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you make me smile (please stay for a while now)

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It should be weird, Sara felt, to look around a place she’d spent three years in and find everything pretty much exactly the same.

The sunlight still streamed in through the high, rectangular windows, warm and shimmering and illuminating the leaves on the trees outside that were very slowly beginning to turn yellow. It reflected off the lockers and created a dizzying array of patterns on the linoleum floors, and just like every year, there was always groups of artsy, hipster 14 year olds who would stop in the middle of the hallway to take a picture for the ‘first day of high school’ instagram posts (Sara was thankful to be able to say that she and her friends had not been those 14 year olds in freshman year). She still had the same locker, three doors down from the gym, opposite Mick and Ray’s lockers, conveniently close to the girl’s bathroom, still filled with Star City High School stickers and logos, photos from Amaya’s disposable camera blue tacked to the back of the door.

She paused as her eyes scanned the snapshotted moments thoughtfully, gaze roving over her own face in each of them. She still had the same friends - that was clear to see in each picture, which, despite their gradual ageing and maturing features, was filled with the same group of people, plus or minus the occasional one or two (like Nyssa and Leonard, both of whom had left Star City in sophomore year, and Zari and Wally, who had moved and joined the group soon after). Sara’s fingers traced the edge of one photo of her and Zari after their last soccer game the previous year, backs turned to the camera and laughing as they glanced over their shoulders, showing off their numbers (Sara was #7, Zari was #15).

She was still playing soccer, just like she had been in freshman year. Same school, same sunlight, same locker, same friends, same sports team. But somehow, Sara felt like she was a completely different person. Like the world had shifted profoundly on its axis since the day she walked into SCHS on her first day of freshman year.

Because everything was different. Back then, Sara was walking down the hallways holding hands with Nyssa al Ghul, avoiding the dirty glares she received from the (admittedly few) homophobic members of their student body. Back then, she’d hang out with Laurel, Oliver, Tommy and Thea over the weekends (the friends she’d had her whole life) because she was only just starting to get to know the misfit group of kids she’d ended up sitting with at lunch. Back then, she was skipping classes to watch kickboxing fights over in the grungy part of town with Mick and Leonard, prioritising spending time with Nyssa over homework, the only thing she put first to do with school being soccer. Back then, her mom wasn’t talking to her (which wasn’t hard from all the way in Chicago) because she didn’t approve of Sara’s bisexuality, her dad was just a regular detective, Laurel was the school golden girl, and Sara Lance was just a nobody whose name teachers sighed in exasperation at. Back then, Sara was picking fights with Ava Sharpe everyday, scoffing her nose at Amaya Jiwe and Ray Palmer - despite them being within her friend group - who’s kindness and patience and optimism made Sara want to puke.

Now though.

Now, Nyssa was in Dubai where her father had moved their family to after disapproving of his daughter’s relationship. Laurel, Oliver and Tommy had graduated last year, Thea was a sophomore and had her own group of friends. Leonard and his family had moved to Central City. Mick had settled a bit, was no longer someone that teachers dreaded to have in their class, and both he and Sara had found an irreplaceable family in the group of friends they’d tentatively opened themselves up to. Now, Sara was an Honours student, was (quietly) planning on applying for at least one Ivy League university, spent her afternoons either at soccer practice or studying at one of her friends’ houses. Somehow, she’d become the mother hen of their friends and Amaya and Zari were the two people in the world she was closest to.  Her mom had come to terms with everything and texted at least once a week, her dad was captain of his own precinct - even Sara’s relationship with Ava Sharpe had somehow changed from the antagonistic, spiteful rivalry it had begun as and was now very tentatively something resembling a friendship.

And then there was Laurel.

Laurel, who wouldn’t have been here this year anyway, but definitely wasn’t at Stanford studying Law like everybody thought.

Sara pushed away the memories of her sister from over the summer, of the bags under Laurel’s eyes, the pale colour to her skin, the way she’d slowly looked less and less like the sister Sara knew and loved.

Sara’s eyes flickered shut and she swallowed, slammed her locker shut and offered Nate, Zari and Wally a smile as she fell into step with them, walking towards homeroom.

 

“Dad, I’m just going to Ollie’s!”

“Where you’ll be drinking?”

“Yes, we’re I’ll be drinking, which you’ve never had a problem with until now apparently.”

“Maybe that’s because suddenly, it’s happening a lot more than is healthy Laurel. You’re not going - we need to sit down and talk about what’s going on with you.”

