it wasn't what Sara meant.

Sara rolled her eyes. “I meant, why do I need to meet with a shrink?”

“Because,” Rip said, already making his tone firmer as he was aware of Sara’s aversion towards counselling, “I ordered a psych eval for you.”

“What in the hell for?!” Sara asked defensively, her voice rising a little. “You know damn well I detest having to sit in front of someone who is literally paid to listen to you talk and then expects you to open up to them like you’re best friends or something. I don’t even tell Zari how I feel and she’s my best friend. I don't like dealing with shrinks, Rip. You know that.”

Nate held up a finger and opened his mouth to say something in time for Sara to cut him off.

“In a professional setting, Nate,” Sara clarified. “I'm fine with you as long as you don't use your shrink-y stuff or psycho-babble me. Besides, don't you mostly work on psychopaths and sociopaths? I'm not either.”

"Eh," Zari voiced out, shrugging her shoulders. "Debatable."

Sara turned to Zari. "Shut up, Z."

“Sara,” Nate chimed in, “You went through something traumatic yester–”

“I’m fine!” Sara snapped, cutting Nate off. "I've actually never felt better!"

“The psych report will tell us that then,” Nate countered. “You had a brush with death yesterday. You could have died–”

Sara laughed dryly then muttered under her breath, her voice too low she was sure nobody would hear it.

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

She had to laugh. If she needed to have a psych eval every time she went through something traumatic or found herself in a situation where she could have died, she would have made one psychologist a very rich man in her first six months with the League alone.

“Sorry,” Sara apologised halfheartedly when Nate looked at her strangely when she laughed.

She turned to Rip, looking at him meaningfully, silently telling him something his teammates would have no way of knowing.

“You know I don’t need to get counselled for almost dying.”

“Sara,” Ray said, his voice gentle. “We know you’re tough, but there’s nothing wrong with telling someone how you feel about what you went through.”

Zari chuckled.

“You obviously don’t know Sara very well, Ray. She's allergic to feelings that's why she doesn’t like talking about them. She gets hives every time she’s forced to,” she said jokingly.

“What does she have to lose?” Ray asked.

“My time,” Sara said sharply. “My voice. And more importantly, my patience.”

“That’s enough,” Rip said impatiently. “Sara, if you ready don't want to take the psych eval, then don't. I'm not forcing you to, but you can say goodbye to joining the team out in the field. You must understand, I can't have you out there with them when I'm not certain you're in the right state of mind. It's for your own and your whole team's safety.”

Rip held up a finger when Sara opened her mouth to say something.

“If you choose to take the psych eval, you’ll be back on missions with your team once Dr Saunders has cleared you. Otherwise, you’re HQ-based indefinitely.”

Sara briefly closed her eyes then ground her teeth together, stifling the anger she was now feeling, her hands balling into fists.

“Fine!!” she exclaimed petulantly, folding her arms over her chest. “What exactly does an FBI psych eval entail?”

“Well,” Nate answered matter-of-factly, “basic assessment of your behaviour, attitude, m–”

“Behaviour? Attitude?” Sara echoed sharply. “Well, shit, I’m telling you now I'm gonna flunk this evaluation; if one can even flunk that sort of test.” A pause. “Most people have problems with my behaviour and attitude.”

“Well, at least she’s still self-aware,” Zari commented dryly.

Nate ignored both Sara’s and Zari’s remark.

“You’re gonna take a structured written test and an interview. You tell Dr Saunders what happened in Rockville. You answer whatever question she may have.”

After a beat, Sara let out a frustrated sigh. “That’s it?”

“And essentially…” Nate amended, “talk about feelings.”

Sara audibly groaned as she threw her head back. “Oh, for the love of fuck!”

Turning to Rip, she held up a finger.

“I’m going to meet with this shrink and take the stupid test, but I'm not talking about feelings or whatever bullshit you expect me to share with her. I’d rather be taken hostage and get blown up to hell than do that,” Sara said flippantly, causing everyone to shoot her a glare, except Ava whom she saw from her peripheral view take on a surprised look.

Seeing the look on their faces, Sara scrunched her face up a little. “Too soon?”

“Ya think?!” Zari asked sarcastically, then muttered under her breath, "Dick.”

“That’s settled, then,” Rip said, standing up, then turned to Ava. “Meet me in my office in 30 minutes. We’ll go meet with the US Attorney.”

“Yes, sir.”

"Sara," Rip said after everyone had stood up, "Do you have a minute?"

“Can I say no?” Sara said cheekily, settling back in her seat.

Rip threw Sara an exasperated look. He waited until the rest of the Legends had left before he spoke again.

"When Laurel was prosecuting Darhk, I knew she had gotten her hands on something that would have put him away. I just didn't know what it was exactly. Nobody did, except for your sister."

When Sara didn't say anything but just gave a slight nod, he continued.

"When we talked at my place, I didn't know that you were aware of what it was. It was alluded to me yesterday by Zari that it has something to do with Darhk's past about which none of the Legends, myself included, knew. I need you to tell me how Laurel knew Damien Darhk isn't his real name."

Sara drew in a deep breath then sighed.

"If I tell you this, promise me you won't tell the team."

Rip shook his head lightly. "Sara, listen–"

"I'll tell them myself," Sara said decisively, cutting Rip off. "But first, I need to talk to the person concerned, because there is one, and ask them if they want to be involved in this investigation in any way." Quirking up her brows, she said, "Promise me... or I won't tell you anything."

After mulling it over for a moment, Rip sighed defeatedly.

"I give you my word."

"There isn't a camera or an audio transmitter in here, is there?" Sara asked, looking around the room.

Rip shook his head.

"Laurel didn't find something," Sara said after a moment. "She found someone."

"Who?"

"She found Darhk's daughter," Sara said almost immediately. "Or Darhk's daughter found Laurel, more to the point. She heard about her father's trial and wanted to help Laurel put him away."

Hearing of Darhk's daughter, Rip's brows dipped into a confused frown.

"Eleanor Darhk? That's impossible. She's dead. As is Ruvé, Darhk’s wife. They have been dead way before Darhk even stood trial."

"You thought they were dead. So did everyone... until Darhk's daughter proffered herself to Laurel.”

Rip shook his head, oblivious.

“How can I say this…” Sara said thoughtfully. “Darhk is a psychopath, right? Or a sociopath. Still unclear about the difference. Anyway, as it turned out, from what I heard from his daughter, he may have loved his family in his own sick, twisted way. I doubt that he did but anyway... As much as he seemed to have loved them, his wife couldn't handle what he had been up to. At the time, he was already starting to become the monster that you all know he is today. Em– Nora- that's Eleanor’s childhood nickname, she was just a kid. Ruvé didn't want her to grow up in a criminal environment.

"She wanted to get away from Darhk but was too scared to leave. He would have looked for them to the ends of the earth if they left. Ruvé tried once but he caught them, saying the only thing that would separate them was death. So that gave her the idea. She faked her own and her daughter’s death, changed their names, and went away. If Darhk believed they were dead, then he wouldn't come looking for them."

"So they've been alive this whole time?" Rip asked in disbelief. "If Darhk's wife went to great lengths to fake her and their daughter's death to start a new life, why did the daughter seek Laurel out? Why risked her freedom from his father after all those years?"

"Her mother died a few weeks before the news of Darhk's arrest broke. Nora wanted to honour her by making sure her father went to jail for his crimes. Ruvé knew the insides of Darhk's old operations when she was still living with him. She had also been made aware of his past. Nora knew a little too since she was already 13 when she and her mother left. Her statements would have driven home Darhk's sure conviction. That's why she was willing to come out in public. With Laurel gone, she didn't want to testify, scared that her father might go after her since..."

Sara trailed off, looking pensive for a moment.

"I always thought Nora had a feeling that her father had something to do with Laurel's death, so when I brought it up, she said she wasn't surprised. I didn't even have to go into details. She just took my word for it. That's why she didn't go through with testifying. She thought that if his father got to Laurel, there was nothing that could have stopped him from going after whoever would have taken over the case, too. Or bribing them. Nora went to Laurel because she knew my sister couldn't be bought." A pause. "And so Darhk walked."

Rip looked thoughtful.

"You said Darhk's wife changed their names. To what? And where's Nora now?"

"I can't tell you that."

"Sara–"

"Look, Rip," Sara said dismissively, cutting him off. "I knew about Nora because the first thing I did after Laurel's funeral was go straight to her place. I wanted to be the one to clear her things away. She... she liked her stuff handled a certain way."

Sara paused to swallow the lump that lodged itself in her throat.

"She had this hidden compartment in her home office. I found the files she had on Nora and those Nora had giver her, and I kept them all. When I decided to go after Darhk, I went to look for her. I sought her out. She trusted Laurel so she trusted me. I went to see her again after I came back from the League and I wanted to haunt Darhk down. I was hoping she had learnt things about her father during the time I was gone. Over the years, we became friends; stayed friends even after I stopped looking for her father. I didn't even intend on bringing up anything that might lead us to her but when I saw those bank deposits yesterday, I knew I had to if I wanted Davenport to tell us anything.

"I gave Nora my word that no one will know who she really is, what name she's been using, or where she is. I don't break my promises, Rip, which is why I'm not going to break the one I made to her. Not even for you. She's terrified of her father. This isn't about me or my reluctance to share what my real connection with Darhk is with the team. This is about Nora, okay? You're talking about her freedom from Darhk; her life, even. I'm not going to risk it unless she wants to be a part of all this. Who knows what that psychopath might do to Nora if he finds out she and her mother duped him."

"She could help us, you know?" Rip said, his tone hopeful.

"I'll reach out to her, alright?" Sara said reassuringly. "She doesn't even know yet that I'm working with the FBI to stop her father's nefarious plan. If she agrees to be involved, you'll be the first to know and then I'll tell the team. Until then, keep your promise."

"Fine, then," Rip said. After a beat, he asked, “Those ciphers Ray spoke of... the ones Darhk used.. How did you know how to read it?”

It took a moment for Sara to reply. “We both learnt it in the same place.”

“Where?” Rip asked, his brows deeply furrowed. “I can't possibly imagine you and him having more than one connection.”

"Before Darhk became the crime lord that he is now, he was something else first." A pause. "He was an assassin."

Rip lifted his brows and slightly craned his head forward, unsure if he heard Sara right.

"I beg your pardon? Because I could have sworn I heard you say Darhk was an assassin."

Sara took a deep breath then blew it out. “You're gonna need to sit back down for this.”

Sara told Rip the abridged version of how Ra’s was the head of the League of Assassins when she joined them, and that he and Darhk grew up together and were raised by the man whose father formed the organisation. It was in the League where Kenneth Bender became “Damien Darhk”. As they were growing up, both Darhk and Ra’s were being groomed so that one of them would inherit the leadership of the League when the time came.

“Hang on one second,” Rip said, holding up a hand, his expression showed utter confusion. “How exactly does one become a member of the League? Is it the same with how some governments make their assassins? By faking people's death? Usually criminals on death row?”

“They mostly choose orphans or strays from all over the world- those whom no one would miss because they had no one. The League trains them young; that way, their sense of loyalty is infallible. If the recruits are younger than 18, the leader waits until they reach that age before he orders them to be reprogrammed. Otherwise, their brain might not be strong enough to withstand the harrowing process. But by then, they will have already spent time with the League. There's already loyalty built there. And them being young... they're still very much impressionable. That's why the programming of those I trained with wasn't as intense, extensive, and painful as mine. Not even close."

Sara shook her head emphatically to ward off the memories of her programming before they could pull her in a spiral she did not want to start slipping down.

"But yeah," she resumed, "until they reach 18, the recruits mostly did combat and spy training.”

Rip’s silent question hung heavy in the room.

“I was 21 when Nyssa took me to their base. I wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms. In fact, Ra's considered executing me right then, but Nyssa appealed to him. He eventually agreed on the condition that if I failed any of my training, I'd be… well, killed. Because I knew they existed, they couldn’t just let me walk out their door.”

“He agreed just like that? Nyssa has that too strong of sway over this Ra's that he agreed to take you in?”

“Yeah,” Sara said matter-of-factly, “because... Ra’s full name is Ra’s al Ghul. Nyssa is his daughter. She’s in line to take over the League's leadership when the time comes.”

Rip briefly closed his eyes and brought up a finger, pressing it against the bridge of his nose.

“I’m starting to re-think my thanking this Nyssa woman.”

“She saved my life, Rip,” Sara said, a sombre tone in her voice. “And not just on the night Turner shot me. Ra’s is a cruel man. I told you before that he was a lot harder on me than anyone else during my training and even after. To him, I was never really one of them. I was always the outsider. It didn't matter to him that I eventually outskilled every trainee before me and even his seasoned operatives. Whatever happened to me in the League, everything I went through while I was with them, it was a little easier because I had Nyssa. Despite what became of me, I will always owe her my life.”

It took a moment before Rip gave Sara a slight nod.

“What happened with Darhk? I assume he left the League…?”

“Not right away,” Sara confided. “Because Darhk had become a powerful figure within the League, unlike the ordinary operatives, he could leave their base as he wished, live among the rest of the world, and do as he pleased. The only thing he wasn’t allowed to do was create a family. The League strictly prohibits anything that might cause a divide in the loyalty of its members. Unknown to the League, Darhk did exactly that.

“At one point, after the leader died, Ra’s took over the League, because not only was Darhk significantly absent for most of the years prior to the former leader’s death, but Ra’s also bested him in combat- that’s how they determine who the next leader is. It was supposed to be a fight to the death. That has been the tradition because the League's founder wanted to avoid any possibility of uprising led by the loser. That would definitely cause a divide within the organisation."

"I hate to state the obvious but... why is Darhk still alive if he lost to Ra's?" Rip asked curiously.

"Because Darhk is a snake," Sara said coldly. "Without the knowledge of the former leader, Ra’s, and half of the operatives, Darhk had rounded up those who were loyal to him days before the fight. On the day, when it looked like Darhk was losing and was about to be killed by Ra’s, those operatives stepped in and they all broke out of the base, but not before a fight and losing a number of operatives on both sides." A pause. "Turner was one of Darhk's loyalists. This all happened before Darhk was put to trial; the one Laurel was prosecuting. He got apprehended a few months after he came back from the base.

“The League also later found out that the reason Darhk seldom came back to the base all those years prior to determining who the next leader would be, was that he once had a family and was forming what is now the criminal organisation he leads. He wanted to win the leadership of the League because he was hoping to use the whole organisation to expand his criminal ventures. Can you imagine what would have happened if he had an entire group of highly-trained assassins at his command? Whatever he's planning now could have been executed years ago. He could very well be running this country now.”

“So Darhk creating a family, breaking out some of the League's operatives, killing some of those loyal to it in the process, and creating a different organisation... Those were the betrayal Nyssa told you about?”

Sara nodded.

“Among others, yes. Like I told you, back then I didn’t know the depth of Darhk’s connection with Ra’s. After Darhk left and before Nyssa and I met, she and the League hadn’t known for long about the criminal organisation Darhk created while he was out of their base.

"They had no reason to suspect or keep tabs on him whenever he left because according to Nyssa, he was one of the most loyal members of the League and the strongest believer in their vision; not to mention, he, together with Ra’s, was the second highest figure in the League. They only found out when Ra’s sent her and some other operatives after Darhk and those who left with him.

"In the League, Rip, you swear an oath. As long as you’re alive, they own you. Ordinarily, there is no getting out. There are only two ways for you to leave it– by being released or by death. Neither Darhk or the operatives were released by Ra’s so he was seeking for their deaths.”

“You said for an operative to be free from the League, they should either be released or die?” When Sara nodded, Rip continued. “So this Ra’s… he released you then?”

Sara ducked her down and took a moment, distinctly remembering what it took to get Nyssa to release her.

“Although release is one of the two ways to be free of the League, Ra’s had never exercised that option before. Neither did the previous two leaders.” A pause. “I was the first one. Nyssa released me. In his name.”

“From everything you’ve told me about the League so far, it seems to me that they don’t take releasing an operative lightly. So why did Nyssa release you?”

“It’s not important right now,” Sara said as she shook her head. “What’s important is that I think I know what Genesis is. I think I know Darhk’s endgame. It didn't occur to me until I woke up this morning.”

“What?”

And so Sara told him.

“Oh, dear God,” Rip said after Sara was finished talking, hand up to his mouth. “The Legends need to know about this, Sara. I’m sorry, but you can’t expect your whole team to stop Darhk’s plan without them knowing what it is exactly that they need to stop.”

“I know,” Sara said dejectedly. “I’ll tell them at the briefing tomorrow. I just need a little time to figure out what to tell them, especially Ava, because she’s gonna ask how I got my hands on that information.”

Rip looked pensive for a few moments and then shook his head.

“I can’t believe I put you right back in the path of that psychopathic maniac who also happens to be a highly-trained assassin. He's even more dangerous than I thought.”

“So am I,” Sara stated, her voice suddenly hard.

Getting a look from Rip, Sara narrowed her eyes a little.

“I know what you’re thinking. You can take me off the team if that’s what you want but that’s not gonna stop me from going after that son of a bitch. So you can either let me stay and work with the team; that way, you can keep an eye on me, or I go find Darhk myself. You can ask Zari to stay on the team but I think you and I both know she's not going to without me.”

Sara shrugged her shoulders. “I’m fine with either. Your decision.”

Rip pursed his lips as he shook his head defeatedly.

“After all this time, you’re still the most stubborn person I’ve ever met.”

Sara grinned then stood to leave.

“See you around, then... Boss.”

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Ava was not having a good day and it barely even started. She hardly slept last night and now, she was paying for it. She had kept tossing and turning in her bed thinking about Sara.

What a surprise.

The events of the previous day kept replaying in her head– what happened in Rockville, the whole exchange she had with Sara in her office, what happened after she left the interrogation room, Sara figuring things out in the Console Room, Sara with Davenport, what she said to her when she went to her place.

There wasn't anything that happened yesterday that she didn’t review in her head repeatedly, but the ones that stuck out the most were Sara’s tone of voice, her face, and the words she said– from Rockville to her office to the interrogation room. Everything about it, including the possibility of Sara not coming back, kept popping in her head and it was sending her into a state of nerve.

At one point last night, long after she had finished designing a program to translate Darhk's ciphers, she had gotten out of bed and drank more wine than her usual limit in a single night, hoping that it might help her go to sleep, but it didn’t. If anything, it only knocked her sideways harder.

She didn’t know what time she managed to fall asleep but when she awoke, her head felt like it went through a car crusher. If the dark circles around her eyes and how tired she felt were anything to go by, she would say she couldn’t have slept for more than two hours.

Now sitting in the conference room, she had never been more grateful that Rip was the one who called today’s morning briefing because not only did she look like hell, she felt like it, too; and the thought of having to speak for an extended period of time was enough to make her stomach churn even more.

Since her drive to the Bureau, she had been in all of a dither about whether or not Sara would show up today, and when she saw that the other woman was still not at her desk by the time she left her office to go to the conference room, she tried but failed to ignore the dull ache of disappointment in her chest; even more so when Amaya walked into the room with Zari, but no Sara in sight.

She was at least grateful that the team didn’t lose Zari.

Heart sinking, she had taken Sara's absence as a confirmation of her leaving the team, and was properly feeling crestfallen, silently berating herself for probably being too harsh on her yesterday that it had driven the other woman away, when the door to the conference room swung open to reveal Sara wearing a grim and annoyed countenance, complaining about a broken coffee maker, and sounding very...

Lance.

At the fact that Sara hadn’t left the team- that she was here, once again bright-eyed and back in good spirits, Ava felt a sudden flash of something light and warm spread in her chest but rather than processing it, she chose to stare at Sara instead, until that brief moment that their gazes held when, at the mention of Snart, she felt that awful twisting feeling in her stomach, which she had felt on more than one occasion before.

She had been carefully avoiding turning her head back to Sara. She could feel her staring at her from across the table. For most of Rip’s talk, she resisted the tug of Sara’s gaze, firmly refusing to even glance her way, even when her instinct kicked in when Rip mentioned Darhk's ciphers, pushing her to insist knowing how Sara knew how to read them.

In the following minutes, Ava didn’t know when or how her thoughts started wandering to Keegan– Keegan with hair as dark as raven, a pair of green eyes the amazing colour of wet leaves, and a bright smile that broke through the mile-high walls she built around herself ever since she realised she wasn't like most people.

They didn’t get along first. In fact, Keegan was a rascal and a bit of a bully, and Ava had been at the receiving end of her bullying countless of times. She had been convinced that the woman was the most terrible person she had ever had the misfortune of meeting until the night she lent her handkerchief to her which Keegan refused to return after.

******************************

This was her favourite part of the day– when the horrors of daylight gave way to the serenity of the night. It didn’t happen as often as she liked, but whenever it did, she made sure to savour it; outside in her special spot where she could gaze up and just watch the sky, with nothing or nobody to distract her.

Tonight, she was in a particularly buoyant mood– she had a pleasant conversation over the phone with her parents with whom she had been having a better relationship in the last few years, and she hadn’t had any encounter with Keegan whom she considered the closest proof that the devil did exist and walk amongst people.

She was just a few metres from away from where she wanted to go when she saw She-devil herself in HER special spot, sitting on HER stone- with her arms wrapped around her knees, her forehead resting atop them, lightly rocking herself back and forth.

With a sigh of mixed disappointment and annoyance for having been deprived of her time with herself away from everyone, Ava started to turn away and leave Keegan to whatever it was she was doing when she heard a sharp sob.

Frowning in surprise, she hastily turned back around and found the other woman’s shoulders shaking. With how her body was positioned, her crying, and the full moonlight shining on her, Keegan looked like a picture of heartbreaking dejection.

Ava stared at her for a few moments, waiting for Keegan's crying to let up, a silent battle going on in her.

THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA, SHARPE, Ava thought.

Having made a decision, Ava took a breath and started her way towards Keegan.

Without looking at her, she slid next to the other woman on the stone, stared straight ahead, and forced irritation into her voice.

“You’re in my spot, Merrick.”

At the sound of Ava's voice, Keegan startled, her head snapping up then quickly turning it to the right, wiping her tears with her hands while keeping her face away from Ava.

“What do you want, Sharpe?” Keegan demanded roughly.

“As I said, this is my sp–”

“Funny how I don't see your name on it,” Keegan bit out dryly, cutting Ava off.

Ava jutted her chin smugly. “You’re sitting on it.”

Keegan brought out her mini-flashlight from one of her pockets and shifted in her seat, finding that there were indeed initials carved in the stone.

“It says A.M.B.S.”

“Those are my initials.”

“Really?” Keegan asked in a tone that told Ava she was about to throw her a jab. “Because I thought your initials were A.S., as in AS, which is actually very fitting since you have that stick up of your a–”

Keegan cut herself off when a handkerchief appeared before her face. It took a moment before she reluctantly accepted it, then dabbed at her still-damp cheeks.

“Just because I’m BORROWING your handkerchief doesn’t mean you get to know why I need one in the first place.”

“Good,” Ava said curtly. “I don’t want to know. Nor do I care.”

“If you tell anyone about this,” Keegan warned, still not meeting Ava's gaze, “I’ll put bulldog ants in your boots.”

“Did you not hear when I said I didn’t care?” Ava asked bitterly. “I just want you to be done with...” She gestured vaguely towards Keegan. “Whatever this is so you can leave and I can finally be left alone here. In MY spot.”

Keegan finally turned to look at Ava, an amused smile teasing at the corners of her lips.

“Are you always this territorial? If this is how you are over a massive stone, I’d love to see just how territorial you could be over your boyfriend.”

“Well, then,” Ava said in a matter-of-factly tone, “Sorry to disappoint but you would never see it.”

Keegan eyed her curiously for a brief moment before Ava saw her words clicked into place in the other woman’s head.

“Ah,” Keegan exclaimed, giving her a nod. “Got it.”

A few beats passed with neither of them speaking, and the only sound they could hear was that of their own breathing.

Keegan turned over the piece of cloth in her hand.

“What person carries around a handkerchief, a white one no less, in a place like this?”

“Someone who has a good sense of knowing she might need it,” Ava replied complacently. “Obviously, you do not possess it.”

“Okay, see,” Keegan said in bemused amusement as she turned to Ava. “Aren’t you the poster child of everything nice and good and duteous? You’re not supposed to be a dick.”

“Yeah,” Ava said sarcastically, “and most people believe you should be ruling hell and yet... here you are.”

To Ava’s surprise, her remark made Keegan let out shouts of laughter that erupted through the air and Ava was vainly ignoring how she didn't mind the sound of it. When it stopped, she turned to see Keegan looking at her with what seemed like a mixture of fascination and amusement.

“What, Merrick?!” she asked, suddenly uncomfortable under the weight of Keegan’s gaze.

“You’re not so bad, Sharpie,” Keegan said, smiling.

When Ava's brows furrowed, she added, “Get it? Sharpie? You know, ‘cause your last name is Sharpe…?”

“Yeah, I got that,” Ava responded, annoyed. “Don’t call me that.”

“Well, now that I know you don’t like it, I’ll be calling you that from now on,” Keegan stated mockingly. “I should probably have that name patented or something. Can't have anyone else calling you that now, can we? SHARPIE.”

Ava narrowed her eyes at Keegan, then brought out a hand. “Give me my hanky back.”

“Hanky?” Keegan echoed, grinning. “That’s adorable. I never pegged you as someone who uses words like 'hanky'. Do you say ‘besties’, too?”

“Give me my HANDKERCHIEF back,” Ava reiterated, her voice firmer, but to her own confusion, she didn’t feel either frustrated or irritated as she always did whenever Keegan acted like a little shit to her.

“Nope,” Keegan said, popping the p, and extending an arm out away from Ava's reach. “This is mine now.”

After a few quiet moments of the two of them just basking in the moonlight, without turning to look at Ava, Keegan broke the silence, her voice uncharacteristically soft.

“Thank you… for not being weird about this; for not acting differently, like all nice and shit, just because you saw me cr–”

Keegan cut herself off then briefly ducked her head down and shook her head.

“Just- Thank you… Ava.”

Ava flippantly shrugged her shoulders, feigning nonchalance, but completely taken aback by how much she liked the sound of her name coming out of Keegan’s mouth.

“Sure… Keegan.”

******************************

And that had been the catalyst of the change between them. It didn’t happen abruptly; the shift between them was gradual– from hostile confrontations to non-adversary exchanges to civil communications to playful bickering to flirty banters, and then to something else entirely… Something new and too real for her; something Keegan was readily and selflessly giving to her before she even knew how to begin to wish for. And so she accepted it, and in return, she gave Keegan the one thing she was sure her whole life that she would never get a chance to give to anyone.

Keegan made her feel safe. She made her laugh; so much that sometimes she ended up in tears. She also had an incredible ability to say the right thing at the right moment; and sometime after she was completely certain that she and Keegan had stopped being enemies, and had become friends, something she neither completely expected nor thought possible, happened– Keegan made her love her.

Ava briefly shut her eyes, swallowing when her throat ached a little too much with emotions that she always felt whenever she thought of Keegan; and it had been quite a while since the last time she thought of her.

She didn’t let her mind pull her back to memories she had with her because she was cursed with a brain that took her right to the past, making her relive them as if they were happening for the first time, her feelings then as vivid and intense as any time she thought of a memory, but somehow made her feel tenfold more awful.

She refused to even think about their happy memories and there were lots of them. A lot more than the not so nice ones; and it hurt a lot worse to think about them… and so she wouldn’t. She refused to.

For a while, she was happy; the happiest she had ever been in her life. With Keegan, even though she didn’t believe in luck, she felt like the luckiest woman in the world, until–

“Ava…” From sounding muffled, Rip’s voice became focused and clear in her ear, effectively derailing her train of thought.

“Huh?” Ava bit out then cleared her throat, still looking bewildered. “I’m sorry. What was that, sir?”

“I was saying you can start planning how this team will go about with your next mission.”

“Yes, of course,” Ava replied firmly, nodding. “We’ll get right to it after we hear Davenport’s statement.”

“Are you feeling well, Ava? You’re alarmingly peaked.”

“Yes,” Ava answered rather promptly, forcing cheerfulness into her voice. “I’m fine.”

I was just torturing myself with the memories of the woman to whom I gave my heart.

“I just- I haven’t had... much... sun, as of late,” Ava prevaricated.

“Neither has any of us,” Nate chimed in. “It’s still winter, Ava.”

Ava turned her head towards Nate and gave him a death stare, causing him to backtrack.

“Which is why, Director Hunter,” Nate said, turning to Rip, “all of us Legends, not just Ava, are looking very... Cullen-y.”

Ava’s brows dipped then she leaned towards Amaya.

“Colony?” she said, whispering. “That makes absolutely no sense.”

Amaya softly chuckled. “Not colony. Nate said Cullen-y.”

"I don't know what that means," Ava said, looking even more confused.

“I’ll explain later.”

Ava knew Rip didn’t believe her. He knew her too well now that he could see right through her. She was also the most terrible liar in the world which was why she had such an intense aversion towards it, and anybody who really knew her would see right through that poor excuse.

“I didn't buy it, just so you know,” Amaya whispered after a moment. “You're one Enya song away from going thwump.”

Ava’s brows knitted together in confusion. “I don't know what that means, either.”

Amaya huffed out a laugh then shook her head.

In her confused and still-dazed state, it had escaped Ava that Sara was sitting right across from her; that she had been pointedly avoiding looking at her, so when she turned her head, she was met by the same pair of icy blue eyes that had some sort of pull on her since the second she saw them.

In that brief moment when their gazes held and Sara shot her a challenging lift of her brows, something vague and light, at first, then slowly turning sharp, scratched at the back of her mind telling her that she had seen that look before; that she had been the object of it a hundred times over, and it was then that it hit her like a truck; swift, hard, and as painful as it could get– the complacency, the insouciance, the stubbornness, the air of arrogance, the daredevilism, the beguiling charm, the easy smile...

Sara Lance... was a walking, talking reminder of what she had lost; a blonde, blue-eyed reminder.

The sudden realisation was so startling that her breath froze in her chest and it sent her reeling all over the place. She felt biting coldness run through her veins and seep all the way through her bones; and although she felt the room swirl around her, she did her best to look as dispassionate as she could while holding Sara's gaze, despite feeling like her world was caving in on her.

She tore her gaze from Sara, not glancing her way again until she failed to not whirl her head towards her when she heard her say something under her breath. Apart from her, only two people probably knew what Sara meant by what she said; and judging by the reaction she saw on Rip and Zari, she knew they heard what Sara said, too.

No sooner had she briefly closed her eyes to ward off the memories of what happened in her office the day before, than she shot her head up at Sara when she made a blasé remark about getting taken hostage and blown up rather than talk to a psychologist.

Ava gathered, from reading the therapy notes included in the file she had on Sara, that the woman was not a big fan of psychologists, or having to talk to them about feelings, more to the point; and if there was something of which she was certain, it was the fact that with Sara, Dr Saunders had a big storm coming her way.

------------------------------

Ava went straight to the restroom as soon as she was out of the conference room.

She braced her palms on the sink and hung her head, trying to keep her breathing and heart rate normal.

"She's not her," she muttered to herself her eyes closed. "She is not HER."

The next several minutes were spent trying to push off more memories she had of Keegan that were forcing their way up to the forefront of her brain, especially that one memory that had never once failed to send her into a state.

Ava made her way back to the floor and found her team at their desk idly chatting away. She stopped by and the whole time, she could feel Sara's eyes on her but she refused to meet her gaze until Sara made a comment that she was sure was meant to pique her. Involuntarily, her eyes found Sara's but rather than reacting the way she usually did, she just stared at her, reminding herself that this was the woman whom she just met weeks ago; the same person who had been terrorising her... and not the woman she loved.

As much as she wanted to put things back to normal– normal, being she and Sara at each other's throat, she couldn't find it in herself to; not with what she just became painfully conscious of, not when she was now keenly aware of everything Sara did that was a stark reminder of what she wanted to forget, as futile a feat it may be; and so she just looked at Sara as stoic and unemotional as she could despite having the urge to break down, then headed back to her office.

She should have realised it sooner. If she had just let herself think about Keegan before today, really think about her, she would have seen it gradually the longer she was around Sara instead of being washed over by something of which she never would have thought; or perhaps she had- perhaps she had seen and felt it immediately after meeting her; that a small part of her had registered what her brain was so unwilling to accept.

Perhaps her always getting easily riled up by Sara was her brain’s way of making her not see what was always in front of her to spare her of the pain it would cause her– like the most pain she had ever felt; and so she shoved that immediate recognition all the way down, never to be brought back up until today... when her walls weren’t at their sturdiest; when she was still recovering from what happened to her yesterday, and so she got hit by it in the most unexpected way.

If she believed in reincarnation, she would want to have a facetime with whomever made it possible so she could ask what horrible thing she did in her past life for her to be given such cruel punishment in this life– of all people, out of every girl in the world, the one who reminded her of the woman with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life, just had to be the very bane of her existence.

Son of a bitch.

Ava huffed in frustration. She gripped one hand on the edge of her seat, hung her head, and massaged the back of her neck with her other hand. She expelled her breath in a long, resigned sigh then dragged her head up and looked in the direction of Sara’s desk where she found her grimacing, her fingertips rubbing against her temple.

With only five minutes left from when she and Rip would leave for the US Attorney’s office, Ava took something out of her pillbox before leaving her office. She stopped by Sara's desk and placed an Advil on it, sliding it towards her.

"For your headache. Your head must be killing you," Ava said, saying Sara’s exact words to her on Saturday morning when she was the one who was hungover.

Not meeting Sara’s eyes and without waiting for her to say something, Ava moved to walk towards Rip’s office.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

Sara was getting increasingly frustrated as the minutes went by.

Sure, she didn’t expect Ava to jump for joy at her sticking around because she wasn’t even sure if the agent genuinely wanted her to stay, but Ava could at least make it less obvious that she was actively avoiding looking at her like she would catch a plague if she so much as stared at her for longer than two seconds.

She was also starting to get a little intrigued, if not miffed, over Ava’s lack of response to her attempts at getting her to engage with her. After her talk with Rip in the conference room, she purposefully made a light dig at Ava, albeit indirectly, just enough to elicit some reaction from her, hoping that the agent would at least shoot her trademark glare at her, but Ava just stared at her blankly, her eyes looked so empty that Sara had a vague idea what Ava was like before she became the Ava now- the one who Amaya said was so separated from everyone... And she did not like that Ava. At all.

After Ava stared at her expressionless for a good second, the agent went back to her office.

That was where Sara’s eyes had been for who knew how long– in the direction of Ava’s office; staring at her while she looked lost in her thoughts just like she had earlier in the conference room. Ava had not moved since she sat back in her chair and Sara was thinking of an excuse to go to her office to pull her out of whatever had her looking incredibly sad and conflicted when Ava leaned a little towards her desk then rubbed the back of her neck.

Sara quickly dragged her eyes away from Ava before the latter looked in her direction and caught her staring. The next thing she knew, Ava was sliding an Advil on the table towards her, causing her to look up at her, only to find Ava’s eyes looking at anywhere but her.

Nevertheless, Sara still found herself smiling a little when Ava echoed the words she said to her on Saturday morning, back to her.

------------------------------

Ava had just gotten back to HQ shortly past noon to find her team's desks empty and was told they were in the break room.

She could already hear the sound of Zari’s and Nate’s voice even before she reached the door.

"Ava!" Zari exclaimed cheerfully as soon as Ava walked into the room. "You're back!"

"I am, yes," Ava replied indulgently, her lips curled up into a small smile, her gaze quickly flickering on Sara who was currently consuming an energy drink.

Zari looked around the break room as Ava dragged a chair from the next table and placed it at theirs, next to Amaya and right across from Sara and Nate..

"Have we laid claim to this area?" Zari asked half-jokingly. "Why does nobody else seem to come here whenever we're around?"

"Can't blame them. We're an intimidating group," Nate said a little proudly.

Zari stared blankly at Nate for a few seconds then broke into a laugh.

"Intimidating, you say? Ray here is a puppy. You're half nerd, half geek. Amaya..." she said, her voice turning soft, "well, she's an angel. Lily and Gideon never come here. I literally don't care about anyone other than our team, and half of the people outside is in love with Sara. The only intimidating person on our team is Ava and she doesn't even come here as often as the rest of us do."

Zari shook her head lightly, holding back a smile. "Intimidating group. Please."

Amaya chuckled then turned to Ava.

"You had your lunch yet? Don't tell me you haven't."

"Okay," Ava said, holding back a smile. "I won't tell you."

Amaya threw Ava a glare, causing the latter to grin.

Sara, for her part, had to do a double take at the sight, her stomach inexplicably swooping.

Ava sobered. "I have, yes. With Rip... after talking with the US Attorney"

"Okay. How did that meeting go?" Amaya asked curiously.

"It was good. She'll be here later this afternoon to take Davenport's statement and have him sign the deal. Rip said somebody from the US Marshals will take him after."

Ava looked around her team but pointedly avoided looking at Sara.

"Why are you all in here?"

“Cole was bragging across the whole floor about his team’s recent big arrest,” Nate recounted. “We came here so we didn't have to listen to him.”

Ava huffed out a quiet laugh. “He was at it again, huh?”

Meanwhile, Sara, who still hadn't taken her eyes off Ava since the latter sat down across from her, quickly averted them when the latter started looking around the team again.

Ava flickered her gaze around everyone, internally grateful that Sara wasn't looking at her when it occurred to her that she may have interrupted something.

“Oh, were you guys talking about something? I'm sorry for the interruption.”

"That's okay, Ava. You didn’t interrupt anything,” Ray said reassuringly. “We were just talking about Davenport, actually… and marriage."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah," Zari replied, "I was saying that Davenport's wife doesn't have a clue that the man she married got himself tangled up in whatever the hell Darhk is planning. I mean, can you imagine being come home to by your husband and not know that he's essentially aiding a wanted psychopathic criminal who, for all we know, is probably planning to mass murder us all?”

"Oh, well," Ava said, smirking. "I can't possibly imagine that sort of thing. I'm not really the husband kind."

Sara's eyes shot up at Ava, a curious expression on her face.

“See?” she said after a moment, gesturing a hand towards Ava while looking around the rest of her team. “At least Ava here shares my sentiments. She is a very smart woman, after all.”

Zari turned to Amaya with an incredulous look on her face, a finger pointing at Sara.

“Is this bitch serious?”

Amaya snorted out a laugh.

Sara’s brows dipped into a confused frown.

“Well, actually, that’s not what Ava–”

Turning to Ava, Nate chimed in, cutting Ray off.

“Sara here was just offending us with her view on matrimony before you arrived.” Turning back to Sara, he said, “And Ava doesn’t share your sentiments, Sara.”

Sara held up her hands.

"Well, clearly, she does. Look, I’m just saying… marriage, matrimony? It's a charade. An elaborate ruse propagated by the church to reinforce monogamy. Humans are social animals. It's not in the interest of our species to be monogamous.”

Sara gestured towards Ray.

“Ray, you’re a man of science. You know this. Monogamy isn’t natural to the human species. It’s a cultural adaptation and societal construct. Committing yourself to one person... the notion of a committed relationship... it's fantasy.”

“And here I thought I was the cynical one in this friendship,” Zari remarked slyly.

“Only you would think that marriage is a charade,” Amaya ticked the point off on her fingers. “A ruse, and a fantasy.”

Nate shook his head incredulously. "Honestly, Sara."

Sara huffed out a laugh as she flitted her eyes from Amaya who turned to Ava whom she saw mouth what seemed to her like a sarcastic Wow, causing Amaya to chuckle.

"Who was it?" Amaya asked, her face turning slightly sober.

"Who was whom?"

"The person who did a number on you. The one who broke your heart."

Sara scoffed.

“I’m Sara Lance– nobody breaks my heart,” she said confidently, smirking. “And did a number on me? Please. If anything, I did a number on her. We loved each other, yeah, but... there was too much pain involved. We just ended up hurting each other. She loved me too much that she trie–”

Sara cut herself off after she dragged her gaze to Zari and saw that her best friend's face had taken on a dark look.