“Oh my god Dad, nothing’s going on with me!”

“You’ve been slipping yourself those painkillers and god knows what else for almost two and a half weeks now Laurel, and you’ve gone out partying with Oliver and Tommy almost every single weekend this summer, I’m pretty sure that’s not the definition of nothing.”

“We graduated , we’re celebrating, how is that a bad thing? Oliver’s staying in Star City, Tommy’s going to Chicago, I’m going to Stanford - we’re spending as much time together as possible before splitting up for literally the first time in our entire lives. Do you suddenly have a problem with that?”

“What about the pills?”

“I hurt my arm in kickboxing last month, you know that.”

“The doctor said it’d be healed in a week.”

“Yeah, well it’s not.”

“Laurel -”

“Dad, drop it. I’m fine. Now are you gonna let me go or not?”

 

“Hey, Sara, you okay?”

Sara’s head snapped up from where her eyes were burning holes in the back of her notebook to meet Zari’s concerned gaze. “Yeah, fine. Sorry. What’s up?”

Zari took her seat at the desk beside Sara’s, dropping her bag to the floor unceremoniously. “How easily do you think I could get away with skipping practice this afternoon?”

Amaya kicked Zari’s ankle lightly from the seat behind her. “It’s not even 8:30am and you’re already planning on getting in trouble?”

Zari flashed her a charming smile and Sara had to refrain from rolling their eyes at the stupidly obvious flirting between the two.

Sara snorted. “You would be roasted over a bonfire by tomorrow morning if you skipped Z,” she said with a chuckle. “Don’t even think about it. I’m gunning for captain this year and there’s no way in hell I’m starting the season off with one of my best friends skipping practice.”  

Zari groaned. “It’s the first day of school and games don’t even start til February. I don’t understand why Coach Hunter’s making us start training so early.”

“It’s called preparation Miss Tomaz, and it’s the reason we’re going to make it to playoffs this year.”

All eyes flickered to the doorway where their homeroom teacher (and Sara and Zari’s soccer coach), Rip Hunter, gave Zari a wry smirk and shut the door behind him. The volume in class dropped to a low hum with the occasional burst of quiet chatter, and Sara took the opportunity to let her eyes flicker around the classroom. She’d known most of the people here for years. The majority of their grade was Star City born and raised, so the friendships she had with a lot of the people in her homeroom class went back longer than just the three years of high school. It was weird to think that next year, Sara would be somewhere without any of them, without the familiarity of childhood references and inside jokes.

Inexplicably, her gaze shifted to Ava, who was perhaps the clearest indication of how much things had changed.

Ava Sharpe, who Sara had spent the better part of freshman year throwing biting remarks to, making fun of, antagonising, bickering, arguing, driving their teachers up the wall and receiving many berating reprimands from the principal about the way they treated each other. Ava Sharpe, who for some inexplicable reason, had been the first person to ask if she was okay after Nyssa left. Ava Sharpe, who had slyly challenged Sara to try and do better than her in their massive French assignment, the resulting A+ kick starting Sara actually wanting to do better at school. Ava Sharpe, whose group of friends played endless pranks on Sara and her friends, but had become such comforting, familiar faces that Sara couldn’t help but smile when she saw them around the city. Ava Sharpe, who had shown up on Sara’s doorstep last year in tears after her mom’s disapproval over her coming out, who Sara had pulled inside and comforted and teased and studied with and then walked home until Ava finally was ready to face her family. Ava Sharpe, who now joined her in tearing apart anyone’s homophobic comments on facebook, who she’d somehow created a bubble of inside jokes with and who she’d glance over to wink at when one of their teachers referenced something funny, who didn’t scowl at Sara’s retorts anymore but instead just rolled her eyes and threw a wad of paper at her, who sometimes looked at Sara with a soft, unguarded expression that made Sara’s stomach jolt and her brain overload with confusion and uncertainty.

Ava Sharpe, who right now was looking at Sara with a raised eyebrow and a Can I help you Lance? expression on her face. Sara flipped her off, grinning at Ava’s half-hearted glare in response before breaking her own gaze away, tuning into a conversation between Jax and Ray as Rip let the class dissolve into quiet discussion (he knew better by now than to try and get them to do something productive in homeroom). The boys were comparing timetables, and Sara pulled hers out of the back pocket of her jeans to see if the three of them shared any classes. Realising what they were doing, Amaya and Zari got up from their chairs and peered over Sara’s shoulder, and within a couple of minutes, Mick, Nate and Wally were with them, everybody trying to figure out who was in who’s classes.

Sara managed to decipher over the babble of noise and loud chattering that she had Physics with Ray, Classics with Ray and Nate, English and French with Amaya, Zari and Wally, Calculus with Jax, History with Mick and Nate, Biology and Social Studies by herself, and P.E. and Chemistry with Jax and Amaya.

She read her timetable aloud to Amaya and Zari, mostly to confirm for herself what she had on today, when Ava laughed incredulously and said “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Sara glanced over at her, resting her arm on the back of her chair. “Got something to say, Sharpe?”

Ava returned the unrelenting stare, eyes narrowing. “You’ve got Calc next, right? History last today? Bio third tomorrow?”

Sara stole a peek at her timetable before nodding, furrowing her eyebrows.

Ava let out a quiet huff. “We’ve got exactly the same timetable this year Lance.”

Sara was surprised at how little the idea bothered her, to spend all day every day at school in class with Ava. She shrugged. “Hey, you’re the one who’s probably going to end up being valedictorian. Now I know I have you to copy off in every class.”

“Yeah, like I’ll ever let that happen,” muttered Ava, shaking her head. “If I get anything less than an A average this year, I’m blaming you.”

Before Sara could retort anything back, Rip interrupted them with a pleading “Ladies, please. It’s senior year. Civility, I’m sure you’ve both learnt it by now. I do not want to have to receive any frustrated complaints from your teachers about you two holding up the entire lesson with your arguments and debates.”

“Actually,” piped Zari, “they’re usually pretty much on the same page about stuff in class. They sometimes team up and completely take apart some poor jerk who has the misfortune of holding an opposing viewpoint.”

Both Sara and Ava flushed, sinking into their chairs a little and exchanging small, slightly sheepish grins with each other.

Rip also smiled a little fondly. “Well, that I can deal with. Just try not to derail the entire lesson in the process, won’t you? Now if you could all listen for just a few minutes, here are some announcements that might actually be useful to you …”

 

The car pulled up with a soft crunch of tires over gravel. As soon as Laurel caught sight of the sign in front of the building before them, her head whipped over to the driver’s seat and she stared at her father, horrified.

“I’m sorry,” said Quentin quietly. “Lying about where we were going was the only way we knew you would agree to come with us.”

“You tricked me!” accused Laurel, gaze flickering panickedly between Quentin and Sara, who was sitting in the backseat. “I can’t believe you -”

“Would you have come otherwise?” interrupted Sara.

Laurel didn’t reply, deflating slightly and slouching in her seat, rubbing the heel of her palm into her forehead. “You guys. I don’t … I don’t need this. I’m fine.”

“You collapsed in the kitchen yesterday,” said Quentin, and the pain in his voice was overwhelming. “You’re lucky we didn’t take you to hospital.”

“I was tired,” insisted Laurel. “I hadn’t eaten all day, I was out in the sun with Tommy, it was heat stroke or something -”

“Tommy said you ordered three margaritas at lunch with your fake ID,” said Sara. “It’s was a fucking Tuesday Laur, who day drinks on a Tuesday unless they’re an alcoholic?”

“I’m not an alcoholic!”

“Yeah, just like you’re not a drug addict? Even though you begged Thea to ask Roy to get you more of those pills you ran out of? First of all, I went through your cabinet in the bathroom and I saw the packet you tried to hide, Laur - you’re not even on the damn pain meds anymore, you’re on that awful new street drug that Dad confiscates at work! And second, I can’t believe you would use how much Thea looks up to you to get more product, are you for real -”

“You went through my stuff?” exclaimed Laurel, her eyes widening. “What the hell? Could you be more of a brat?”

Sara ignored the comment and the sting of hurt she felt at it, instead schooling her features into a glare. “And what about Thea, huh? And Roy? He worked so damn hard to get out that neighbourhood and now you’re using him to get yourself drugs?”

“Stay out of this Sara, it’s none of your business,” snapped Laurel and Quentin raised a hand between them.

“Stop, both of you.” He sighed heavily, reaching out to curl a hand around both of Laurel’s, which were trembling in her lap. “Laurel, baby, I’m sorry we did this behind your back but you’ve gotta see how worried we are about you. We can see you’re falling apart, even if you can’t, and this is gonna be for the best in the long run.”

“Daddy please. I start at Stanford in three weeks!”

“Not anymore,” said Quentin firmly. “I already called them to defer your acceptance.”