Ava's gaze flickered between Sara and Zari, her interest suddenly piqued at the tension she sensed between the two.

"Wait," Amaya said, holding up a hand, a confused look on her face. "I'm a little confused here. You said... you loved each other?" When Sara gave her a slight nod, she added, "So you believe in love, then?"

Sara hummed. "I do. It's its permanence I don't believe in."

“So let me get this straight,” Nate said thoughtfully. “You don't believe in marriage, you're against monogamy, but you… believe in love?”

"Of course I believe in love," Sara said firmly. "It is because I believe in it that I no longer allow myself to feel it about anyone. You see, love is the most powerful emotion, and that makes it the most dangerous. It's basically an eternal return to hell."

"I don't think it works that way, Sara. When you find the right person," Amaya remarked, a wistful little smile tugging at the corner of her lips as her gaze briefly settled on Zari. Turning back to Sara, she said, "You're going to helplessly lay your heart in the palm of your hand and offer it up to them. What they do with it is something you have really no to little control over."

"Exactly!" Sara exclaimed, snapping her fingers. "Your beating heart is going to be at the mercy of the person who holds it. You don’t wanna give anyone that kind of power over you... Which is why before love– or someone, really, more to the point, potentially messes you up, whatever gross feelings you’re starting to feel for them, you..." She held a hand up and made a whacking gesture. “whack those little suckers like a Whack-A-Mole or something, so hard that they never pop back out."

“Oh,” Nate exclaimed, flickering his gaze a few times between Sara and Ava, then his face turned bright with understanding. “Oh, I see. That’s why y– I get it now.”

“You do?” Amaya asked, smirking. “You mean…?” she trailed off, very subtly tipping her head towards Ava.

Nate nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“Finally!” Zari exclaimed, slamming her palm on the table, causing Ava to flinch in her seat. “Only took you weeks to really figure it out.”

“What’s happening?” Sara asked, looking between Zari, Amaya, and Nate then made a gesture between them. “What is this?”

“I second that,” Ray asked, his brows slightly drawn together in confusion. “What did you get Nate?”

“You’re a smart guy, Ray,” Nate said, patting Ray’s shoulder. “You’ll figure it out yourself.”

Meanwhile, Amaya leaned a little towards Ava and said in a low voice, “You seem a little… jumpy. You alright?”

“Yes, of course. I'm just a little tired from being outside earlier,” Ava said, then turned to look between Nate, Zari, and Amaya in an attempt to evade whatever further inquiry her best friend might have. “Why are the three of you suddenly acting strange?”

“Well, assuming you can control how you feel about someone,” Nate said, evading Ava’s question, “which you can't, for the record, you can’t possibly control how other people feel about you.”

“Oh, I most certainly can,” Sara said assuredly, then took a few gulps of her drink.

“No, you can't,” Amaya, Zari, Ray, and Nate all said simultaneously.

“Yes, I can,” Sara reiterated. “Don't let them fall for me."

"And how exactly are you gonna do that?" Nate asked.

Sara shrugged. "Be terrible, I guess. Act like the absolute worst. I don't know. The point is–"

"Ohhhh..." Ray said softly, looking thoughtful, then he jerked his head towards Nate, eyes a little wide with excitement. "Nate, buddy, I think I just had a Eureka moment."

Nate raised an arm up and high-fived Ray, the two of them grinning.

Sara and Ava were both looking at them questioningly.

Nate turned to Sara.

"What if it's already too late? Like if someone has already unknowingly fallen in love with you and you weren't quick enough to know or notice, either."

"Do everything to convince them I’m not worth staying for,” Sara instantly replied.

Nate looked at her with a blank expression on his face.

“You see, people have a terrible habit of making a home out of someone." Sara pointed at herself. “This body is not a worthy space for love. I'm not worth inhabiting.”

Sara dragged her gaze from the drink can she started fiddling with her other hand, to everyone looking at her in a mix of amazement and mild disbelief.

“What??”

Zari grinned then turned to Amaya.

“Do you see now what I meant when I said ‘Sara I-Don't-Deserve-Anyone Lance’? She refuses to give anything, or anyone more so, a chance even if it might make her happy.”

Amaya hummed.

“You should hear what sprouts out of her mouth when she’s completely drunk. She turns into a tortured soul poet,” Zari said, smirking. “It’s all very entertaining.”

"So she wasn't drunk enough last night then?" Amaya asked, a teasing little smile on her lips. "Because I only ever heard her gush about Ava."

Both Sara and Ava shot their eyes up at Amaya; Sara in embarrassment and Ava in shock.

Sara fumbled her way through finishing a sentence.

"Wha– It's n– I was– That's..."

Sara ducked her head down, taking a brief moment before she lifted her head back up, her shoulders squared and the self-assured look was back on her face despite finding it hard to even glance Ava's way.

"That's not what happened."

"That's not all that happened," Zari voiced out knowingly.

Sara saw Zari open her mouth to probably continue teasing and embarrassing her in front of Ava when Ray chimed in, and she had never been more thankful to be friends with him.

“Why do you think you don’t deserve anyone, Sara?” Ray asked, his brows knitted together.

Because I'm too much for anyone.

Because I’m damaged.

Because no matter the time passed, I’m still a monster.

Because I hate myself too much to let anyone love me.

Because I have too much darkness in me that I’d just end up snuffing the light out of the person whose life’s worst mistake would be that they loved me... and I can't allow anyone to crumble under the weight of that love.

Sara shrugged nonchalantly.

Ava, for her part, after she had regained her composure upon hearing what Amaya said, had caught the micro-shift in Sara’s expression. To an untrained eye, it would have been unnoticeable, but because she was trained to notice things like that, she knew Sara was not feeling as indifferent about the matter as she had everyone believing.

Now that she was able to read Sara somehow, Ava’s curiosity about her only increased, as did her hankering for figuring the woman out.

Ava internally groaned.

“I’m just saying,” Nate said, pulling Ava out of her thoughts, “The heart wants what it wants, you know? It's going to love whom it loves.” Turning to Ava, he asked, “Where are you on all this, Ava?”

“You want me to answer that with my intellectual point of you view or…?” Ava trailed off, a small smile playing at the edges of her lips, knowing exactly how Nate would respond.

Nate held up a finger, his face taking on a concerned look.

“Please don’t make me listen to how love is nothing more than brain chemistry. You know, those chemicals released in the brain that stimulate euphoria.”

Ava huffed, smiling.

“Well, then,” Ava said, standing up and looking pensive for a moment. Afterwards, she braced her palms against the table and leaned a little over it, looking straight at Nate.

“When two hearts start speaking the language of love, they can't really help but listen... no matter how hard they try to play deaf.”

Ava smirked and then winked.

Sara, who had a perfect view of Ava’s face, and just had her drink to her mouth and was in the middle of swallowing, choked on it and spluttered some. She immediately turned her body away, hunched over.

Nate thumped Sara on the back as soon as she started coughing.

“Did you miss your mouth again, Sara?” Zari asked, unconcerned as though this was a regular occurrence for them. “I told you to watch every time you put something in your mouth. No pun intended.”

“You alright, Lance?” Ava asked, keeping her face and voice as blank as she could.

“Yes, thank you, I'm fine,” Sara said hastily, still recovering, waving Ava off as she tried to get her heart to calm the fuck down.

Fucking hell.

Sara cleared her throat as she straightened herself up and collected her bearing.

“I just… I, uh, swallowed.. at the wrong time.”

“Ah,” Zari exclaimed, a dazed look on her face, “So many jokes... so little time.”

Amaya bit back a smile.

While Zari, Nate, and Ray went on talking, Ava turned to Amaya.

"I have to make a few personal calls then take care of some paperwork."

"Everything okay with M and C? And... you know.. the rest?"

Sara's ears perked up.

Who are M and C?

Ava nodded.

"Yeah. I'm just really long overdue for a visit, but with the case... I haven't gotten around to it. It's been three weeks. I'm planning to go this weekend." Ava shrugged. "Maybe. Depends on what happens in the next two days."

"I keep telling you to go. I can hold the fort for you," Amaya said reassuringly. "Stay there as long as you're needed. I don't think two days are enough."

Ava smiled.

"Let me know when the US Attorney gets here?" When Amaya gave her a nod, Ava added, "I'll be in my office until then."

As soon as Ava was out of the room, Zari quickly looked around everyone and spoke in a voice that conveyed mock alarm.

“We need to get our Ava back.”

The team each gave Zari a confused look.

“Guys! Don't you see what's happening?! She’s been taken and was replaced by her clone or something. The one that just left speaks nothing like our Ava. The language of love? Really? She sounded a lot like very drunk Sara.”

Sara rolled her eyes.

Amaya chuckled.

“Ava has her moments. You’ll see more of it the longer you get to know her.”

------------------------------

Hours later, after watching Davenport give his statement to the US Attorney and Ava in the interrogation room, the team was made aware of the facility where he was being taken to do as he was being paid to by Darhk, twice every month. As to where it was, Davenport didn't know because according to him, every time they took him to the facility, he was blindfolded. What he knew, however, was that the travel time was about 30 minutes from Rockville so the likelihood that it was in D.C. was high. He also said that if they stuck to the schedule, Darhk's men were due to take him any day next week, which gave the team ample time to work out a plan on how to shut down the facility and the operation going on therein and arrest whomever they might find there.

In the meantime, Ava told Davenport to do whatever the US Marshals would tell him to do until the team could come up with their plan.

Sara had also met with Dr Saunders. Prior to that, she had wrangled with herself over how she should approach her psych evaluation, weighing which behaviour she needed to manifest in order for her to be given an all-clear.

When she asked Zari for tips, her best friend’s only words were “Just... don’t be.. you,” which she thought was a great advice because if her going out in the field with her team wasn’t at stake, she would have just deflected every question thrown at her and every attempt by Kendra to get her to open up, by using sarcasm and classic assholery.

Until today, she had never been grateful that the League also trained her to be a spy, and therefore, to master the art of deception; so when her time with Kendra came, she showed a full range of expression, making sure that her external emotional expression was congruent with the internal emotional state she wanted to project, and that her words matched her body language.

She already assumed that Kendra knew who she was; who her sister was, so when the latter asked what the driving force was in her decision to do what she did in Rockville, she opted for a certain degree truth– that she felt some sense of duty to Laurel to fight for justice, and how better to start it than by helping take down the man she was prosecuting at the time of her death?

By the end of their session, Sara was feeling confident that she was going to get the all-clear before their next mission came.

------------------------------

Sara had tuned out Zari, Amaya, and Nate in favour of watching Ava from her desk. She didn’t know how long she had been staring at her, but the longer she did, the more she could feel a tug at the back of her mind.

"...I'm not really the husband kind."

Sara had Ava's words running through her head, wondering if Ava meant she wasn’t the marrying type or–

"SARA!" Zari yelled, pulling Sara out of her thoughts. "The hell???"

"What?" Sara asked, her expression slightly stupefied. "Was the yelling really necessary?"

"I've literally called your name, like, three times, and we're not even 10 feet apart," Zari said matter-of-factly, looking at Sara strangely. "Why are you being weird? What's going on with you?"

"Nothing," Sara replied rather too quickly. "I'm just tired."

"Uh-huh," Zari remarked, eyeing Sara sceptically. "Anyway, the team's planning to get dinner together. Kinda like a celebratory one for getting a win today. You in?"

"Yeah. Of course, I'm in."

From behind them, Ray called out brightly, "GUYS! Look whom I found!"

Everyone turned their heads to see Ray walking over to them with a woman– a tall, caramel-skinned, curly-haired brunette, perhaps as tall as Ava, wearing a black leather jacket and looking like she was cut straight out of a beauty magazine cover.

"SINCLAIR!!" Both Amaya and Nate exclaimed cheerfully at the same time as they rose from their seat.

They walked up to the woman then took a turn to hug her.

"It’s been a while,” Sara heard Amaya say. “Not that I'm not happy to see you but... what brings you back to D.C.?"

"Well, I was–"

"Guys," Ava said as she walked over to them, cutting the woman off, eyes down on the files she was holding. "Can anyone of y–"

Ava stopped mid-sentence as she finally dragged her gaze up, her expression turning into a startled look, her grip on the files almost slipped.

Sara heard Ava take a sharp intake of breath as soon as she looked up and saw the woman.

Without taking her eyes off Ava, Sara leaned in a little towards Zari.

"Who's the tall hottie?"

“Which one?” Zari asked jokingly. “There are two of them.”

Sara briefly turned to Zari and glared at her.

Zari shrugged her shoulders.

"How would I know? I've been a Legend as long as you have."

As Amaya, Ray, and Nate each grabbed a chair and sat at Sara's and Zari's desks, the woman walked over to Ava, a small confident smile tugging at the corners of her lips.

"Hello, Special Agent-in-Charge Ava Sharpe," the woman intoned formally. "It's been a while."

It took a moment before Ava finally spoke. When she did, Sara knew she just got the confirmation that she wouldn't admit to herself she was desperately seeking.

"Max..."

Chapter Text

“Max...” Ava said in an almost whisper, her startled gaze fixed on Max.

Hearing the name, Sara’s eyes briefly widened a little before she jerked her head towards the team, brows dipped into a slight furrow.

In a low voice, Sara asked, “Wait, that's… that’s Max?!”

Amaya, Ray, and Nate all answered at the same time, each wearing a self-satisfied smile.

“Yep!”

“Max…” Sara stressed carefully, “Ava's ex... is a woman?”

“Yep!”

“So Ava is…” Sara trailed off.

“Yep,” Zari said, popping the p. “Only took you forever to catch up... And people call you an expert on deduction? I have to laugh.”

Sara ignored Zari’s comment.

Turning her head back to the pair standing a few metres from them, Sara heard Max say, “Hi, Ava.”

“Hi,” Ava greeted back. “Uh, you grew out your hair. And you're wearing your natural curls.”

Smiling, Max lifted a hand up to bounce her curls. “You like?”

Ava hummed, her mouth pulling into a small smile. “You know I love them.”

Max gestured towards Ava. “And you… You look–”

“Tired, I know,” Ava interjected, clutching the files she was holding closer to her chest. “I haven’t really been sleeping well for the past few weeks.”

Max turned to Amaya, feigning annoyance.

“Amaya! I thought I asked you when I left to look after my girl! If this is how things are here without me, I’m gonna have to take her to New York with me.”

Amaya chuckled.

“Do you not know Ava at all? Her body would sooner shut down on her than she’d let anybody look after her.”

Meanwhile, Ava’s eyes found Sara’s. There were a few beats that passed when they just held each other’s gaze before Max turned back to Ava then shrugged.

“She’s got a point, you know?”

Ava halfheartedly rolled her eyes.

“Anyway,” Max said, her voice suddenly taking on a wistful tone, “I was going to say you look as beautiful as the day I met you.”

“What are y- what are you doing here, Max?" Ava asked, ignoring Max’s remark.

Max shrugged her shoulders. "I don’t know, really."

Unable to suppress her smile, Ava said, "Okay, see, the usual excuse is that you happened to be in the neighbourhood and decided to drop by."

Max gasped in mock alarm.

"Ava Sharpe! Are you encouraging me to lie? You detest liars."

Ava giggled lightly. "That's true."

“I'm here for you," Max said, suddenly sobering.

"Whaaat?" Ava breathed in a slightly dazed, strangled voice.

"I’m here for you?” Max echoed. “For the FBI? Rip reached out to me yesterday. You know...” Smirking, she pointed at herself. “US Marshal Service? You guys have a state witness?"

“Right,” Ava said then shook her head lightly as though realisation just dawned on her. “Right, of course. But you work in New York now. This isn't really your district anymore.”

“Rip did call me for help,” Max admitted. “You know, just to speed up the process. I gave the D.C. circuit a call. Also, I was always coming down here even if Rip hadn't asked for my assistance.”

Ava looked confused.

“Why? I mean, not that you’re not allowed to come here. I just- I was just wondering.”

“Are you forgetting, Ava?” Max asked, her tone teasing. “You never forget anything.”

Ava’s brows knitted together.

Max huffed out a laugh. “It's Peanut's birthday on Friday, remember?”

Ava briefly closed her eyes then blew out a shaky breath.

“Right. Of course, I didn’t forget.”

Max hummed.

“Did you think I was gonna miss Jojo’s birthday?” she asked lightly. “I didn’t cut ties with the kid just because you said no to my marriage proposal.”

“I didn't say no,” Ava said hastily.

Max shrugged. “You didn't say yes, either.”

“Max…” Ava said dejectedly, her face had on a look Sara hadn't seen before; one she immediately decided she did not like seeing.

Zari turned her head towards the team.

“Wow,” she muttered. “I did not see that one coming. I should have brought popcorn.”

Sensing the tension that suddenly filled the room, Ray attempted to defuse it by letting out an awkward chuckle.

“Maxie, look!” he exclaimed. “Come, meet our new friends!”

“Right,” Ava said, briefly breaking eye contact with Max, then motioned for them to walk over to the team. “Team Legends has two new members.”

When they got to their desks, Ava gestured towards Sara and Zari as she introduced them.

“Max, these are our civilian consultants– Sara Lance and Zari Tomaz. They’re private investigators.”

Ava turned to Sara and Zari.

“Zari, Lance, this is Supervisory Deputy US Marshal Maxine Sinclair.”

Maxine, Sara thought.

Max.

Oh.

“Sara Lance?” Max asked, turning to Ava. “As in... Rip’s Sara Lance?”

Brows suddenly dipped in curiosity, Ava asked, “How did you know she’s Rip’s Sara Lance?”

“I’m nobody’s Sara Lance, thank you very much,” Sara remarked dryly.

Eyes not leaving Max, Ava waved Sara off. “Don’t mind her.”

Sara scoffed.

“Well, months ago, Rip went to your field office in New York,” Max recounted. “We met up while he was there. He mentioned thinking of bringing a civilian consultant, Miss Lance, into the task force he was assembling.” Motioning to everyone, she said, “I suppose this is it.”

Ava only hummed thoughtfully.

Turning to Zari, Max shook her hand.

“Pleasure to meet you, Agent Sinclair,” Zari said, smiling.

“You too, Miss Tomaz. And please, Max is fine.”

Max turned to Sara and shook the latter’s hand.

“I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Huh,” Sara huffed thoughtfully, her brows slightly drawn together. “Weird. I’ve heard nothing about you at all.”

Hearing Sara’s remark, Zari slowly turned her head to Sara, looking at her strangely; while Ava, Amaya, Ray, and Nate looked on with their eyes a little wide with a mix of shock and alarm.

Max cleared her throat.

“You’re quite a hero, Miss Lance. I wasn’t sure it was you, but now I am. I saw you on the news yesterday.”

“Oh, did you?” Sara said, fixing her face with a bright, artificial smile. “And please call me Sara.”

“What you did in Rockville was very brave.”

Sara huffed out a sarcastic laugh.

“You forgot to mention careless, impulsive, and extremely dangerous. Oh, and my personal favourite,” she said as she turned her gaze to Ava, “incredibly stupid.”

Sara quirked up a brow at Ava and shot her a subtle smirk, silently challenging her to quip back.

Max flitted her gaze between Sara and Ava, her eyebrows curled in an intrigued furrow.

Ava, however, just stared at Sara, an internal turmoil rooted itself deep in her as she watched the other woman’s face, her breath catching in her throat; all the while keeping her own face from reflecting how she was feeling.

She quickly ducked her head down as she shut her eyes when Keegan’s cocky smirk just before they set off for a race every morning flashed through her mind.

Max, reading Ava’s change of vibe, put a hand on the small of the latter’s back.

“Hey,” she said softly, causing Ava to lift her head up at her. “What’s up?”

Ava forced a smile onto her face.

“Nothing. I’m just a little tired. It’s been... an interesting day, to say the least.”

Max narrowed her eyes at her which told Ava her ex didn’t quite believe her.

Sara, for her part, was now surer than ever that something definitely happened between the time Ava left her place last night and during their briefing this morning that made the agent somehow immune to her quips because there was no way Ava could have missed the dig that was so obviously directed at her.