Laurel’s jaw dropped, her eyes widening with horror. “ No ,” she choked out. “No, Dad, please, Stanford law has been my dream since I was six -”

“And it’ll still be your dream in six months, or eight, or ten, however long it takes for you to get clean.”

Laurel tugged her hand back, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them against herself tightly. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Laurel,” whispered Sara, leaning over to gently tuck some of Laurel’s hair behind her ear. “It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay. You’ve just … you’ve gotta trust that we know what’s best for you. That this is what’s best for you.”

Laurel sniffed, ducking her head to try and hide the tears that had started streaming down her face. “I just … I don’t want this to be who I am. I don’t want to be the girl who had everything and just ended up in rehab.”

“That’s not who you are baby,” promised Quentin gently. “It’s not. You’re the same Laurel you’ve always been. You just lost yourself somewhere along the way and now you need to find that person again.”

Nobody said anything for several moments, silence hanging heavily between the three of them in the car, only broken by Laurel’s occasional stuttering breathing. It was early evening, and the sun had begun its slow descent in the horizon and lit up the inside of the car in a calming, gentle glow. The radio crackled with sudden static, and Laurel startled a little at the sound of it. Her eyes were red rimmed, bottom lip trembling and Sara was stunned in that moment at just how thin she was, how prominent her cheekbones were and how the usual, healthy colour in her cheeks had faded almost entirely.

“Please Laur,” Sara said before she could stop herself. “For me.”

Laurel’s eyes met hers, and Sara saw the flicker of realisation at what she’d done register, saw the shame and regret and fear. Laurel reached over behind the seat and grabbed Sara’s hand, then found her father’s too, squeezing tightly as her eyes snapped shut and she sucked in a sharp, shaking breath of air.

“Okay.”

 

As the bell rang shrilly through the school and Rip dismissed them, Sara swung her bag over one shoulder and let out a quiet sigh. As far as everyone knew - apart from Oliver, Tommy and Thea - Laurel was at Stanford. That’s what Laurel had wanted, for everyone to think that she was the same person they knew, that she was still the Star City sunshine who was going to make everybody proud. And Sara respected that, knew that if she was going through something similar, she’d want the same thing. But it also meant that Sara couldn’t tell any of her friends, couldn’t let slip what she and her father had been agonising over all summer, couldn’t cry or break down in front of anyone, couldn’t text Amaya for advice, couldn’t let anybody know that everything wasn’t fine.

She just had to figure it out, she supposed. It would all feel more normal eventually, right?

Someone bumping their shoulder against hers startled her back to reality, and she looked over to see Ava having fallen into step with her.

“Calc?” Ava said, nodding in the direction of the math department.

Something about her small smile, about the comforting warmth of her beside Sara, the familiarity of wandering to class together, the way she didn’t seem to look at Sara as though she expected anything, expecting a way of acting and being and reacting, as though Sara didn’t owe her anything. For the first time since she’d walked into school earlier that morning, Sara felt like she could breathe.

She nodded. “Yeah.”

Maybe, just maybe, this year wasn’t off to an entirely bad start.

 


 

 

Instagram


ztomaz posted 1 new photo:

#7 & #15 back again for one last season of SCHS soccer!! Wouldn’t wanna have been doing this for the past 2 years w anyone else <3

Tagged: saraalance.
Location: Star City High School Stadium

Liked by: saraalance, amayajiwe, avacsharpe, raymondcpalmer, and 143 others.

Thursday 25 August.

 

jeffersonjax posted 1 new photo:

Gonna miss these losers next year (but not gonna miss them interrupting me literally every single time i flirt with any girl ever thanks heaps guys) #OGsquad #senioryearlessgo #weekonedone

Tagged: saraalance, amayajiwe
Location: Star City High School

Liked by: amayajiwe, saraalance, nathanielheywood, gxryggreeen, and 160 others.
Comments:
saraalance: lmao u sitting here thinking that us cockblocking u is gonna end w u running away to college thats SO FUNNY
saraalance: (i love u lil bro)
amayajiwe: @saraalance Bless his soul for thinking he can ever escape us #OGsquadforlife <3 <3

Saturday 27 August.

 

lilssstein posted 1 new photo:

The Gals & Gary™ back for #senioryear bitchesssss

Tagged: avacsharpe, noradarhk, KuasaJiwe, gxryggreeen
Location: Star City Waffle House

Liked by: gxryggreeen, wallacewesttt, avacsharpe, KuasaJiwe, saraalance, and 201 others.

Monday 29 August.

 

 


 

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

legends™
Active now

TUES 2:41pm:


You:
y’all

lmao

guess who my partner for
the YEAR LONG 60% history
project is


Haircut:
Guessing by the fact that you
don’t seem happy about it,
I’m gonna take a wild guess
and say

Ava?


You:
*ding ding ding*

and the $500 bonus goes
to ray palmer


Animal whisperer:
Surely every teacher knows
better than to put the biggest
rivals in school together for
such an important project


You:
ok but

to be fair

we do work pretty well
together


Z:
Oh ho

And how do we know this?


You:
what’s that supposed to mean

we’ve been in the same school
since 6th grade

we’ve had to WORK together
before z


Engineer extraordinaire:
Fair


Pretty boy:
If you know you work well
together then it probs
won’t be too bad then right?


You:
i mean yeah

it’s just

it’s ava fuckin sharpe

and i’m gonna have to
spend so so much time w
her all year working on this
thing

at least it’s not some loser
who’s just gonna bum off me
doing all the fuckin work


Kid flash:
yeah u know for sure
that ava’s not gonna screw
u over

like she wants the good
grade just as much as u


Heat wave:
Probably the one person
who wants it more tbh


You:
true

thanks guys

gtg actually pay
attention in class


Seen by: Nate, Zari, Amaya, Ray, Wally, Mick, Jax.

 


 


Messenger

Ava Sharpe
Active now

TUES 3:57pm:

hey so


this history project


we should plan it or something
right? especially if it’s gonna
be some big massive year long
thing


Sara Lance, taking initiative on
something to do with school?


Never thought I’d see the day


you’re the one who didn’t
want her average to drop
below an A


just helping u out sharpe


Whatever would I do without you


have an unbelievably boring
and uneventful high school
experience, clearly


Wouldn’t that be nice


you gonna stop being shitty
abt the fact that we’re paired
for this thing & actually tell
me when ur free?


After school Thursday?


can’t, soccer practice


unless ur ok to come over
after that? practice finishes
at 5:45


That’s fine with me


I’ll just walk over to yours at
around 6? We can plan it for like
an hour maybe?


yeah sounds good


Seen: Tuesday, 4:09pm

 


 

 

Messenger
(Ava Sharpe)

The Gals & Gary™
Active now

TUES 8:18pm:


Gay Carebear Green:
hi so

sara lance hooked up w
john constantine last
year right?


Nora:
Yeah I think so?


Kuasa:
Do I even WANNA know
why you’re asking this
Gary?????


You:
Yeah she did

At that weird American
Horror Story Asylum themed
halloween party

I don’t even know why I know
that tbh


Gay Carebear Green:
hmmmmm ok


Lils:
Why????


Gay Carebear Green:
putting out the gaydar feelers

something tells me he’s into
guys but he’s only ever hooked
up w girls that i know of


Kuasa:
Ooooh I see what you’re getting
at Gary

Yeah if he hadn’t hooked up w
so many girls around school, I’d
be pretty sold he was gay


You:
How exactly he’s hooked
up w so many girls around
school is beyond me but
whatever, each to their
own I guess


Nora:
LMAOOO oh yeah I forgot
you don’t like the guy ava


Lils:
You don’t like constantine??

How come?


You:
Okay well first of all
he makes people call
him by his last name

What, are we in some
police tv drama???


Kuasa:
I’m crying HAHAHAH


Nora:
Omg Ava ;’D


You:
Idk he’s just strange

I don’t like him


Gay Carebear Green:
would you still support my
endeavours to sleep w him?


You:
Very reluctantly

(I’m kidding ofc Gary)


Lils:
Are we putting a ‘get gary laid’
plan into action?


Nora:
Can we put a ‘get all of us laid
at some point this year’ plan into
action too?


You:
Finding gay girls is
a mission you guys I’m
serious

The only ones I’ve found
on tinder are those weird
alty super hipster grunge
chicks with too many facial
piercings and cigarettes in
every other photo

And then girls looking for a
third person to have threesomes
w them and their boyfriend


Nora:
Oh yikes


Gay Carebear Green:
and sara lance


Kuasa:
GARY


Gay Carebear Green:
the hate sex would be gr8


You:
Stop talking abt my
hypothetical sex life
Gary, like rn


Nora:
I’m wheezing omfg


Seen by: You, Gary, Nora and Kuasa.