There was a dull pressure clutching at the base of her chest as she watched the familiarity with which Ava and Max deal with each other. Keeping her gaze on Ava, she mentally shook herself off, chalking it up to her just being caffeine-deprived.

Against her better judgement, Ava’s eyes once again wandered to Sara.

When the silence in the room became too heavy, Amaya cleared her throat.

“Max, why don't you join us? The team’s going out to dinner.”

Max turned to Amaya.

“Oh, I’d love to, Amaya,” she said, her tone regretful, “but Ava and I are going to dinner ourselves.”

“Wait, we are?” Ava asked confusedly, finally jerking her eyes from Sara’s and turning to Max.

Max nodded.

“So I haven’t a say in this dinner plan?” Ava asked half-jokingly.

“Well, of course you have, Ava. I’ve always given you a choice on everything,” Max said in mock outrage, then shrugged her shoulders flippantly. “I just knew you’d say yes to dinner with me.”

Holding back a smile, Ava halfheartedly rolled her eyes as she shook her head lightly.

“You are unbelievable.”

Max smiled smugly.

“Yeah, I know. You told me that countless of nights every time I did that thing with my t–”

“OKAY!!” Ava suddenly exclaimed as she whirled towards the team, cutting off Max who was now pressing her lips together to keep herself from laughing; Ava’s cheeks were flushed with embarrassment. “You guys have fun at dinner.”

Sara found herself gritting her teeth.

Ava mentally steeled herself before turning back to Sara.

“I know I said I’d train you b–”

“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s fine,” Sara interjected, waving Ava off and sending her a wry, mirthless smile. “We did agree on putting in some training only when neither of us is doing anything. Clearly, you are tonight.”

“Very well… but,” Ava said, holding up a finger, “study basic self-defence moves.”

“Seriously? You're giving me homework?” Sara asked a little incredulously. “What am I, a student?”

“Yes,” Ava said curtly. “Mine. So study up tonight. Tomorrow, you’ll demo what you’ve read.”

“That's Ava for you, Sara,” Max chimed in. “If it seems that she gets a kick out of ordering people around, it's because she does. You'll learn soon enough. I could tell you how much she liked ordering me around in...” she trailed off, holding back a smile as she held her arms up in surrender when she saw Ava shoot her a threatening look.

Sara gave Max a tight-lipped smile. “Yeah, I think I know Sharpie pretty well. Thanks.”

Max turned to Ava, her brows arched up. “Sharpie?”

Ava ignored Max.

“See you all tomorrow, then,” Ava said to the team then whirled around, clamped her hand around Max’s wrist and practically dragged her into her office.

“Really, Maxine?!” Sara heard Ava say as the pair was walking away.

“What?” Max asked with feigned innocence, chuckling. “Was I lying? You can be upset with me if I lied. I didn’t... Miel.”

“Don’t call me that.”

Sara noticed how Ava used the tone she only ever heard her use on her countless of times now; whenever she told her not to call her Sharpie.

Max let out a shout of laughter. “Boy, did I miss you.”

Zari wheeled her chair closer to Sara, looking in the direction of Ava's office.

“Aww… Don't you just instantly like their dynamic?” she asked in an intentionally aggravating voice. “They are so cute together, don’t you think so?”

Hearing no response, Zari gave Sara, who had been staring at the pair through the glass walls, a sideways glance.

“You feeling okay there, Sara?” she asked, her tone overly teasing. “You’re looking a little… green.”

Amaya bit back a smile while Ray and Nate snorted out a laugh, causing Sara to finally tear her gaze away from the pair.

“Yeah,” Sara said briefly. “Why wouldn’t I be?” She waited a few seconds before she added, “So… how long have you known?”

Zari squinted her eyes a little then tilted her head.

“How long have I known what?” she asked, feigning ignorance.

Sara huffed impatiently. “That Ava’s gay.”

“Oh, that,” Zai said, snapping her fingers and doing a poor job of appearing clueless. “I had a feeling the night we met. Amaya confirmed it shortly after our first day on the team.”

“I see,” Sara said, her tone told Zari Sara hadn't said her last word about it. “You didn’t think to, I don’t know, maybe tell me such tiny little detail before I made a fool myself in front of Ava a number of times for remarking on her non-existent straightness?”

“Bitch, I literally tried telling you every time you used Ava’s...” Zari made an air-quote gesture, “heterosexuality as an excuse not to pursue her, but you kept cutting me off.”

Sara opened her mouth to rebut but clamped it back shut when Zari continued.

“I think at the back of your mind, like, you know, deep down, you knew Ava was gay. You just kept denying it to yourself because you didn’t want it to be true because if it was true, you couldn’t use that excuse anymore to peter out your unresolved, complicated feelings for her.”

“Fuck right off!”

Amaya, Nate, and Ray all chuckled.

“And besides,” Zari continued, ignoring Sara’s remark and throwing her an amused and teasing smirk, “I didn’t know you cared a lot about what Ava thought if you made a fool of yourself in front of her.”

Sara scoffed.

“I don’t. And for the record,” she said, holding up a finger. “I never wanted to pursue Ava and I certainly do not have any kind of feelings for her. At least not the kind you think of.”

“No? I see,” Zari said sarcastically. “So you’re telling me that your feeling the need to be unnecessarily rude to Ava’s almost fiancée, who, by the way, is smoooking hot, was just you being your usual asshole self? It wasn’t because you were, I don’t know, jealous, maybe?”

Sara sneered. “Why the hell would I be jealous?”

Zari shrugged then leaned back in her chair, arms crossing over her chest, her lips curled up into a knowing smirk.

“I don’t know, Sara. You tell me.”

Sara rolled her eyes then stood up. “I’m going to the training room.”

“But what about our team dinner? You said you were in.”

“You guys go,” Sara said dismissively, then turned to leave. “I've just decided I’m not hungry.”

“Uh-huh,” Zari said sceptically then called after Sara, “FEEL LIKE HITTING SOMETHING, HUH?! NOT JEALOUS, MY ASS!”

------------------------------

After getting home, Sara spent hours putting herself in Darhk’s head so she could figure out why he chose those specific names for each folder in the file they had on him. By midnight, she had already plenty of information to share with the team at their next briefing; information she knew was important.

Now here she was, lying in bed, still wide awake, tossing and turning at one in the morning. She had even consumed half a bottle of Scotch to hopefully help her go to sleep, but the same was of no use. Her mind was still awfully busy thinking; not about Laurel, not about Darhk… but about Ava fucking Sharpe and the fact that she was gay.

She should have seen it sooner. She should have known that Ava was into women because what straight woman would choose to wear a polyblend pantsuit every day and look like a damn Sears model at work when she could very well just dress in business casual?

Sara squeezed her eyes shut and grimaced as she thought of all the times she made a reference to Ava’s “straightness” to her. What a fool she might have looked like to her.

Ava must have had a laugh every time.

Her gaydar had always been on point. She didn’t make a habit of making assumptions on a person’s sexual orientation, but when she did, she was always right; and yet, until today, she thought Ava was straight.

Or perhaps Zari was right– perhaps she had always had a feeling that Ava was gay but that she just pushed it so far from her mind because she didn’t want to be distracted– couldn’t let herself be distracted by anything that could compromise her own mission; but now that she knew with absolute certainty that Ava was gay, it would be impossible to ignore the fact that she–

Sara shook her head vehemently to rid it of the thought that just crossed her mind.

NO.

Ava was fascinating, yes. She definitely found her amusing.

The detective in her was also determined to get a roadmap into everything that made the agent tick because admittedly, Ava was incredibly interesting.

That was it. Nothing more.

Definitely nothing more.

Except...

She didn’t like the way Ava’s breath seemed to have gotten caught upon seeing her ex-girlfriend– no, her almost-fiancée.

She was displeased by how Ava looked almost nervous; that Max had that effect on her.

She disliked the ease with which the two talked; how Max complimented Ava or how she knew her too well; and how Max had a special nickname for her.

She wasn’t at all thrilled about the idea that if Ava had said yes to Max’s proposal, she could very well be a married woman now.

She was annoyed at Ava’s use on Max of that reprimanding and disapproving tone which she only ever used on her.

She was averse to Max calling Ava her girl.

She hated how, not even a minute of talking with each other, Max had already made Ava smile and giggle, when until tonight, she didn’t even know Ava was capable of giggling; at least, not sober.

She had a strong distaste for the fact that the first time she ever saw Ava blush was because of something Max alluded to, and that she despised that Max’s allusion was Ava and her together.

She particularly resented that the whole time Ava was talking to Max, she had a soft, unguarded expression on her face– one that she hadn’t even realised until today that she wanted to see Ava wear whenever she was talking to her and–

Nope.

“FUCK!! GOD DAMN IT!”

Sara rolled over and lay on her stomach, burrowing her face into the pillow and groaning in frustration.


07:55

Ava breathed out a sigh of relief.

She still had five more minutes on her time before she could consider herself late.

Getting on the elevator to take her to their floor, Ava raked her fingers through her still-damp hair, smoothed her suit jacket with her palm, and said a silent prayer to whoever was listening that nobody would notice her walking in and that her team wasn’t in yet.

Once she was off the elevator, she looked around for the Legends, groaning in displeasure when she found Ray, Zari, and Nate talking with Amaya at her desk, while Sara was at hers, head down on something on her desk.

Damn it!

They decided to come in early today, of all days.

It wasn't that she slept late. If anything, she slept through the night, really well, for the first time in four weeks because she didn't find herself wide awake in the middle of the night, thinking of the case or Sara, more especially.

Sara.

Ava shook her head emphatically.

Nope.

This was Max’s fault.

She could have gone on with her life just fine without her ex putting a ridiculous thought in her head; and now, when she woke up this morning, it was the first thing that her stupid lesbian brain thought of, and of which it couldn’t seem to get rid no matter how much she was pushing it down.

Ava internally groaned.

Last night, she and Max spent half the time at dinner catching up with each other’s lives, while the other half was spent talking about Sara, because for some reason, her ex was avidly curious about her, so she launched into a swift but complete version of everything that had happened– Sara-related, that was; and by the end of it, Max had a grin on her face that made Ava feel a slight sense of apprehension.

******************************

“What?” Ava asked, her brows drawn together.

“Oh, nothing,” Max said nonchalantly, shrugging her shoulders. “It’s just that, I’ve never seen you this riled up about anybody before. You were always so collected and calm and patient… almost to a fault.”

“That’s because I hadn’t met anyone as infuriating as Sara Lance before,” Ava replied matter-of-factly.

Max hummed, an amused smirk on her face. “She’s VERY hot.”

“Oh, you’re interested?” Ava asked teasingly. “She and I don’t see eye to eye but I think I can put in a good word for you.”

Max chuckled.

“Have you seen those freckles?! And are her eyes even real?! They’re impossibly blue. I don’t know how you manage to function while having to look at them every day.”

BARELY, Ava thought.

Ava drew her brows together to give an impression of confusion.

“Why would I not be able to function?”

“Come on, Ava.” Max shot Ava a knowing smirk. “You cannot possibly tell me you’re not at least attracted to her.”

“I’m not,” Ava said decisively. “She’s objectively attractive. It doesn’t mean I should be attracted to her.”

“Well, that may be true... but Sara definitely likes you.”

Ava scoffed.

“Right. I can tell just how much she likes me by the way she’s been making my life a living hell for the past four weeks,” she said sarcastically.

“Have I ever told you about my ex-girlfriends?”

“We had an agreement never to talk about our exes,” Ava said despite the confusion AND relief at the sudden change of subject.

“Oh, that's right,” Max said, suddenly remembering. “But since we're not together anymore, let me tell you about one of mine.”

Ava shrugged her shoulders.

“I have this ex from high school, right? Sophie,” Max recounted. “Before we got together, she was terrible to me. Did a lot of awful things. We even ended up in the principal’s office during the few times she caught me on a bad day and I decided to push back. One night, she just showed up at my doorstep. I wasn’t even aware she knew where I lived. But that’s not the point. The point is, she showed up, slightly drunk, and then started apologising and going on about her being an asshole to me was because I was making her feel things and she didn’t know what to do with it. You see, I was her first girlfriend.”

Max smirked, wriggling her eyebrows, causing Ava to roll her eyes.

“She thought that if she was horrible to me and we antagonise each other enough, whatever it was that she was feeling would eventually go away. Didn’t turn out the way she thought she wanted to happen because a few weeks later, she was screaming my name. In her bed.”

Ava looked bewildered.

“I do not see the point of you telling me about how you succeeded in bedding your high school girlfriend.”

“You may be a profiler, Ava,” Max said, smiling as she leaned back in her seat, “but when it comes to women, you can be a little dense.”

Ava scowled at Max, prompting the latter to laugh.

“It took you years to know I was interested in you romantically,” Max said fondly. “I had to literally say the words ‘I like you’ to you before you finally caught up.”

“I thought you were just being friendly!” Ava said defensively.

Max laughed.

“That’s exactly what I meant. Disregarding your superbrain, reading people is practically your superpower, but when women are involved, you can be quite illiterate.”

“How dare you,” Ava said in mock offence.

“I’m just saying,” Max said, holding up her hands, “I can read women. That’s MY superpower. And what I read from Sara was... she likes you. Maybe she doesn’t even realise that herself, but earlier at the Bureau, she was ready to strangle me in her head.”

When Ava looked at her blankly, Max added, “Because she was jealous?”

Ava huffed out a laugh.

“You’re being ridiculous,” she said dismissively, waving Max off. “Sara Lance isn’t the kind of person who gets jealous. As you said, have you seen her? Half of the agents on our floor alone are in love with her. She can have anybody she wants with no effort at all on her part.”

Max hummed thoughtfully.

“Sometimes,” she said after a moment, “the most daunting thing in this world is to go after what we REALLY want.” A pause. “WHOM we want. And it can be terrifying, so most of the time, we settle for what’s easy and comfortable.”

Ava stared at Max strangely.

“I can understand The Euler Product Formula but sometimes, I can't understand you.”

Max chuckled

“I’ve long since been aware of how your brilliant brain works,” she said, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips, “ So... one day, when you finally LET it catch up, you’ll understand what I’m trying to say. When you do, think of me fondly.”

Ava halfheartedly rolled her eyes again.

-----

“So, are you absolutely sure you don’t like Sara, you know, romantically or whatever?” Max asked as they were leaving the restaurant. “At all?”

“One hundred percent,” Ava said confidently. “I barely like her professionally.”

A beat passed between them before Max spoke again.

“You know,” she said, her tone turning sensual. “I kept my place here.”

Suppressing a smile, Ava hummed.

“I’m aware,” she said flippantly. “You told me before you left that you weren’t going to sell it.”

Max held Ava’s gaze, smirking. “Wanna come over?”

******************************

Ava shook the memories off and focused instead on the problem at hand.

Hoping that her team was too engrossed in whatever it was they were talking about, Ava made her way to her office, albeit, with calculated steps and a hint of an involuntary smile on her face.

"Ava, heeey!” Zari exclaimed cheerfully.

Ava stopped mid-step, closing her eyes and grimacing as all hopes of not being noticed disappeared.

Crap!

Keeping her face neutral, she turned around to find Zari, Amaya, Ray, and Nate looking at her suspiciously; while Sara, who had quite a curious expression on her face, just gave her a quick once-over before bringing her attention back to what she now knew was a crossword puzzle.

“You're late," Amaya commented.

Ava made a show of bringing a wrist out to check the time.

"I'm not. You're all just very early."

"Which is still unusual because you always get here before any of us," Zari said, looking at Ava inquisitively. "Your hair is not up in a perfect bun. This is the first time I’ve seen you at work with your hair down. It's still damp which means you didn't blow dry it… probably because you didn't have time. Maybe you slept in? You had a late night."

Ava cleared her throat.

"If you're showing off your deductive skills, Zari, there's no need. You're already on the team and you have proven your worth. Now, I should–"

Ava pointed to her office, her body already half-turned towards it, ready to leave when Zari cut her off.

“You were smiling when you came in," Zari said questioningly. "You never smile coming in to work. Not that I've ever seen you in the weeks I've been working here, anyway. Yesterday, you looked almost like death.”

Zari held up her hands. “No offence.”

“None taken,” Ava stated briefly.

“But now… you're glowing, almost as if it's an aftergl–" Zari cut herself off as realisation finally dawned on her face. "OH MY GOD, YOU GOT LAID!"

"ZARI!" Both Amaya, and Ava whose eyes went wide and cheeks started to feel warm, exclaimed at the same time.

"That's not something you say to your boss," Amaya added, half-reprimanding. "But it's certainly something her best friend would,” she said, smiling teasingly as she turned to Ava. “Still as mind-blowing as you remember?”

“AMAYA!” Ava exploded, feeling her whole face grow even warmer.

Oh, dear god.

Ava shifted on her feet uncomfortably as she felt like sinking through the floor in embarrassment.

Both Zari and Amaya let out a surge of laughter.

Nate let out a whistle while Ray just looked on, grinning.

Ava huffed then rolled her eyes as she shook her head in exasperation, her gaze flickered to Sara who had since taken her eyes off the crossword puzzle she was solving and was now on her.

She noticed how Sara’s face had on a slightly pinched expression that she refused to stop even for a second to pore over because damn Max for putting a ludicrous thought in her head. Nonetheless, Sara looking at her still made her feel self-conscious.

Clearing her throat again, Ava dragged her eyes back to Amaya and Zari.

"I'm not having this conversation with either of you,” she said, forcing sternness into her voice. “This is a place of work."

“Can I go to your place later, then?” Zari asked cheekily. “I’d like for us to talk about girls, and maybe trade tips. You know... lesbian solidarity. Team Zava!” she exclaimed enthusiastically, pumping a fist in the air.

Amaya snickered and nudged Zari’s shoulder with hers.

Ava, despite her total embarrassment, just mouthed Zava? looking confused and was rather beginning to question her decision of ever letting Zari into the team.

“Oh, hey, Ava,” Ray chimed in, pointing at Ava. “You got a new shirt.”

“That's not her shirt, Ray,” Nate said matter-of-factly, a knowing smile on his face.

“Of course, it is,” Ava said hastily, looking around at everyone except Sara whose presence while they were having this specific conversation was making her rather uncomfortable for some reason.

For A reason her brain didn’t want to entertain. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.

“I can't believe you just lied. You never lie,” Zari said accusingly. “All your work shirts are white. What you're wearing now is almost grey. And that's the suit from yesterday. You didn't go home last night, did you?”

“Zari…” Ava drawled threateningly, turning her body a little so didn’t have to see Sara even in her peripheral view.

“Makes sense,” Zari said, shrugging her shoulders. “You and Agent Sinclair have the same built.” Arching up a brow, she added, "Must have been a great night, huh, ‘cause I noticed when you were walking over here… your gait suggests that–”

"ZARI! I SWEAR TO GOD!” Ava exclaimed then held up a finger, feeling like her cheeks were on fire. “Don't make me report you to HR."

Zari held up her hands in surrender, holding back a laugh. “I'll stop talking now.”

“As I was saying,” Ava said, giving Zari, Amaya, Nate, and Ray each a reprimanding look, then her brows dipped into a confused frown. “I forgot what I was going to say.”

“You also never forget things,” Sara remarked, speaking for the first time since Ava walked in.

Ava turned to face Sara to find her with an amused smirk on her mouth; the usual mischief was back in her eyes which told her that Sara was about to have a hand in teasing her together with the rest of the team.

“Must be the residual high from last night that fogged that unforgetting brain of yours,” Sara remarked.

Ava narrowed her eyes in annoyance, then they flitted between her teammates.

“You're all bumheads.”

Bumheads?” Sara echoed, a mix of amusement and fascination in her voice. “That is the most adorable insult I have ever heard.”

Ignoring Sara, Ava straightened herself up and addressed everyone.

“Briefing in the conference room in one hour. I'll be in my office until then.”

Ava had taken four steps before turning around.

“For the record, I didn't lie. This really is my shirt.”