 


 

 


Messenger
(Lily Stein)

Nora Darhk
Active now

MON 8:47pm:

MESSAGE GARY RN


YOU’VE KNOWN HIM
THE LONGEST OTHER
THAN AVA


TELL HIM TO SHUT THE
FUCK UP RN


ON IT

 

Seen: Monday, 8:49pm.

 


 

 

Messenger
(Nora Darhk)

Gary Green
Active now

MON 8:50pm:

GARY BALTHAZAR GREEN


I SWEAR TO GOD


IF YOU DON’T TONE IT TF
DOWN YOU ARE GOING TO
RUIN THIS WHOLE SLOW
BURN THING WE’VE ALL
BEEN WAITING FOR


it was in CONTEXT


we were talking abt getting
laid and she was talking abt
the considerable lack of gay
girls on offer in star city


sara is into girls and sleeps w
like, any girl who is mildly
attractive and gives her any
form of heart eyes


AVA’S MORE THAN MILDLY
ATTRACTIVE WHY NOT PUT THE
IDEA INTO HER HEAD


BECAUSE AVA IS AVA
AND STARTLES SO EASILY
WE KNOW THIS GAR WE’VE
BEEN FRIENDS W HER SINCE
WE WERE SIX


also we were rooting for
the slow burn like 2 years
ago


now i’m pretty sure the
whole school just needs
them to bang like now


also ava deserves to
get laid by someone like
sara lance


Firstly while you’re not wrong


We’re going to listen to our best
friend and stop talking abt her
hypothetical sex life okay?


Secondly be PATIENT they’re not
even rlly friends yet


But they’re doing that big history
project together remember?
Hopefully they’ll get closer through
that


JUST TONE IT DOWN

ugh FINE

anyway im gonna call u
i need help w this constantine
thing


Seen: Monday, 8:54pm.

Chapter Text

 

Ava hadn’t been to Sara’s house since October the previous year after the fight with her mom about her coming out. From the outside, everything about it looked the same, apart from Laurel’s room being dark (which wasn’t surprising given the elder Lance daughter was now away at Stanford). Ava had barely knocked twice before the door swung open, Sara offering her a bright, cheerful smile as she ran a towel through her still damp hair. She was wearing baggy, grey sweatpants that sat low on her hips and a tight fitted navy blue tank top and Ava determinedly flickered her eyes upwards to Sara’s face to avoid looking at her very toned figure (she had eyes okay, and she was very gay, and Gary wasn’t exactly wrong about Sara being one of the only good-looking girls also into girls at SCHS. Ava wasn’t going to pretend that Sara wasn’t an objectively attractive human being).

“Hey,” said Ava, slipping her hands into the back pockets of her jeans.

“Hey!” said Sara. “Sorry, I just got out of the shower. Come on in.”

Stepping through the doorway and into the hall, Ava tried very hard not to think about the words Sara and shower together, silently chastising herself. What the fuck was wrong with her brain today? This was Sara, not some random pretty girl on the street that she could fantasise about. Clearly, Gary and his stupid comment had gotten to her more than she thought. Ava shook her head, adjusting her bag on her shoulder as a way to distract herself.

Just like the outside of the house, nothing on the inside had moved, and Ava found her eyes drawn to the photos of much younger Sara and Laurel that still lined the walls.

“Hey, eyes off the baby photos Sharpe,” Sara joked as she nudged her shoulder against Ava’s. “You want a drink? Food?”

Trying not to tense at the contact (seriously, was her new pill making her super hormonal or something, what the fuck was going on?) Ava bit her lip, thinking for a moment before giving her head a small shake. “I’m good, thanks.”

Sara smiled slightly and turned around, seemingly assuming Ava would follow her up the stairs. Maybe it was because Quentin was still at work and that the last time Ava had been here, the house had been full of people - Quentin and his precinct friends crowding the living room and Laurel keeping to herself in her own bedroom - but something about Sara’s house felt...off. Wrong. And the emptiness didn’t feel like an explanation, especially considering that Ava had been here before with just Sara, back when they were a lot younger and had other projects to work on. It felt as though something big had changed over the summer, something both Sara and her dad were determined to keep hidden by smiling a little too brightly and hoping no one would notice.

Ava dismissed the persistent thoughts quickly, even though Sara had seemed distracted the past couple of weeks (zoning out in class, not rising to Ava’s challenging retorts, seeming subdued from across the cafeteria at lunch … and Ava had definitely seen the way Zari and Amaya’s concerned gazes lingered on Sara over the past few days, she’d seen Jax pull Sara aside after Calculus on Wednesday and ask what was going on, only for Sara to shake her head and insist with a smile that didn’t meet her eyes that it was nothing). But Ava knew she and Sara weren’t friends. They weren’t rivals, not anymore, but she definitely wasn’t going to go as far as friendship, not when Sara was still the one person in the entire world that made Ava want to throw herself out the window every time she started winding Ava up. So no, there was no reason to ask or to pry because even if something was going on, Sara would probably much rather talk to one of her actual friends over Ava.

(Ava ignored the nagging voice in her head that reminded her about the last time she’d been in this house, about the softness in Sara’s expression and the tightness of her fingers curled in Ava’s, the way she’d promised that it would be okay and the safeness Ava had felt by her reassuring smile.)

Sara was probably just missing Laurel, Ava concluded. They’d always been unbelievably close, and having her so far away in California couldn’t be easy. There was a closeness to their relationship that Ava had never quite been able to understand, had always admired and envied just a little; Of all her siblings, she was probably closest to Spencer but there was always a disconnect because of their age gap, and he’d joined the army at 17 and that was four years ago now. Ava hadn’t even started high school when he left - she was a completely different person now. She and Spencer were close, sure but nothing near as tight knit as Sara and Laurel. Even with her sisters, Ava had never quite seen eye to eye with Layla and for all that she loved Ali to pieces, they’d always been siblings first, friends second.

As she and Sara reached the top of the staircase, Ava’s eyes flickered to Laurel’s room, surprised by the door hanging ajar and revealing an unorganised mess of cluttered belongings. The lights were off, but even in the darkness Ava could make out Laurel’s laptop on the desk, clothes scattered across the floor, the bed untidily made with the duvet still wrinkled and uneven, as if someone had made it in a hurry and forgotten to straighten everything.

Ava had never seen Laurel’s room, had never really even known her very well, but she’d always seemed like the kind of person whose room would be not pristine, but at least leaning towards tidy, everything placed somewhere that made sense, clothes that weren’t tucked away instead neatly hung over the back of a chair unless they were dirty, then they would be in the linen laundry hamper by the window. Ava unintentionally stepped closer towards the bedroom doorway. She’d have thought Laurel would have been a person to buy her textbooks as soon as she got her acceptance letter and packed her suitcase carefully a week in advance, rather than grabbing her most important possessions on the way out of the door. And ... the laptop. Surely Laurel would need that for college?

Ava was sure there was a reasonable explanation, but before she could turn to Sara to ask, Sara had barraged past her and slammed Laurel’s door shut, something fierce flashing in her eyes that Ava couldn’t recognise.

Sara turned to glare at Ava, the look in her eyes clearly daring her to ask, but for once Ava decided not to step up to the challenge. Something about it didn’t feel right, something about the way Sara’s taunting stare seemed to be seconds away from crumbling, a vulnerability in her expression lingering just below the surface that made Ava chest tighten in concern. For whatever reason, this wasn’t the time for Ava to engage in an argument with Sara, so she stayed silent, waiting for Sara to realise that she wasn’t going to take the bait. For a moment, it looked as though Sara was going to say something but after a couple of seconds, her expression mellowed and she tilted her head towards her bedroom door. Ava nodded in response, following Sara through her open doorway and perching on the edge of her bed.

“So how was soccer practice?’ she asked conversationally.

Any lingering tension in Sara’s shoulders seem to leave her as Ava’s change in topic confirmed that she wasn’t going to press the strangeness of the state of Laurel’s room. Sara grabbed their history textbook, her laptop and a thick pad of A2 poster paper before dropping it onto the bed and flopping down beside Ava.

“It was good,” she said, a small smile finding its way onto her face. “I … I missed soccer over the summer. Obviously, me and Zari were out kicking a ball around at least once a week and I’m pretty sure half my friends would be good enough to play division 2 soccer after all the beachside games Z and I forced them to play with us, but it’s different being back with the team, you know?”

Ava nodded, pulling the textbook over to her and shuffling backwards so that she could lie on her stomach, Sara quickly moving to do the same. “Yeah, I get it. I have days where I miss basketball so much that I consider getting Dad to pull a favour with the head coach and getting me a spot on the team or something.”

Sara laughed with quiet surprise, pushing hair away from her face as she opened up her laptop. “I always forget that you were a basketball star in middle school. You should come over to Jax’s sometime. I’d pay real money to see you kick his smug ass in basketball.”