“Aww… Ava still has stuff at Max’s place after all this time. So domestic, don't you think so, Amaya,” Zari said as soon as Ava left, giving Sara a sideways glance and making a point of speaking louder.

Amaya, who, like Zari had a smirk on her face, flickered her gaze on Sara, and just shook her lightly at Zari’s attempt at aggravating her best friend.

**********

Ava stretched her back then leaned back in her chair when she finished answering and sending emails. She was massaging the back of her neck when her phone buzzed. Max had sent her a message to tell her she was coming by later, to which she said okay. After a few seconds, another message popped in referencing an old inside joke between them, causing her to chuckle to herself. Smiling, she sent Max a quick reply, then checked her watch.

Still had a few minutes before their briefing, Ava found herself looking in the direction of Sara who, to her utter mortification, was already looking at her with a scowl on her face.

Ava shifted uncomfortably in her seat just as Sara dragged her eyes back down to whatever she was reading.

This was really Max’s fault. Her ex planted a seed in her head and now it was beginning to grow and she wasn’t even watering it.

She had spent the last four weeks glaring or scowling at Sara every day but now, she couldn’t even look at her for more than two seconds, all because of what Max said at dinner.

Of course, she didn’t believe Sara liked her; not even for a second. Why would she, when the two of them strongly, genuinely dislike each other; when most days since Sara joined the team ended with the two of them at each other’s throat.

Nevertheless, the idea that Sara might like her was out there- the mere thought of it… It was making her squirm.

In her career, she had taken down dozens of psychopathic and sociopathic criminals, had seen more blood than any person should ever have to see, had shed a fair share of her own and had been a witness to the most horrific things a human being could be capable of.

She had seen it all. And more.

She was Ava Fucking Sharpe.

… and if there was one thing she didn’t do, it was squirm.

With her newfound conviction, Ava successfully un-dug the seed; pushed out what Max deliberately (or otherwise) put in her head, and was absolutely certain it wouldn’t ever resurface.

She took a breath, smiling smugly and nodding determinedly to herself as she slammed a mental door on the last remnants of the effect of what Max said, then made her way towards the conference room.

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

“Mmm,” Ray hummed thoughtfully as he read over her shoulder. “Five-letter word for the feeling of contentment from simple comforts.”

Sara whirled her head around and held up her pen threateningly.

“Don’t you dare tell me the answer, Raymond!” she warned. “Or I’ll tell Kendra you have a crush on her.”

Ray’s eyes widened.

“What?! That’s.. “ He squared his shoulders and held himself up straighter. “I do not have a crush on Dr Saunders.”

Sara gave him a teasing smile.

“No? So Nate lied to me, then? Because he said you’ve been crushing on her for about a year now.”

Nate held up his arms in surrender when Ray turned to him with a look of betrayal on his face.

“I didn’t know it was supposed to be a secret!”

Huffing resignedly, Ray turned back to Sara.

Sara pointed to the team.

“Go back to Amaya’s desk, enjoy your disgusting buttered coffee, and leave me alone with my crossword puzzle.”

Ray held up a hand as he backed away a step then walked over to where Amaya, Zari, and Nate were.

“What’s up with her?” he asked, tipping his head a little towards Sara.

“She’s moody ‘cause I made her come in early,” Zari said matter-of-factly. “Which doesn’t make a difference anyway ‘cause she got up today the same time she does most mornings to go for a run.”

“Maybe she’s in one of her moods,” Nate said, shrugging his shoulders.

Nate opened his mouth to add something else but Amaya cut him off before he could.

“If you say what I think you’re going to say, Nathaniel, don’t,” she said firmly. “That would be a very male thing to say.”

“You do realise that my desk is not even 10 feet from where you all are, right?” Sara asked, not taking her eyes from her puzzle. “I can hear just fine.”

Amaya chuckled.

Ray turned his head in the direction of Ava’s office then checked his time.

“Ava’s running late.”

“She’s not,” Amaya stated. “We’re all just early today. It’s not even 8 A.M. yet.”

Sara reached for her phone on the desk and check the time on it.

07:53

Sara’s brows creased a little.

This was the first time in four weeks that she came in before Ava did. She had been with the team long enough now to know that despite not having a fixed time on when she should come, Ava had a habit of coming to work not later than eight in the morning, which gave her seven more minutes.

Four minutes later and Sara lifted her head up when Zari said Ava’s name.

Slightly curious of Ava’s unusual appearance, she let her eyes quickly skate over the length of the agent’s body. She lowered her gaze back on her crossword puzzle but tuned in to what her teammates were saying, never looking up again until Zari, in true fashion, loudly announced Ava’s eventful night– a fact the veracity of which was made crystal clear by Ava’s suffused-with-red face.

Something ugly and unpleasant twisted in Sara’s stomach as she really took Ava in, and she tried but failed to get rid of it by joining the team in poking fun at Ava. It didn’t allay when she heard what Zari said; especially not while she watched Ava’s face break into a smile while looking down at her phone. She didn’t need to think hard of who the cause of it might be.

Finding herself gripping the pen tighter, she returned her attention back on her crossword puzzle, not the least concerned that Ava had caught her staring.

Three-letter word for great sorrow or distress.

Woe.

------------------------------

While in the conference room for their morning briefing, the team was formulating a plan on how to shut down the facility where Davenport did his counterfeiting works.

Ray was in charge of putting a tracker in Davenport’s watch so the team would know where Darhk’s men would take him, and of assembling a strike team to go with them to the site. Gideon would take care of the technical stuff from HQ once she had pinpointed the network the facility’s system was connected to, and Zari would go with the team in the field to access satellite imagery, then control the drone they would use to recon the area around the facility to see just how much outside security they would have to face, as Davenport mentioned in his statement that Darhk’s men were heavily armed.

When all the important details were covered, Ray, Nate, and Zari started debating on what to name their mission; and all suggestions so far were making Ava’s headache worse.

Ava pinched the bridge of her nose, her face all scrunched up.

“Can we be serious for a second, please? I’m tired.”

“Oh, I bet you are,” Nate commented slyly.

“Okay, you know what?” Ava said, holding up her hands. “That’s it. I’m adjourning this briefing because you’re all giving me a headache.”

“I take it you had a late night. You sure it’s not because of insufficient sleep or…?” Zari trailed off.

“I hate all of you,” Ava said with a straight face, already rising from her seat. “This briefing is over.”

“It isn't,” Sara said curtly, speaking for the first time since they started.

For the entire duration of the briefing, Sara didn’t look her way. She either had her head down playing with her hands or looking around at everyone but her. Ava chalked it up to Sara being in one of her moods.

Meanwhile, Sara had grown increasingly irked by the minute, although she couldn’t quite suss out why.

She thought maybe Nate was right; maybe she really was having one of her moods.

She had been feeling off the moment she woke up and running an extra few miles than usual didn’t help lighten her mood.

Ava settled back in her chair. “Is there something you'd like to add?”

“There is,” Sara said matter-of-factly. “I know what Operation Genesis is. I know what Darhk is planning.”

“And what is that exactly?” Ava asked almost indulgently.

Sara hated how condescending Ava’s tone sounded and it just rubbed her the wrong way.

“To give this country a fresh start,” Sara replied flatly.

Ava’s brows knitted together. “What does that mean?”

Sara lazily grabbed her tablet from the table.

“The criminal organisation Darhk leads is called The Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations. H.I.V.E for short. This...” she said, tapping on her tablet, “is their logo. Check your tablets. I sent a photo of it.”

The team each see a hexagonal pattern that resembled a beehive honeycomb.

“You see that and I’ll bet Darhk isn’t far away.”

“That makes sense,” Nate said, shrugging his shoulders. “I mean, Darhk’s already dipped in what technically is considered terrorism before. All terrorist groups give themselves a name.”

“Like a boy band,” Ray remarked cheerily.

Nate's face lit up. “Exactly.”

Ava looked at Nate and Ray bemusedly. “Why are the two of you acting like this is news?”

Turning to Sara, she said, “We knew about the logo. We knew about HIVE. What we didn’t know is that it was an acronym.”

Gideon hummed.

“There’s a folder in Darhk’s file with that name. Zari and I just haven’t decrypted it.”

“You’ll probably see a list of H.I.V.E.’s members and Darhk’s partners and allies in it,” Sara said, then paused for a moment. “What Darhk’s plan is, is a nuclear holocaust. He’s going to target several major cities in the country.”

Every pair of eyes in the room widened at the information they just heard, Zari included.

“I beg your pardon?!” Ava asked in shock.

“You heard me,” Sara said tersely.

“Wh-” Ava briefly shut her eyes and shook her head as if to clear it. “Wait one second. How do you know this?”

“It came to me in a vision,” Sara said facetiously, unsmiling and still hadn’t turned to look at Ava.

Ava internally shook her head at the knowledge that being on the verge of death did not change Sara’s penchant for being a little shit; which meant she was still her. And she didn’t know whether it was a bad thing or a good one, but at least now, she knew not to walk on eggshells with her.

After the briefest moment, Ava looked at Sara sternly.

“This isn’t the time for one of your jokes, Lance.”

“What do you take me for?” Sara asked mockingly. “I have more than one.”

Ava glowered at Sara. “I’m not going to ask you again.”

“Then don’t,” Sara bit out sharply as she finally faced Ava.

Ava ground her teeth together, staring Sara down.

“Sara, please,” Amaya pleaded. “This is important. How do you know? And are you sure?”

“Well, since you asked very nicely, Amaya...” Sara said, eyes not leaving Ava’s.

She felt a small rush of satisfaction when she saw a muscle in Ava’s jaw tense, although the same didn’t last, nor did it feel as potent as she usually felt whenever she tried to antagonise Ava.

Putting firmness into her voice, she said, “I know because I have a source. And yes, I’m sure.”

“Who’s your source?” Ava asked curtly.

Me, Sara thought.

Sara shrugged her shoulders flippantly. “Can’t tell ya. Source confidentiality or something.”

“You’re not a journalist,” Ava said harshly. “Reporter’s privilege doesn’t apply to you.”

“My confidential informant, then,” Sara rebutted. “Isn’t there a law on the protection of CIs?”

Ava let out a frustrated huff. “You’re not a law enforcement officer, either.”

Sara leaned forward a little, her expression shifted from bored to a mix of anger and offence.

“What, so my CI doesn’t deserve the protection of the law because you think I’m just a lowly private detective?”

“I didn’t say that. That’s not what I meant.”

“No?” Sara asked mockingly. “Well, what exactly did you mean? I’m very eager to hear it.”

The rest of the team had flickered their eyes between the arguing pair. As the tension in the room became too thick, Amaya spoke.

“Guys, please. Is this really the time for the two of you to bicker?”

“We’re not bickering!” Both Sara and Ava exclaimed simultaneously as they both jerked their head towards Amaya.

“Jinx,” Zari said under her breath.

“Look,” Sara said resignedly, resting her forearms on the table and linking her fingers together. “Who my source is, is not what’s important right now. What is, is that now that we know what Darhk’s plan is, we can start figuring out how to stop him. This isn’t some minor crime we’re talking about here. That psychopath is gonna bomb parts of the United States and–”

“Why?” Ava interposed. “Why would he want to do that? To what end? Bombing this country and killing millions of people in the process…? That’s an enormous leap from the crimes we were originally apprehending him for, don’t you think?”

“You’re the profiler,” Sara said derisively. “You tell me.”

“So your CI doesn’t know?”

“Oh, she does,” Sara said smugly, leaning back in her seat and crossing her arms over her chest. “I just thought you did, too. I mean, from what I heard from Rip, you’re the best. Or was I given the wrong impression?”

“Your CI…. who’s a woman,” Ava stated matter-of-factly, ignoring Sara’s jab, “What did she say?”

Sara huffed, feeling incredibly frustrated with herself that she got too focused on enraging Ava, and on her own… her.. whatever the fuck she was feeling, that she inadvertently slipped.

“Everyone in this room knows that Darhk is a psychopathic bastard with extreme homicidal intentions, so why is it a surprise to literally any of you that he’s escalating to genocide?”

Without waiting for anyone to speak, she continued.

“He’s also a delusional megalomaniac who sees himself as some kind of god who wants to re-shape the world with his own hands. He believes that this country is the most corrupt of all and he thinks it needs a fresh start; that American people, its leaders mostly, need a lesson on humility. He believes that to build something new and great, the old must first be torn down first. That’s why his whole operation is called GENESIS. Like, you know, the great flood from the Bible? Except, instead of water, he’s bringing about destructions with bombs.”

Sara looked around everyone.

“Darhk has been envisioning this since he was young. It’s just now that he started putting it in motion.”

Ava turned to Amaya and waited for her to meet her gaze. When she did, she gave her a look, a silent communication passing between them.

“Sara,” Amaya said calmly, “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but… h- I don’t suppose your source knows what Darhk’s innermost thoughts are. So, how did you even know about what you just told us?”

Because he and I were both once part of a group of elite assassins whose creed includes cleansing this world of people who endanger it.

Except Darhk is an extremist who operates on his own interpretation of such creed and on his personal agenda.

And because my ex-girlfriend’s parting gift to me is most of the information I have on him.

“Because…” Sara said, turning to Ava, her expression taunting, “contrary to what some people think, I’m an exceptional detective.”

Ava, knowing Sara was just trying to get a rise out of her, refused to rise to the bait and instead just looked at her impassively.

“You said Darhk is going to target several major cities. How many exactly? Which ones? What’s his timeline? And where is he going to get his hands on that much bombs?”

Sara tilted her head and squinted her eyes a little at Ava.

“Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it?” A pause. “Agent Sharpe.”

Ava inwardly flinched at the taut way Sara said her name; so different from when she said her first name while they were in her office the day before last and at her house thereafter.

Not wanting to give anything away, Ava continued to look at Sara with a blank expression on her face.

“If we want to take down Darhk,” Sara continued, looking around everyone, “the fastest way to do that is to cripple his operation first.”

“And how do you suggest we do that?” Nate asked.

“By dismantling his funding,” Both Sara and Ava said at the same time again, causing the two of them to jerk their heads towards each other.

“Jinx again!” Zari exclaimed. “Is this gonna be your thing?”

“Aww,” Ray cooed. “That was cute.”

Ava sent a glare his way then addressed everyone.

“She's right–”

“You both are,” Nate interjected.

Ava ignored Nate.

“If we’re going to take down Darhk’s whole organisation, and consequently, his operation, we have to weaken him first by bleeding him dry. His source of money is the vein we need to tap.”

“When we started this investigation, we issued a seize and seizure on Darhk's assets and properties. All his accounts have been frozen too,” Nate said matter-of-factly. “We don't even know where Darhk is getting his money.”

“Yes, we do,” Sara stated confidently.

“Something you would like to share to the class, Lance?”

Sara scoffed.

“While all of you were busy doing whatever the hell it was you were doing last night… or whomever, for some of us,” Sara said, almost spitting out the words, causing everyone to arch up their brows, save for Ava whose cheeks turned pink, “I was trying to figure out why Darhk gave each folder their specific name.”

“And?” Ava asked expectantly, her brow arched up.

“If you could just stop yourself from interrupting me,” Sara said bitterly, “I should be able to finish with this briefing within this millennia.”

Sara and Ava stared each other down and the longer they did, everyone else in the room became tenser.

When it seemed that Sara wasn’t budging, Ava let out a resigned sigh. “Please continue.”

“We already know how we can sabotage Darhk’s funding. The–”

Sara was cut off by a quiet groan from Ava.

Ava briefly closed her eyes as she brought a hand up to her face. “I’m such an idiot.”

Zari, confused, looked around to see everyone except Sara with a smile small on their faces.

“Uh, what is going on?”

“I believe Ava just thought of something she would have normally figured out in no time if she wasn’t stressing too much,” Amaya said.

“Or getting laid,” Sara said under her breath, practically grinding the words out.

Ava, despite hearing Sara’s remark, chose not to comment thereon on account of her feeling too disappointed in herself. Instead, she turned to everyone.

“The El Dorado folder is where we find out all about Darhk funding.”

Ava flickered her gaze Sara who gave her a slight nod, then turned to Nate.

“You said the legend tells of a man who bathes himself in gold and then dives into a lake, right? From a person, over time it became places; city, for example where one can acquire great fortune and wealth. Darhk’s El Dorado IS the fount of his own wealth, so to speak. The projects in that subfolder are the source of his money.” A pause. “His funding.”

“Huh,” Nate huffed thoughtfully. “I didn’t think of it like that.”

Ray turned to Sara. “You came up with the same theory?”

Sara nodded then turned to Ava.

“Would you like to tell them or should I?” Sara asked.

Still feeling disheartened over not figuring things out sooner, Ava motioned for Sara to take the floor.

“I did some research last night. There was an American counterfeiter who was considered the reason for the rise of counterfeiting incidents here…” Sara trailed off then turned to Ava, silently wanting a confirmation if the agent had the same thought.

“Edward Mueller,” Ava stated quietly.

Sara smiled internally then turned towards the group.

“Before his identity was discovered, Mueller was nicknamed Mr 880 after his case number. That’s why Darhk named the folder with Davenport’s name in it, Project 880… Because the project involves counterfeiting.”

“Guys!” Ray exclaimed, beaming. “You're both geniuses!”

“I’m not. Not even remotely close. I don't need to be a genius to do my job and get results,” Sara said as she turned to look at Ava, her countenance hard, but her brows were set in a challenging quirk.

Sara stared at Ava.

Ava, for her part, roved Sara’s face then quickly ducked her head as she squeezed her eyes close the moment an image started forming in her head.

Sara’s brows knitted together in puzzlement.

Nate put his palms together then brought the tips of his forefingers up to his lips.

“That was so beautiful, I could honestly cry.”

Ava lifted her head up, looked at Nate then rolled her eyes the same time Sara did.

“Even their eye-rolling is in sync. I'm getting emotional,” Nate added, theatrically fanning his face with a hand.

Ray, Gideon, Lily, and Amaya laughed.

“Will you stop?!” Both Ava and Sara said simultaneously.

“There it is again,” Nate said dramatically.

Zari nodded to herself. “Oh yeah. That is definitely their thing now.”

The rest of the team chuckled.

“Ava?” Amaya said when the team’s laughter had died down and she noticed that Ava looked like she was in deep thought. “What is it?”

Ava lifted her eyes at Amaya, a look of dawning on her face.

“We froze all of Damien Darhk’s assets,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Well... yeah,” Nate agreed, suddenly confused. “We–”

Nate cut himself off when Ava shook her head quite emphatically.

“We froze Damien Darhk’s assets,” Ava reiterated. “Not Kenneth Bender’s.”

A look of realisation crossed across the team’s features.

“Oh,” Both Nate and Ray exclaimed quietly.

Ava turned to Zari. “Please look for all domestic accounts under Bender’s name.”

Zari nodded then got to work.

To Gideon, Ava asked, “I hope there isn’t one but can you find out if Darhk has any Offshore Account under his real name?”

Gideon arched a brow at Ava.

“Can I, she asks,” she grumbled, already tapping on her laptop.

Sara furtively dragged her eyes to Ava in time to see a small smile tugged at the latter’s lips as she rolled her eyes good-naturedly at Gideon’s remark. She tried to ignore how her stomach swooped at the sight.

“There’s one Cayman account,” Gideon said, eyes on the laptop screen. “And a Swiss one.”

Ava’s face fell then she let out a resigned breath.

“Those are way out of our jurisdiction. Getting a freeze order for those accounts from the proper courts would be a lot harder than for the domestic ones. Either way, we need hard proof that Damien Darhk and Kenneth Bender are one and the same person. There isn’t a single digital record of that fact.”

“I can get you that proof,” Sara chimed in causing everyone’s eyes to turn to her. “You’ll have it tomorrow.”

“You have proof?” Ava asked in disbelief. When Sara nodded, she added, “As in, documentary proof that you already have it in your possession?”

“Yes,” Sara said. “My source gave it to me.”

“The same source who gave you all the information you just told us?” Ava asked curiously.

“No,” Sara admitted, "A different one."

Ava was about to say something when Nate banged his palm on the table causing everyone’s head to turn to him.

Ava, for her part, jumped in her seat.

“Darhk is going to be so pissed once we have all his assets frozen,” Nate remarked cheerfully. “His terroristic plan will be pushed back to who knows when. That gives us time. But hey…” He held out his arms and smugly said, “His losses are our wins.”

“That’s right,” Ray agreed. “All we have to do is find him before he can get back up from the major set back we’re about to cause.”

“Look alive, Legends!” Nate exclaimed dramatically. “We’re going to save America.”

Everyone let out a chuckle.

Sara and Ava turned to each other, holding each other’s gaze until Zari broke the spell.

“See what happens when the two of you put your heads together instead of biting the other’s off?” Zari asked, pleased. “This team accomplishes things faster. You didn’t even talk it out before the briefing. Imagine what the two of you could achieve if you actually worked together.”

Ignoring Zari’s remark, Ava flitted her gaze between her and Gideon.

“One of you, please work on decrypting everything in the El Dorado folder first. The other, on what you can among the rest of the subfolders. We still need to assume Darhk will execute his plan soon.”

Both Zari and Gideon nodded.

“We’ll call this mission Mission 880.” Looking around everyone, Ava asked, “Is there anything else from anyone?”

The rest of her team shook their heads.

“Alright, then. You’re all dismissed.” Ava said, already rising from her chair. “Amaya, may I speak with you for a moment?”

“Of course,” Amaya replied, walking over to Ava. She waited until everyone else was out of the conference room before she spoke again, holding up a finger when she saw Ava opening her mouth to talk.

“What’s going on with you?”

Ava’s brows drew together. “What do you mean?”

“You’re not yourself. Have you been having…” Amaya trailed off, not wanting to voice it out, having an idea of how exactly Ava was going to respond. “When was the last time you met with Dr Lin?

“I haven’t,” Ava said, almost tautly. “And I don't see the need to meet with Dr Lin.”

“Are you sure? It’s just–”

Ava cut Amaya off immediately.

“I’m sure, Amaya. Now let it go. That’s not what I wanted to discuss with you.”

Amaya eyed Ava carefully.

“If something was going on, I'd tell you,” Ava said reassuringly. ”Right now, there's nothing to tell.”

Amaya frowned a little.

“It’s just… I know you and I have a working system. You go through something and I usually just wait until you're ready to talk about it with me, but I feel that I need to push just a little bit this time. I don’t like to think about you going through what you did last time. I don’t have to remind you about everything that happened.”

When Ava didn’t say anything, Amaya continued.

“You’ve been a little off lately. A little too off, if I may say so. Otherwise, you would have figured out what you and Sara did a lot sooner.”

Ava waved Amaya off. “I was rather occupied with something else.”

“Oh, I know,” Amaya said, a teasing tone in her voice. “You still reek of sex.”

Ava halfheartedly rolled her eyes.

“I didn’t mean that. I meant I couldn't get those ciphers out of my mind so on Monday, the first night we saw it, I started to design an algorithm for a program that will decipher them. And then the other night, I couldn’t sleep so I finished it and inputted the second cipher and its translation.”

“Why would you still design a program for that when you could just ask Sara?”

“Do you honestly think she’s going to tell us, least of all me, how she could read it? Besides, that’s not the only reason I want to know how those whole symbols work.”

Amaya nodded, smiling a little.

“Because it’s a puzzle and it bothers you that you can’t piece it together... Which is also why you decided not to just use Zari and Gideon’s sequencer, either. I get it.”

Ava shrugged.

“Did you ask for Skye’s help?” Amaya asked curiously.

“Well, she’s running it. Before I created the program, I asked her to look into it. Go as far back as the Bronze Age and Proto writings, you know? Cross-reference it with anything that resembles the symbols.”

Ava shook her head.

“I decided to create the program because Skye found practically nothing. Darhk’s cipher is like an ancient unwritten, unrecorded secret code. Actually, you know what? That’s not right. It’s like an alien language. Literally. It’s almost impossible to break.”

“Emphasis on almost,” Amaya said encouragingly. “Maybe our cryptographers can look into it?”

Ava huffed out a laugh.

“Amaya, if Skye can’t crack Darhk’s code on her own, nobody else on the planet can.”

Amaya’s brows rose in realisation then snapped her fingers.

“Right.”

“If I just had one or two more of those ciphers, the program should be able to crack it. There’s just not enough input to work with.”

“I’m sure those first two ciphers Sara translated aren’t the only ones in the file,” Amaya stated reassuringly. “There are too many subfolders in it. I will bet my badge that there’s at least one cipher in each. And then you can have as many references as you need.”

“This kind of code is essentially a language, right?” Ava said, a whit of excitement leaking in her voice. “It's a language of its own, and like any language, we can trace its origin based on different factors. If I can understand... if I know how to read the ciphers, I might figure out where it came from without having to wait for Sara to tell us.”

“Or, how about this… we can translate them without having to rely on Sara all the time,” Amaya said teasingly. “Since, you know, it will help our case if we know what those ciphers translate to.”

Ava rolled her eyes. “The ciphers being translated was implied.”

Amaya snorted out a laugh. “But yeah, that's a great plan.”

Ava nodded. “Do me a favour, though. Don’t tell Sara. At least not yet.”

Amaya looked confused. “Why not?”

“There’s a reason she won’t tell me how she can read those ciphers. The fact that she just happens to know how to translate Darhk’s code is suspicious enough, don’t you think?”

Amaya nodded in agreement. “I’ve been wondering about that myself.”

“You two have gone closer since she joined us. Did you ask her?”

Amaya shook her head. “I think we both know she wouldn’t have told me even if I did.”

Ava let out a sigh.

“Just hold off on telling her. At least for now. How much are you going to bet that she's not going to be happy that I’m trying to crack it? She already hates me as it is.”

Amaya hummed thoughtfully.

“Okay.” A pause. “Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Ava huffed.

“Is it just me or is Sara a lot more combative than usual today?”

“Ah,” Amaya exclaimed, a soft smile tugging at the corners of her lips.

“The other night when I came by her place, we managed to have a whole conversation without yelling or throwing scathing words at each other. She said things to me that I never would have imagined hearing from her. For the first time since we met, I thought I was starting to clearly see the other side of her that I’m convinced she has but seems so resolute to not show to anyone, except perhaps to Zari, you know what I mean?

“And then when I got home that night, I received a few messages from her apologising for what she put us through. Not that I was ever delusional that she would always be nice from thereon, but I didn’t expect for her to be… even more abrasive. At least before, I knew her intention was to see me snap because for some reason, she seemed to enjoy it, but now, she looked almost… angry.. with me. Between the two of us, I’m the one who should be angry, especially after what she pulled in Rockville. I thought- I just...”

Ava looked down and shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“You really don’t, do you?” Amaya said, looking at Ava with barely-hidden amusement.

Ava’s brows dipped. “Do you know something?”

Amaya took a moment, careful of how to phrase her words.

“I believe Sara is upset about something and she’s channelling it by being angry because she doesn't want to entertain why she's upset, let alone admit.”

Ava almost chuckled.

“I thought you majored in Archaeology and Anthropology? I didn't know you double majored in Psychology.”

Amaya huffed, shaking her head lightly.

“I didn't, but my best friend did and she's a legendary profiler and great at reading people except for this one smart, funny, gorgeous, stupidly hot detective.”

Ava rolled her eyes.

“And because I dated a Behavioural Psychologist,” Amaya added. “You'd be amazed by how much knowledge you could pick up, especially from a guy who loves to talk.”

Ava snorted out a laugh then sobered.

“Why should Sara’s anger be towards me? She can be angry all she wants but she should leave me out of it.”

Amaya shot Ava a small smile. “If she could, she would.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ava asked, confused.

Amaya offered a small smile, patting Ava’s arm gently, then started walking towards the door.

“You’ll figure it out yourself, Ava.”

Brows still drawn together, Ava said, “Why do I keep hearing that these days?”

Amaya stopped at the door, let out a deep sigh after a moment, then turned around to face Ava.

“Shortly after we graduated from the Academy, when I told you that Max was interested in you, you dismissed it and never revisited it until so many years later when you opened yourself to the possibility of dating again and she explicitly told you she liked you. We didn't even have to push you to her then. It just happened naturally because you were ready.

“Almost five years ago, the first time we told you that what happened…”

Amaya hesitated, gauging Ava’s reaction. When she was sure her best friend wouldn’t be upset about what she was about to say, she continued.

“...That none of it was your fault, you shut yourself off and buried yourself in work for months that you were practically living here. You also volunteered to take on a highly dangerous undercover mission that everyone else was praying not to be picked for; the same one that sent you into a coma for three days. And that wasn't even the last mission you volunteered for.”

Amaya paused when she saw Ava’s expression changed. When she spoke again, her voice was a lot softer.

“You were blaming and punishing yourself for what happened by running yourself ragged that Rip had to ask Director Stevens to order you to take a much-needed vacation because you refused to listen to him or your then immediate boss.

“Months ago, I asked you about the likelihood of you and Max getting married and raising a family. Two weeks later, you essentially rejected her proposal.”

Ava looked at Amaya in confusion, frowning.

“I’m certain there’s a point in there somewhere,” Ava said before Amaya could say more.

Amaya huffed out a quiet laugh.

“You tend to shut your brain off on something once you’ve heard it from someone at a time when you weren’t ready to hear it. It’s like you put it somewhere in your mind and close the door to it, but if someone says or does something that might reopen that door, you condition yourself to not only lock that mental door but to completely make it disappear. It’s as if it was never there at all.

“Which is why I’ve been giving you a chance to figure things out on your own. In all the years of our friendship, I’ve learnt that your brain is like a whole person capable of great spite. It needs to be left alone with some things; otherwise, it will rebel tremendously.”

Ava looked at her strangely.

Amaya briefly shook her head.

“I’m sure I can come up with a better analogy. But my point is, the whole mental door thing… you’ve been doing it since you were a kid. That’s how your brain works. Or how you taught it to work. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I also don't want you to miss out on something that could be special and good for you in the end, just because you completely banished it from your mind on instinct because when somebody brought it up with you, you weren't ready to hear it.”

Ava’s frown turned deeper.

“Are we still talking about Sara and her misplaced anger towards me or an entirely different thing? Because you kind of lost me somewhere in there.”

Amaya huffed out a quiet laugh.

“Max hasn't even been back for a whole 24 hours and she already got you to talk as vaguely she usually does,” Ava said jokingly. “I would have my work cut out for me if you, Ray, and Nate were all in the same room with her again. I speak 13 languages, sign language included, and yet somehow, you all would end up speaking a language I do not understand. No wonder I always get lost in the conversation.”

Amaya chuckled.

“See, that's the thing. Sometimes, you’re slow on picking up cues.” Raising a hand, she added, “It’s not an insult.”

Ava shook her head. “I didn’t take it as one. I know it's a fact.”

“You just need time, that’s all,” Amaya said reassuringly. “Your brain will tell you when you’re ready.”

Ava hummed, a small smile tugging at the edges of her lips.

“I’ll just take your word for it.”

Ava and Amaya walked out of the conference room and over to the team.

“So why exactly does Sara seem to be angry with me?” Ava asked after a moment, holding back a smile.

Amaya huffed out a laugh.

“Nice try, genius.”

Sobering, she added, “But I want you to know that you did nothing wrong. Sara’s the one who has issues and she needs to deal with it like an adult instead of sliding out of it by being angry and making you the target of her anger. She just has to figure out first what it is exactly and then admit it to herself. Zari and I are going to make sure that she does.”

“Ooh!” Ava exclaimed, her tone teasing. “Conniving girlfriends. I like it.”

Amaya jerked her head towards Ava, looking all flustered.

“What?! That’s- We’re not girlfriends!”

“But you want to be, right?” Ava asked, an amused smile on her face. “You should ask Zari out. I don't think I would still need to give her the shovel talk.”

Amaya rolled her eyes then turned her head back towards the team as they neared them.

“Zari already has the seal of The Best Friend Approval,” Ava added quietly.

“Sssshh! Shut up now, Sharpe.”

Ava huffed out a laugh.

------------------------------

Sara joined Amaya, Zari, Ray, and Nate in the break room after her meeting with Dr Saunders. That was their last meeting before the doctor wrote her report. Sara knew she did well, and if she had shown everything that Dr Saunders needed to see and say what she wanted to hear, she should be clear to go back out in the field come next week.

With Sara with them now, Zari decided it was the best time to ask about Ava’s history with Max.

“They met here, actually,” Amaya confided. “At the Bureau. Before Max joined the USMS, she was one of us.”

“An FBI agent?”

Amaya nodded.

“Yeah, and a good one, too. Anyway, she was easily captivated by Ava. She had already been an agent for two years. Ava, however, well, it was after we had just graduated from the Academy so she was focused on that. Her first duty station assignment was in New York, Max was here. And even if Ava was assigned here in DC, she was emotionally unavailable at the time.”

“And you’re saying she is now?” Sara asked a little incredulously, dragging her eyes from the book she was reading to Amaya. “Man, I don’t even want to imagine how she’s like when she’s not emotionally available.”

Amaya huffed out a laugh.

“Ava is… well, as I told you, she isn’t as emotionally attuned as the rest of us.” Turning her gaze back to Sara, she said, “She’s a lot like you that way, you know?”

Sara feigned offence.

“Leave me out of this,” she said before going back to her book.

Zari waved Sara off, eyes looking expectantly at Amaya.

“Then what happened?”

“Two years later, Ava joined the BAU in Quantico. Max joined the USMS the same year.” Turning to Nate, she said, “You wanna step in?”

“Well, I didn’t think they were ever together when Ava was still in the BAU. Every once in a while, Max would drive down to Quantico for a visit, even though she didn’t have to because Ava literally was living here. It wasn’t like it’s a long drive that forced her to move to Virginia. But you know Ava, most of the time, she’s all work and no play.”

“Max was just really relentless,” Ray chimed in. “She wouldn’t give up on Ava, especially after…” he trailed off.

“After?” Zari asked curiously. “After what? Don’t let me hanging, Ray-Ray.”

Ray, Amaya, and Nate looked between one another.

Sara, for her part, although seemed to still be avidly reading her book, had her ears suddenly perked up after sensing Ray’s hesitation.

Amaya spoke first.

“Uh, after… after Ava was promoted to Assistant SAC here. She still didn’t want to be romantically involved with anyone. Max knew that and was okay with it. If anything, they became even better friends. And I guess their friendship just eventually evolved to something more.”

“And then,” Ray interjected, “Max accepted a promotion in New York. She asked Ava to marry her just before she left a few weeks before our task force was formed.”

“And Ava said no,” Zari concluded.

“She didn’t say no,” Amaya corrected, “but she didn't say yes, either.”

“Why’s that?” Zari asked eagerly.

“That’s the one thing I can’t tell you, Z, because it isn’t for me to say,” Amaya said regretfully. “You’re gonna have to ask Ava yourself.”

“And risk being glared at to death?” Zari asked jokingly. “No, thank you. I’ll just sit here in my not-knowing.”

Amaya, Ray, and Nate all chuckled.

“Was yesterday the first time they saw each other after Max left for New York? Zari asked.

Amaya nodded. “I believe so, yes.”

“You know, it’s a good thing Ava and Max were really great friends before they became a couple,” Ray said cheerfully. “Otherwise, I don’t think Max would have handled Ava not saying yes to her proposal, well.”

“God, she was so in love with Ava,” Nate said after a moment. “Can you imagine waiting for someone for, what, six, seven years before you finally get together only for your marriage proposal to be essentially rejected three years after? If it were me, I would have wept until I died. But you know Max... she values her friendship with Ava a lot more than her broken heart.”

So they were together officially for three years, Sara thought.

Amaya hummed thoughtfully.

“Yeah, I noticed how easy it is for Max to make Ava smile,” Zari said unnecessarily loudly, making sure Sara wouldn’t miss it. “Ava also giggled. It’s Ava. She doesn’t giggle.”

Amaya chuckled. “She does every once in a while. Depends on whom she talks to.”

“You know what they say– friendship is the strongest foundation of any relationship,” Nate said, smiling. “Just look at me and Amaya.”

“Well, actually, buddy,” Ray said, “you were a little mopey for a while.”

“Pfft! I was not money.” Turning to Amaya, Nate asked, “Was I mopey?”

Amaya squinted her eyes slightly.

“You were a little mopey,” she said, then shot Nate a teasing smile.

“You’re both liars,” Nate said as he rose from his seat. “And now I’m going back to the floor to be with honest people.”

Both Amaya and Ray chuckled.

When Ray rose from his seat as well, Zari said, “Hey, thanks for fixing the coffee maker.”

“No problem.”

Zari got up from her seat as Ray left then walked over to the vending machine to get some more snacks.

“Okay, now that it’s just the three of us, let’s hear it, Sara,” Zari said, sitting back across from Sara and next to Amaya.

Sara dragged her gaze from her book, then looked up at Zari in confusion.

“Hear what?”

“Why you’re so pissy today,” Zari said matter-of-factly. “And why you’re being a dick to Ava again.”

Amaya nodded in agreement.

“Pfft,” Sara exclaimed. “Nothing new there.”

“True,” Zari concurred, then held up a finger, “Except you’re particularly dickish to her today.”

“And I think we know why,” Amaya chimed in.

Sara shrugged, rose from her chair, then walked over to the vending machine.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re annoyed because Ava slept with her gorgeous almost-fiancée,” Zari said teasingly, an amused smirk on her face.

“You’re jealous, aren’t you?” Amaya said, grinning and placing her interlocked fingers under her chin. “And you’re taking it out on Ava. I know you heeded what I said to you the other night because you actually didn’t try to infuriate her. You made a light, indirect jab, yes… but I think, you only said it to get her to talk to you because except at noon when she asked you if you were fine after you choked on your drink and when she told you to read on self-defence, Ava was practically ignoring you the whole day yesterday. She barely even looked at you except for those two times. You, on the other hand, couldn’t take your eyes off of her. Don’t think I didn’t notice.”

Sara, who had turned back to the pair, opened her mouth to say something but closed it again when Amaya held up a finger.

“And then here comes Max in all her gorgeous glory charming Ava without even breaking a sweat.. and suddenly, you’re back to being rough with Ava.”

“Because, again to stress, you’re jealous… Which could only be because... you like Ava. And now that you’ve realised you may like like her, you’re trying to...” Zari held up a hand and made a whacking gesture, “Whack-A-Mole her.”

Sara sneered.

“What did you two smoke that has you believing I’m jealous of anybody? Least of all, of whats-her-name.”

Her name is Maxine and you know it,” Zari said, still smirking. “And to reiterate… because Ava slept with her.”

“And you like Ava,” Amaya said matter-of-factly.

Sara looked at Zari and Amaya like she just heard the most outrageous thing.

“Ava can sleep with whomever the hell she wants! What do I care?!”

“Like I said,” Both Zari and Amaya said simultaneously, prompting them to chuckle.

“Like we said,” Zari continued, “You like Ava. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you can ask her out. You better hurry before Max snatches her right back because from what I’ve seen so far, it’s not gonna be hard. And then you’re gonna regret it forever. Ava could very well be the love of your life but you’re gonna lose her before you even give the two of you a chance, because you’re so damn stubborn.”

Sara let out a groan.

“What do I have to do to convince you two blathering idiots that she’s not my type?!”

“Who’s not your type?” Anne asked as soon as she walked in.

All three of them jerked their heads towards the door.

“Agent Maurice,” Sara said, smiling. “Hello.”

Anne walked up to Sara with a sly smirk on her face.

“Hey, Sara. And how many times do I have to tell you it’s Anne?”

Sara huffed out a laugh.

“Right. Anne. You on a coffee break?” Pointing to the counter, she said, “Palmer just fixed the coffee maker.”

“Actually, I was looking for you,” Anne said in a sultry voice, eyes not leaving Sara’s. “Heywood said I’d find you here.”

“Well,” Sara said coolly, holding out her arms. “You found me. What can I do for you?”

“My team and I are going to dinner later and maybe put down the badge for a few hours and go dancing. There’s a new club that opened two weeks ago and we’ve been wanting to check it out.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, and I figured since you already know them, and they all like you, maybe... you'd want to join us? We'd love to have you.”

“Oh, I mean–”

“Come on, Sara,” Anne urged, placing her hand around Sara’s arm and giving it a light squeeze. “I know we just had dinner together last night, but… with everyone tonight, it'll be more fun. We'll go dancing afterwards. I know you’re a great dancer. You were dancing before we trained last night. Maybe you can teach me a move or two,” she said seductively, then winked at Sara.

Sara’s gaze flicked to a sudden movement in the doorway and found Ava walking through it.

“Hey, you two. Nate said Ray fixed the coffee maker?”

“Yeah, he did,” Amaya answered. “Sara wouldn’t stop bugging him until he did.”

Sara heard Ava hum as the agent turned to the coffee maker without so much as glancing at her.

Sara let out a soft huff, clenched her jaw, then turned back to Anne, smiling broadly.

“You know what Anne, why not? I’ll go with you,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “Dinner and dancing with you sound like fun.”

Anne giggled. “I sure hope so.”

Sara turned her gaze back on Ava whose back was to her.

“Agent Sharpe, it’s okay if we skip training tonight, right? I mean.. you did say you were tired.”

Ava turned around.

“Sure,” she said as she walked over to Amaya and Zari’s table.

“Cool.”

“Great!” Anne exclaimed cheerfully. “It’s a date then. I'll come by your desk at 6 pm to get you. No need for us to take separate cars. You're riding with me,” she said, gliding her hand down Sara's arm before turning to leave.

“Oh, there will be lots of riding, alright,” Zari commented slyly as soon as Anne was out of earshot.

“Can you not?” Sara said, sounding annoyed.

“I didn’t know you and Anne trained together last night. I thought it was Ava’s job to train you,” Zari said, throwing Sara an aggravating smile.

“Well, Agent Sharpe was rather occupied last night, wasn’t she?” Sara said bitterly, her eyes on Ava whose face was a mask of total indifference. “But yeah, Anne walked into the training room while I was warming up; asked if we could, you know, train... together.”

“Train. I see,” Zari said, her tone knowing. “And how did you end up getting dinner together?”

“Well, funny thing, actually… We were both hungry,” Sara stated dryly.

Zari ignored Sara’s sarcasm.

“Sara, I don’t believe you were ever this blind,” she stated, looking at Sara in slight disbelief. “That woman is practically throwing herself at you. She has been since we got here. I half-expect her to jump you every time she approaches you. I'm actually, genuinely surprised that you haven't even shown interest.”

“Just because a person is interested in me doesn't mean I should take advantage of that.”

Bending down to get a chocolate bar from the vending machine’s take-out port, Sara added, “Contrary to what some people strongly believe, I don't just fall in bed with anyone.”

Sara straightened up and turned her gaze to Ava to check for her reaction, knowing that the agent should be aware that it was a dig at her, only to find her sipping her coffee, still looking as dispassionate as Sara had ever seen her.

Sara internally groaned in frustration. She walked over to their table and grabbed her book.

“I’ll head back to the floor.”

“If I didn't know you any better, Z,” Amaya said as soon as Sara left, “I'd say you were pushing Sara to sleep with Maurice.”

“What? I wasn’t,” Zari said defensively. “It’s Sara. Nobody pushes her to do anything. It's just... Her vibe has been a bit off lately. Way before we even left Chicago. And now with the case, all her focus is on it. This has been the longest time that she hasn’t…” she hesitated. “You know. It’s been months. That woman has enough pent-up sexual energy to power the whole Washington metropolitan area. It would be in all our interest if she let loose a little. Trust me, she’d be less of a jerk to everyone.”

Amaya chuckled.

“And besides,” Zari continued, her voice taking on a different tone, “if Sara does end up sleeping with Anne, maybe she’ll realise casual hook-ups aren’t enough for her anymore; maybe it might push her to go for what she really wants…”

Looking at Amaya, Zari subtly tilted her head towards Ava who was intently checking something on her phone.

“Or whom, more to the point... even though she has yet to admit it, even to herself.”

Zari smiled. “They’re perfect for each other.”

Amaya quickly flickered her gaze to Ava, then shared a look with Zari.

Chapter Text

Ava didn’t know how long she had been staring at her laptop screen, just typing words every once in a while, only to end up deleting them, then completely spacing out.

She was aiming to finish her report on what happened in Rockville since she put it off yesterday. She couldn't get her mind to focus then because it was elsewhere.

As it was again today, as it happened.

Ava was jolted out of her reverie by someone loudly saying her name. She turned to find Nate standing in the doorway.

“Oh, I’m sorry for startling you,” Nate said regretfully.

Ava shot Nate a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about it, Nate. Did you want something?”

“No, I was just…” Nate trailed off, his brows dipping into a slight furrow. “Are you okay, Ava? Did you not hear me? I knocked twice before calling out.”

“Yeah,” Ava said, then cleared her throat. “Yes, I’m fine. I was just…”

dissociating.

“I was just thinking about our case. Sara did drop us that bomb during our briefing.”

Nate narrowed his eyes a little, eyeing Ava sceptically.

Great.

Ava let out a resigned sigh. “Amaya has been talking to you, hasn’t she?”

“No?” Nate asked tentatively, confusion written on his face. “Should she be talking to me about something?”

Ava emphatically shook her head. “No.”

Nate hummed thoughtfully.

“Okay," he said after a moment. "Anyway, I wanted to come by to tell you that Ray fixed the coffee maker. You kinda look like you could use a cup.”

Nate gave Ava a sympathetic smile.

Tilting her head a little, Ava said, “He didn’t put grass-fed butter and MCT oil in it again, did he?”

Nate chuckled.

“No. He suggested it but Zari threatened to hack all his electronics and lock him out if he did.”

“I knew I liked Zari for a reason,” Ava said, smiling as she rose from her chair, then walked towards the door. “Thanks, Nate. I do need some caffeine. I feel like I’m going to drop any second.”

Ava made her way to the break room but stopped right before she could turn to walk through the doorway when she heard a familiar voice.

“Come on, Sara. I know we just had dinner together last night, but with everyone tonight, it'll be more fun. We'll go dancing afterwards. I know you’re a great dancer. You were dancing before we trained last night. Maybe you can teach me a move or two.”

Dinner? Did Sara not have dinner with the team last night?

And train???

Training Sara was her job. Rip gave her that task and she was damn well going to see it through, however long it takes.

And surely, Sara wouldn’t say yes to Anne’s invitation, especially knowing she was supposed to demo some self-defence moves tonight.

No matter, she still made a point of walking into the break room before Sara could give Anne an answer, just to give her a silent reminder.

Without glancing Sara’s way, she acknowledged Amaya and Zari. She went on to pour coffee into her mug only for her hand to freeze mid-pour when she heard Sara say yes to Anne.

Ava found herself clenching her teeth.

She heard Sara ask her if it was okay if they skipped training for the day, and tried not to wonder why Sara had gone back to calling her 'Agent Sharpe.'

Not that she was bothered by it because she wasn't; not even in the slightest.

Because after all, she had always wanted Sara to call her by her designation.

Before turning to join Amaya and Zari at their table, she put a look on her face that conveyed indifference. She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly, then without looking at Sara, told her it was okay. She did, however, flickered her gaze on the pair that had her tightening her hold on her coffee mug when she saw Anne being unnecessarily touchy to Sara.

Ava pointedly ignored the sinking feeling that briefly settled in her stomach.

She told herself it was because she was tired and that her body was reminding her of such fact.

She didn’t look Sara’s way again; not even after Anne left and Zari started making sly innuendos; or when Sara herself made a suggestive remark about her; not when Sara mentioned her training with Anne; and especially not when Sara said a snide comment about not sleeping around.

Ava knew, with absolute certainty, that it was a jab directed at her.

After Sara left and Amaya and Zari started talking about Sara’s conquests, or lack thereof, to Ava’s genuine surprise, she absently started scrolling through her emails, but had kept an ear out on the conversation the two were having; which was how she knew that Zari was rooting for Sara and someone in particular- someone she thought was perfect for her best friend.

Ava told herself it wasn’t her business.

She convinced herself she didn’t care.

Because why on Earth would she?

------------------------------

Sara had briefly gone out of the building and came back to shouts of laughter from Zari, Amaya, Nate, Ray, and…

Maxine.

Great.

“Sara!” Zari exclaimed upon seeing her. “Come, sit. Max was just telling me she loves dancing.”

“Oh?”

Max gave her a huge smile.

Fantastic. Even her teeth are perfect.

Sara gave everyone a wry smile as she walked over to her desk. She settled herself on her chair and started reading the files Ava had forced her to read in exchange of getting her ID badge. She initially had no intention of even browsing the damn thing but right now, she would rather peruse every page than have to look at Miss Perfect and her perfect hair, her perfect skin, and her perfect everything.

“Sara here,” Zari said, looking at Max and pointing at Sara, “is an amazing dancer.”

“Well, Ava has been known to like women who can dance to a rhythm,” Max said casually.

Sara’s hand froze halfway through turning a page.

What did she just say?

“As I was saying,” Max said, her face breaking into a smile when she saw Ava walking towards them.

Sara heard Max say, “Hey, Miel.”

“How many times, Maxine?” Ava said disapprovingly. “How many times?”

Again.

In that tone reserved for her.

Sara huffed out a sharp breath.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Ava grab a chair and settle herself next to Max who was still chuckling.

“Anyway,” Max said after a moment, ignoring Ava’s annoyance. “Dancing is a passion, so is photography. I haven’t done either in a while, though. Work’s keeping me very busy as it is.”

“Sara does photography, too!” Zari exclaimed then turned to Sara. “Tell them, Sara.”

Sara lazily flipped a page.

“Knowing how to use a camera comes with the job,” she said in an incredibly dull tone. “You can’t get proof of cheating spouses without photographic evidence, now can you?”

Zari turned to Max.

“I swear she doesn’t usually sound this bored,” she said, shaking her head lightly. “Anyway, what kind of photography do you do?”

Max smiled proudly. “Portrait.”

“Portrait photography,” Zari echoed admiringly. “That’s awesome. Favourite subject?”

“Oh, there’s this tall, gorgeous, incredibly photogenic FBI agent,” Max said, a teasing tone in her voice. “She can be very grumpy but the camera loves her.”

Ava chuckled. “Shut up.”

And Sara really didn't get what was so funny about that that Ava chuckled.

“Maybe you can let me see some of those shots,” Zari said, shooting Ava a mischievous smile. “I’d love to see Ava without her trademark glare.”

“Hey!” Ava reprimanded playfully. “Watch it.”

Zari shot Ava a shit-eating grin.

“The ones that I can show you, sure,” Max said lightly. “The others, though, I don’t think I can bec–”

“Max also knows how to DJ!” Ava exclaimed suddenly, cutting off Max who broke into a laugh.

Sara flickered her gaze on Ava to see her cheeks flushing crimson which told her exactly what kind of photos Max took of her.

Dragging her gaze back to what she was reading, Sara gritted her teeth together and pressed her lips flat.

“Sara!” Zari exclaimed. “Did you hear that? Max DJs, too. How cool is that, right?”

Without turning to Zari, Sara said in a monotone, “So cool.”

Hearing Sara’s tone again, Ava slightly frowned.

Max, on the other hand, quirked up a brow in amusement; while Zari and Amaya just gave each other a look.

“Have you always lived here?” Zari asked after a moment.

Max shook her head.

“No. I’m originally from Vegas. Moved all the way here with my mom after she and my dad divorced when I was 13. Went to High School. Majored in Criminal Justice in UPenn.”

“Damn, girl! An Ivy League school. That’s impressive. Sara went to Columbia, Pre-med.”

“Oh, yeah?” Max asked curiously, turning to look at Sara. “What, uh, what happened?”

Nonchalantly turning a page of what she was reading, or pretending to read, more to the point, Sara said flatly, “My big sister was brutally murdered and it plummeted my regard for my own life; my dreams included.”

Ava drew in a sharp breath before beats of stillness hung heavy in the room.

In the moments that followed, she remembered what Sara told her when they got back from Rockville– how she went after the man who killed Laurel only to end up getting beat up, shot, and left to die by him; how she would have gone after him again because she didn’t care if she lived or died.

From her peripheral view, she saw Max’s gaze flickered a few times between her and Sara but she couldn’t be bothered as she had been staring in quiet disbelief at Sara who seemed as if she didn’t just render everyone mute by the casualness with which she said the answer to Max’s question.

The silence that seemed to have filled the space of the whole floor was interrupted by Rip's arrival.

“Legends!” he exclaimed cheerily. “I just wanted to remind all of you that tomorrow is Jojo's birthday, so you will all have the afternoon off because unless this whole country is burning to the ground, you're all going. I do not want to have to explain to my soon 5-year old child why one of her uncles or aunts isn't coming. You may come anytime after lunch. The kids’ party will be in the morning. You don’t have to be there. Questions?”

“Just the Legends?” Max asked jokingly.

“Don't be silly, Maxine,” Rip said, waving Max off. “Jojo has been asking when you would come to visit her. It’s been ages.”

Max huffed out a laugh.

“I’ll see you all then,” Rip said then turned to leave.

No sooner had Rip left than Anne walked over to the Legends’ desks.

“Hey, guys!” Anne exclaimed, her eyes settling on Max. “Sinclair. I didn't know you were here. It’s been a while. Good to see you.”

Max shot Anne a smile.

“You too, Maurice. You here to join the chitchat?”

“I’d love to but I have a date,” Anne said regretfully then turned to Sara. “You ready to go?”

Sara hummed as she nodded. She got up from her seat then tossed her car key to Zari.

“Don’t crash our car. Drive safe.”

“And you,” Zari said, smirking mischievously, “Don’t break her bed. Safe sex, use protection.”

Anne giggled.

Sara, for her part, looked at Zari strangely then turned to Anne.

“Zari’s kidding. Don’t mind her. She left her manners somewhere.”

Anne smiled, looking at Zari.

“I mean, my bed is pretty sturdy,” she said then winked knowingly.

Zari laughed. Amaya chuckled. Ray and Nate simultaneously let out an Ooh!. Max had her eyebrows quirked up, looking fascinated.

Ava, on the other hand, had a frown on her face.

Sara halfheartedly rolled her eyes at Anne, a small smile playing on her lips.

Seeing it, Ava's frown turned into a scowl.

"Don't you encourage her," Sara said to Anne, then turned to Zari with a feigned disapproving face. “We’re going.”

As the pair walked away, Ava heard Sara say, “Exactly how sturdy are we talking here?”

Anne laughed.

Ava thought she had never in her life heard a more grating sound.

“I didn't know Maurice was into women,” Max said in half disbelief, pulling Ava out of her thoughts and her gaze away from Sara’s departing back. “Isn't she married? To a man?”

Amaya snorted out a laugh.

“That's exactly what Ava said, so I'll tell you what I told her– Anne is divorced. And bisexuality is a thing.”

“Ahh,” Max exclaimed. “And now she's going on a date with Sara.”

“It’s not a date,” Ava remarked rather too quickly, causing Max to arch up a brow in amusement. “They're just going out to dinner with Maurice's whole team.”

“Uh-huh, right. And then they're going to be all hot and sweaty...” Zari stated, throwing Amaya a knowing smile, her eyes quickly flickering to Ava. “On the dance floor... because Anne asked Sara to teach her some moves. And like I said, if there’s one thing Sara can do exceptionally, it’s dancing. I'm sure she'll be more than happy to give Anne some hands on lessons.”

Amaya pressed her lips together to keep herself from grinning.

Ava, for her part, found herself internally seething although she couldn't, for the life of her, figure out why.

“Okay, well,” Ava said as she rose from her seat, wanting to separate herself from the conversation as soon as possible, “I still have some paperwork to finish.”

She turned to Max.

“I’m sorry. My meeting with Assistant Director Bennett was unscheduled and took longer than I would have wanted. It ate up the time I set for doing paperwork tonight. Did you have a plan or…?”

“That's okay, Ava,” Max said, giving Ava a reassuring smile, “Work comes first. It always does with you. I'll stay out here with your team for as long as I can. I won’t leave tonight without saying goodbye.”

------------------------------

It was almost ten in the evening when Ava finished her paperwork for the day. Max and the rest of the Legends had long since left.

Bringing up a hand, she checked the time on her watch.

21:56

Leaning back into her seat, Ava closed her eyes and breathe out slowly, giving herself a quiet moment before getting ready to go home.

Inevitably, her thoughts brought her to Sara and how she was probably still dancing at some club with Anne, grinding on each other on the dance floor.

Not that she cared.

She did, however, wonder how Sara looked like while freestyling instead of executing a choreographed dance.

Would she have the same power and grace that she had when she was dancing in the training room if she were dancing an entirely different style of dance?

Ava had no doubt in her mind that Sara would. She had seen just how flexible the other woman was, after all; and if Sara was that flexible dancing, it was also highly likely that she was flexible in–

Ava’s eyes snapped open, then she swiftly surged to her feet.

“I…” she muttered to herself in a slightly shaky voice then shook her head rather vigorously to clear it of the cursed thought she just had.

“...need a fucking drink.”


Ava was back in HQ from a quick visit to the DOJ in the morning and was already on the elevator when a voice made her quickly press the door open button.

“Hold the door please!”

After a brief moment, Anne got on.

“Sharpe!" she said, slightly breathless from exertion. "Hi! Thank you for waiting for me.”

“You’re welcome,” Ava said tersely as she backed up a step to let Anne stand in front of her despite not having anyone else with them.

The elevator was about to close when someone shoved an arm between the doors; them opening to reveal Sara.

Ava’s breath hitched.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Seeing Ava, Sara froze a little.

After a beat, Sara got on the elevator, acknowledging Ava by saying a curt, “Agent Sharpe.”

Without waiting for Ava's reply, Sara stood next to Anne.

“Hey, you,” Sara said, smiling.

“Hello,” Anne replied in a sultry voice. “Did you get home okay?”

Sara hummed. “I thought we discussed you not coming to work today.”

Anne chuckled. “I love you for caring but I’d die of boredom if I stayed home.”

I love you for caring…?

Ava rolled her eyes.

“It’s one day before the weekend. And your leg–”

Anne waved Sara off. “It’s just a limp.

"Let me see," Sara said, already crouching down. Checking Anne's ankle, she said, "It's just a very minor sprain. You should be fine. Just don't put too much of your weight on it or it might get worse.

Ava's thoughts immediately brought her to the morning after she got drunk; when Sara was checking her head for her injury, then told her she should be fine. She was remembering the memory so clearly, reliving the moment so poignantly that it was having the same effect on her as it did when it was happening– with her heart beating so fast because Sara was right in her personal space.

Ava subconsciously lifted a hand to her chest.

"I love it when you play doctor," Anne said playfully, effectively drawing Ava out of her thoughts.

Ava made a face then huffed.

"But it's okay, Sara," Anne added, "I’d even let you cripple me.”

Ava internally scoffed.

“Shut up,” Sara said, chuckling. “It’s not my fault that you didn’t listen to me. I told you we needed to slow down.”

Ava’s eye widened, her breath catching in her throat for a brief moment.

Please, somebody just stab me in the ear.

“I was on a high, okay?!” Anne rebutted, laughing. “You couldn’t possibly expect me to want us to slow down; not when it was my first time to feel like that.”

Ava thought this elevator couldn’t go any slower.

Sara huffed then shook her head, smiling.

“Thank you for last night, Sara,” Anne said as she placed a hand on Sara’s arm, her tone sensual. “I had a really great time. And I appreciate you waiting for me to wake up before you left this morning.”

A pang of something indiscernible flared heavy in Ava’s chest.

“Of course,” Sara said, smiling.

The elevator door opened to a bit of chaos across the whole floor– agents were wheeling their chairs around, some were chucking balled papers at each other, and more numbers seemed to be happily chatting at their desk. Weirdly enough, the Legends were the ones behaving.

Something twisted angrily in Ava and made her snap at the scene before her.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!” Ava asked sharply, causing the whole floor to go suddenly quiet; all eyes turned on her. “The citizens of this country aren’t paying their taxes to pay for your salaries just so you could while away the hours acting less of the federal agents that you all are! You are not children!”

Looking around everyone, she yelled, “GET BACK TO WORK!”

At that, most scrambled to their feet and returned to their desk, while the rest sat straight back in their seat and busied themselves at their computer.

Ava, once everyone had settled, walked briskly towards her office, past the Legends and without so much as greeting them.

Zari, Amaya, Ray, and Nate all turned to Sara and Anne who looked like she was about to join her team; both who of whom were trailing several steps behind Ava.

When Sara got to her desk, Nate eyed her questioningly.

“Okay, what did you do?”

“What do you mean what did I do?” Sara asked as she sat down at her desk, her brows slightly drawn together.

Nate pointed to Ava’s office.

“Until today, Ava hadn't snapped at the other agents like that. Not once. She always leaves it to their Unit Chief or to Assistant Director Bennett to discipline them. So what did you do to piss her off this time?”

Sara sneered. “Why are you so quick to assume it was me?”

“Was it not you?”

“No!” Sara said defensively. “I literally just got here.”

Ray snapped his fingers. “Maybe it’s because you were late again.”

“Nah,” Nate remarked, shaking his head. “Ava’s now used to Sara being late every once in a while.”

“What’s gotten her so angry this early in the day, then?” Ray asked curiously.

“Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea,” Zari said, lifting her gaze from Ava then down at Sara, her lips curled up in a knowing smirk. “And where did you sleep last night, young lady?”

Sara held up a finger, her tone warning. “Don’t start.”

------------------------------

The Legends, Rip, and Jojo were all on the patio when Ava and Max arrived.

Sara found herself watching the approaching pair.

She couldn’t help but give Ava a once-over.

She would be lying if she said she didn’t notice just how great Ava really looked in casual clothes. She was currently wearing a jacket over a simple plain shirt, a pair of fitted jeans that clung to her long legs, heeled ankle boots; her hair down in soft ripples.

She would also have to be blind not to see just how good Ava and Max looked together– gilded waves and ivory skin as opposed to raven curls and caramel complexion.

They were one of those couples who always caught people's attention because of how right they looked together.

The two of them were the exact contrast of each other.

They really look perfect together.

Sara mentally shook herself off.

As soon as Jojo saw Ava and Max, she hopped herself off Sara’s lap and ran towards them.

“Max!”

Max crouched down a little, her arms outstretched, then lifted Jojo.

“Hi, peanut! I’ve missed you! When did you get so big?”

Jojo giggled. “Today! It’s my birthday!”

“I know!” Max exclaimed, matching Jojo’s enthusiasm. “Aunt Ava and I have gifts for you.”

Ava and Max walked towards the group as Rip acknowledged them.

"Nice of you both to join the rest of us."

Max turned to Ava, giving her a look.

"Ava here took forever to get ready," she said teasingly. "You would have thought she was going on a date." A brief moment passed before Max added, "Actually, you know what? She didn't even take as long as she did today to get ready for a date. I would know. We dated."

Ava halfheartedly rolled her eyes but before she could say anything, Max asked something that had her wanting to strangle her ex.

"Is there anyone here in particular whom you want to look pretty for?"

Max quirked up a brow at her, her ex's expression challenging.

"Right," Ava said sarcastically then gestured towards the group. "Because there are just so many choices."

"Well, actually," Ray chimed in, missing Ava's tone. "That's not right. Rip is like your brother. You're a lesbian so that excludes me and Nate, too. I don't think Gideon is into women. Lily is not only straight but also has a boyfriend and a child. Amaya is your best friend. Your only possible choices are Zari and Sara, but I don't think you're Zari's type or she yours. So that only really leaves S–"

"So I went home to change," Ava said hastily, cutting Ray off before he could finish his sentence– one she didn't want to hear, "and I, uh, sort of, fell asleep when I meant to just take a nap."

Max laughed, causing Ava to throw a disapproving look in her direction.

Sara, who had been momentarily immobilised by where Ray decided to lead the conversation to, had never thought she would ever get possessive over Ava’s– no, over someone’s disapproving look... It just happened to be Ava's.

"I knew Skye was going to wake me up anyway," Ava said defensively. "And I was tired, okay?"

Ava saw Zari and Nate give each other a look, smirking.

"Not one word from either of you," she said threateningly, holding up a finger.

Zari mimed zipping her mouth, while Nate held up his hands.

Rip stood up.

“Well, now that we’re all here, we should continue this chat in the dining room while we eat.”

As everyone walked inside the house, Zari leaned into Amaya.

“Who’s Skye?” she whispered.

Amaya smile. “Let’s just say she’s Ava’s roommate.”

Sara’s ears perked up.

Zari looked suddenly intrigued. “You mean roommate? Or roommate roommate?”

“I...” Amaya’s brows dipped in confusion. “Is there a difference?”

Zaria shook her head lightly, lips curled up in a sly smile.

“Oh, my sweet summer child.”

------------------------------

After everyone had eaten, the group transferred to the living room.

Sara, Ray, Nate, Rip, and Max were drinking, while the others were content with just chatting, with Zari happily consuming Jojo’s leftover birthday cake.

Every once in a while, Ava’s eyes would flicker to Sara whom she had not seen look at her since she and Max arrived.

She tried to not let herself be curious about it, even less be bothered by it.

She told herself she wasn’t.

Rip was telling the group an embarrassing story about his and Sara’s childhood when someone's calling out caught everyone’s attention.

"SARA!"

Seeing a familiar face, Sara's broke into a smile.

"Mary, hi. It’s been a long time. It's good to see you."

Mary’s face was a mix of emotions.

"Oh, my goodness,” she exclaimed, arms reaching out to Sara. “Come here and let me look at you."

Sara huffed out a laugh then rose from her seat.

"You know, when Michael told me months ago that he went to see you, I didn't believe him. I was so heartbroken when I heard of your supposed passing. I could only imagine what Quentin and Dinah must have felt. They had a ceremony for you, did you know that? I would have gone but sadly, I fell ill."

Still looking at Sara in disbelief, Mary then turned to Rip.

"When was it, Michael? 2010?" Turning back turn to Sara, she said, "A year after you left. None of us heard from you since.”

“Passing? Ceremony?” Ray whispered, leaning in towards the group. “Does it mean what I, and I’m sure everyone else, think it means?

The team had on a confused look on their faces.

Left? Ava thought.

To where?

And by Sara's passing, did Mary really mean....?

The gears in her head started turning and it was making her think of the mounting questions she had surrounding Sara that just seemed to keep piling up the longer she knew her.

Laurel died in April 2008. Sara told her she was shot not a year after that. If they all thought Sara died in 2010, Rip couldn’t have kept his communications with her for a few years like he said he had since nobody had heard from her after she left sometime in 2009, which meant…

Rip lied to me.

The question was why.

Zari, from the second Mary mentioned Sara's assumed death, whipped her head towards Rip and widened her eyes a little at him, passing on a silent message.

Ava turned to Rip in time to see him looking at Zari who seemed to be giving him a look.

You both know something the rest of us don't.

"Mother," Rip said, his tone almost warning. "It was all a huge mistake. Obviously, Sara isn't dead."

"Nope," Sara said, her lips pulled into a tight smile. "Still alive."

"And I'm so glad that you are, kid," Mary said then pulled Sara into a hug.

Zari, as did the rest of the team, saw Sara's hands immediately ball into fists on her side.

Everyone knew by now that Sara was not comfortable being hugged, so as everyone else, save Max, looked slightly tensed, Zari turned to Rip, gave him a look, then tipped her head towards Sara and Mary.

"Mom," Rip said, walking over to Sara and Mary to make his mother pull back. When she did, he gestured towards Zari. "This is Zari Tomaz. She consults with the FBI. She's also Sara's best friend.” Looking at Zari, he said, “Zari, this is my mother, Mary Xavier. She’s visiting for a few days."

Zari stood up and held out her hand. "It’s an honour to meet you, Mrs Hunter."

Mary waved her off then shook her hand.

"Oh, I never took Michael’s father’s name, dear. Bless his soul. Just call me Mary. Everyone does. And it's a pleasure to meet you, too."

Mary looked around everyone. "Well, I'll leave you to it then."

Turning to Sara, she said, "I’m sure Michael told you I relocated back to England after his father died. I'll be flying back next week so don't leave this house today without saying goodbye."

Sara smiled at Mary. "I won't."

Mary reached down a hand towards Jojo. “Come on, sweetie. It’s time for your nap.”

Instead of taking Mary’s hand, Jojo went over to Ava then stood between her legs.

"Aunt Ava, will you please play our song before I nap?"

Ava made a face. "Uhh..."

"Pleeaaase, Aunt Ava,” Jojo pleaded. “It's my birthday."

"Yeah, Aunt Ava," Max said teasingly. "It's her birthday."

"Come on," Jojo said, already tugging Ava's hand. "You play. Max and I sing." She turned to Max and said, "Right, Max? We'll sing? Like we used to?"

"Of course, peanut," Max said, smiling, then turned to Ava with a challenging look. "But it's not up to me."

Ava rolled her eyes.

"Alright, fine," she said, then held up a finger, "but I'm not singing."

"YES!" Jojo exclaimed, then she and Max high-fived, giggling.

Awesome, Sara thought.

Even my niece is enamored by her.

As the three walked over to where the piano was, Zari turned to Amaya.

"Ava can play?"

Amaya nodded. "Yeah. Violin, too."

"What?! Shut up!” Zari exclaimed, her eyes wide with excitement. “Me too!”

Amaya’s face broke into a smile. “You play the violin?”

“Yeah,” Zari said nodding. “And the guitar, ukulele, setar.”

“What’s a setar?”

“It’s an Iranian stringed instrument.”

“I love women with skilful fingers,” Amaya said coolly as she turned to where the piano was.

Zari, for her part, choked on her soda.

Sara slightly leaned into Zari. “That was incredibly gay.”

Zari whirled her head towards Sara.

“Shut your damn mouth, Lance!" she hissed under her breath.

Sara chuckled, turning her head towards the trio when the mellow sound of the piano began playing and then Max soon started singing.

Because of course she could sing... really well.

Is there anything this woman can’t do?

As good as Max’s singing was, it was Ava on whom Sara’s eyes were fixed.

She had known her for weeks now, and yet she had never seen Ava look this relaxed, this peaceful.

A part of her knew it was because she hadn't been actively antagonising her.

Because she hadn't been giving Ava another reason to stress about.

Ava looked unbothered.

And it was all because Max was around.

The way Max was looking at Ava, it was giving her a glimpse of how she felt about her; how she probably still felt about her.

Sara mentally shook the thoughts away and focused instead on the music.

Ava was tall. Most tall people had long fingers; piano fingers, as some people would call it– long, dextrous, and like Amaya said, skilfull. It made sense that young Ava would want to learn how to play the piano and violin.

To Sara’s horror, her mind brought her to one other thing Ava’s fingers might be good at, causing her to quickly lurch to her feet and blurt out the first thing she thought of.

“I’m gonna make myself some coffee!”

Sara made a beeline for the kitchen, not waiting for anyone’s acknowledgement.

Once she got there, she leaned against the countertop, breathe out a slow exhale, then shook her head to clear it.

Get a grip of yourself, Lance.

She had been drinking, was getting tired, and quite frankly, was a little sexually frustrated.

Admittedly, it had been a while. She could have taken care of that last night considering Anne had hinted more than once how she wanted last night to end, but she politely turned her down; not that she was opposed to it. Anne was beautiful, but last night just wasn't a good time, and neither was she in the mood for it, if she was being totally honest with herself.

That was it– she was sexually frustrated.

That was the only reason she had such a thought about Ava.

Nothing else.

She could have easily had the same thought about anyone.

Sara gave her head a final shake.

She had just taken a mug off the shelf when a voice made her turn her head.

“Oh,” Max exclaimed, stopping at the doorway. “Sorry, I didn’t know anyone was here. I was just gonna get myself a glass.”

Sara stepped aside then made a gesture towards the shelves.

Max took a glass then said, “Thanks.”

Sara gave her a small smile.

Max turned to leave. After a few steps, she turned back, briefly studying Sara whose back was now to her.

“Do you play chess, Sara?” Sara heard Max ask.

Why are you still here?

Sara kept her face impassive as she turned to Max.

“I haven't played in a while, but yes, I do.”

“You know,” Max began thoughtfully, “ever since I met Ava, for some reason, whenever she plays, she always gets the black pieces. I told her just as much and she said she has never been the White. Ever. I asked how that was possible. Do you know what she said to me?”

Sara, despite knowing full well that Max wasn't really expecting an answer, shrugged her shoulders.

Max moved towards the kitchen island and put the glass on it.

“She said that she was always the one who got to guess the colour of the hidden piece in her opponent’s hand. The answer she would say was whatever would give her the black pieces. She said it's all about probabilities. You see, Ava’s exceptional at Math.”

“I’m aware,” Sara said briefly. “Ray may have mentioned it once or twice.”

“In chess,” Max continued as if she didn’t hear Sara, “when the game starts depends solely on whoever has the white pieces. To get the game rolling, the White has to move a piece; otherwise, both players won't go anywhere.”

“I know the rules.”

I just told you I played the game.

Max nodded absently.

“I think growing up, Ava took it as some sort of metaphor. Sometimes, she applies some of the rules of chess in certain aspects of her life; one rule in particular– the kick-off.

Sara looked confused. “O…kay?”

Where are you going with this and what are you telling me this for?

Max let out a soft chuckle.

“Like I said Sara, Ava has always been the Black, which means...” Max paused, making sure that she had Sara's full attention, “It’s up to the White to get things in motion.”

When Sara didn't say anything, Max asked, “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“I’m not sure that I–”

“Ava’s never going to make the first move, Sara,” Max said flatly, cutting Sara off. “Someone else– the White, has to.”

Max watched Sara’s features as the realisation of what she was trying to convey finally dawned on her.

“Okay..?” Sara said nonchalantly, prompting Max to huff out a laugh and shake her head.

“Just a tip. Do what you will with that information,” Max said, then with a knowing smile, shrugged her shoulders. “Or not. Up to you.”

Max had just moved to leave when Ava came into the kitchen, stopping when she saw Sara was in the room, too.

“Oh,” Ava exclaimed. “I wanted to check on you. You’ve been gone awhile.”

Max shot her a smirk.

“Miss me already, Ava?" she asked teasingly. "If this is the way things are, you’re gonna be a mess when I go back to New York.”

Ava halfheartedly rolled her eyes, her lips holding back a smile.

“Shut up,” she said as she walked over to Max.

Despite the words, Sara heard the unhidden affection in Ava’s tone and saw the same on her face. She found herself briefly looking away as she felt that same sharp, unpleasant feeling in her stomach.

Max chuckled.

“I should go back out there before Nate starts yakking to everyone. It’s likely to happen since he’s been drinking.”

Ava huffed out a laugh.

“Yeah, go. I just came here to grab some ice. We ran out of it out there.”

Max nodded then she quickly jerked her eyes to Sara who was watching them, internally smirking as an idea formed in her head.

“Okay,” she said, smiling softly, then placed a hand on the side of Ava’s face, leaning in to kiss her.

Max knew that Ava had never been one to kiss in front of an audience so she was internally praying that her ex was okay with it because for her suspicion to be confirmed, she needed Ava to kiss her back; or not pull away, at least.

When Ava let her kiss her, she made sure to briefly open her eyes to flicker her gaze to Sara.

The look on Sara’s face told her she had been right all along.

Max pulled back. “Hurry back.”

Sara, for her part, had never more wished that she was someplace else. The unpleasant sensation she had been feeling in her stomach was still there, except this time, her chest was also constricting.

When Ava turned around after Max left, Sara’s eyes were on her, watching her with an odd expression on her face.

She arched her brows up then gave Sara a curt nod in acknowledgement.

“Lance.”

Sara quickly jerked her head away.

“Sharpe,” she said just as curtly, then busied herself with making a coffee.

After a moment, Sara risked a glance at Ava who was taking out some ice cubes from the freezer.

Now on a mission to get herself out of the funk caused by what Max hinted, by what she witnessed, and more so how she felt about it, Sara cleared her throat.

“So…”

Ava’s hand froze, already dreading whatever Sara was about to say.

“Max is your ex... and she's a woman,” Sara said matter-of-factly.

“Wow,” Ava deadpanned as she walked over to the kitchen island. “You really are a master of deduction, aren’t you? You learn that in detective school or...?”

An involuntary little smile graced Sara’s lips before she turned to fully face Ava.

“Ava Sharpe,” Sara intoned, her voice uncharacteristically cheerless that had Ava briefly glancing up at her. “Joking again. What do you know.”

Ava put firmness into her voice. “I see they didn't teach you sarcasm in detective school.”

A few moments passed before Sara spoke again.

“She seems great.”

When Ava lifted her eyes to look at her, she had a questioning look on her face.

“Maxine,” Sara clarified.

“She is,” Ava agreed, then turned her attention back on taking the ice cubes out the tray and into a bowl.

“I can see why you two didn't work out, though,” Sara said in a tone that peeved Ava in the slightest.

Ava looked back at Sara, her brows drawn together in a mix of confusion and onset irritation.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sara shrugged her shoulders flippantly.

“Alpha female, takes her job very seriously, has a thing about following rules, hot, likes to be in control,” Sara recited without pause. “Sounds familiar?”

Without waiting for Ava to give any sort of reply, Sara continued.

“Maxine is practically you, but caramel-skinned, curly-haired brunette.” A pause. “You're a Yin, Ava. So is Maxine. What you need is a Yang. Not another Yin. Yin Yin isn’t meant to work. Yin Yang, on the other hand, does so in complete harmony. They complement each other perfectly.”

When Ava just stared at her, Sara said, “You want my advice?”

“I don’t recall ever asking for it,” Ava said dryly.

Sara ignored Ava’s retort.

“Find a woman who’s not you. Should be easy. You’ll find them everywhere. Most women aren’t sticklers like you.”

Ava pursed her lips disapprovingly then narrowed her eyes at Sara.

“Oh, yeah?” she said sarcastically after a moment. “You want to drop some names?”

Sara Lance.

Sara mentally shook herself off.

Nope.

Definitely NOT Sara Lance.

“There’s this thing. It’s called Tinder,” Sara said then walked towards the door. “Use it.”

*****

Ava found herself in deep thought after Sara left, thinking back on what the former said and replaying the words in her head.

In her apprehension, she missed the fact that Sara just described her as hot. It was a compliment; a word the meaning of which left no room for misinterpretation.

What Sara said was true– she and Max were too much alike; not in everything, but most things. Such fact, however, was not the reason the two of them were not together anymore.

The way their relationship progressed was no different from others’. She and Max were friends first; they had been for a long time until it grew into something more when a circumstance drew the two of them even closer five years ago.

Regardless, the evolution was still gradual; so much so that she didn’t even realise they were already a couple. She and Max didn’t have anniversaries, nor they celebrated any date that most couples normally would.

Everything about the two of them together was easy and uncomplicated, because despite them being too similar, she and Max worked….

Until Max asked her to marry her.

She knew right then that she couldn’t hold Max back; not anymore– a fact that she only ever really realised when she was slapped by it by her offer of marriage, so she had to end things between them because Max deserved so much better than what she was able to give.

Max was beautiful, smart, funny, kind, sweet, thoughtful– all traits any man or woman who loved women would love in a wife; and if things were different, she would have said yes to her proposal with no hesitation.

She didn’t reject it, and admittedly, she didn’t accept it either, but if she was being honest with herself, she was never going to say yes.

In all the time they were together, not once did she tell Max she loved her. She did, but it was not the kind of love the depth of which Max hoped she would eventually feel for her.

She had always been honest with her– how she felt about their relationship, the things Max could expect from her, and those that she shouldn’t.

Max knew going in that there was a huge part of Ava that she would never reach no matter how close they had become. Regrettably, it was the part that mattered the most if a person wanted to spend the rest of their life with someone.

She could never have loved Max the way that she wanted her to; the way she deserved to be loved, because as unfortunate as it was, the painful truth was that she had already given her heart to Keegan a long time ago....

and she never really got it back.