For some reason, Ava had expected this to be awkward, having to spend such a significant amount of time alone with Sara without something massive (like a difficult coming out situation) to act as a conversational bridge between them. To her slight surprise, chatter flowed easily between them and they filtered through different topics quickly and easily - school, sports, Sara’s friends, Ava’s friends, senior year, whatever ridiculous point of gossip had captivated school attention that week - before they fell effortlessly into the same rhythm they’d begun to find the year before the last time they’d been in this exact position, studying. Side by side on Sara’s bed, notes between them and a large piece of poster paper slowly filling with brainstorms and scribbles, Ava found that Sara seemed to finish her sentences, suggest ideas that Ava had been about to bring up herself, agreed wholeheartedly with Ava’s own thoughts and suggestions, and before long, they’d already decided on a topic for the project and begun to research it. The ease with which they worked wasn’t a huge shock - for some reason, ever since they’d stopped being so fiesty towards each other, their teachers had loved to put them in the same groups for group projects (for which Ava usually found her and Sara doing most of the work, not that it really bothered either of them given how much they wanted a good grade).

It wasn’t until they heard a sharp knock on Sara’s door that Ava realised how much time had passed, and she felt a sudden sense of deja vu from their study session last year, the situation feeling so similar that it was momentarily a shock when Quentin walked in instead of Laurel. To hide her slight disorientation, Ava’s eyes flickered down to check her phone only to find it out of power. She was a bit surprised. As far as she knew, Quentin didn’t usually finish work until later - why did she know that? - but it was still fairly light outside, so Ava supposed he must have the evening off.

“Good day?” asked Quentin, pulling Sara into a brief hug.

Sara shrugged, a teasing smile on her face as she replied with “Well, I got paired with this nerd for our year long history project, but apart from that it was pretty good.”

Ava snorted and grabbed one of Sara’s ridiculous number of throw pillows to toss in her general direction. Sara caught it and laughed, lightly shoving Ava’s legs in payback. Quentin rolled his eyes at the two of them.

“I can only apologise that you have to put up with this one for the entire year,” he said, grinning as Sara’s jaw dropped, now throwing the pillow at her father who dodged it, chuckling and giving Ava a wink. His eyes flickered to his watch and he returned his attention to Ava as he said “Would you like to stay for dinner? We’ll probably get takeout.”

Taken aback by the offer, Ava instinctively glanced over at Sara who nodded as a sort of yeah, if you want action. For a second, the yes please was on the tip of Ava’s tongue before she remembered that her aunt was arriving from Florida today to spend a week with them, and that tonight was non-negotiable family dinner. She sighed. It would be so nice to just stay here. Something about this house - even from the time she was ten and she’d fallen down rollerblading with Nora, and Quentin had sat her down on the front porch and bandaged up her knee before telling her sternly to walk home - had always felt safe and warm and inviting. But Ava knew she’d be in so much shit if she didn’t show, so flashed Sara an apologetic smile before saying “I’d love to, honestly, but my super conservative aunt is here for a week and dinner tonight is pretty much set in stone unless I want to be disowned.”

“Super conservative?” echoed Sara, raising an eyebrow.

Ava nodded, scowling a little. “Yeah, she says she’s just here to see us but I’m pretty sure she actually wants to come and check that me being gay hasn’t completely warped the goodness in my soul, so I should probably make an appearance to show her I’m not just a 5 foot 8 girl of sin.”

Sara choked on her tongue, seemingly not knowing whether to laugh or be concerned, but before she had a chance to figure it out, Quentin shook his head and said “And I repeat Ava, very emphatically this time, are you sure you don’t want to stay?”

Ava chuckled softly, shaking her head. “Thank you, but I really should go.”

“Raincheck then,” said Sara, apparently having found her voice. “We’ve got a whole lotta history to do before the year’s over anyway.”

“I’ll be seeing you soon then,” said Quentin to Ava with a warm smile. “Sara, you good with Thai?”

Sara nodded and Quentin ducked out of the room.

“Your dad is so nice,” said Ava once he was out of earshot.

Sara smiled fondly, shrugging. “He’s pretty cool. He’s super overprotective at times, but I think that’s just cop instincts.” There was a brief pause between them as Ava stood, gathering her stuff and packing it back into her bag before swinging it onto one shoulder. Sara also rose to her feet, stretching her arms high above her head and Ava had to look away as her tank top rode up, exposing a brief flash of toned muscle on Sara’s middle.

“I’ll walk you down?” said Sara.

Ava snapped her attention back to Sara’s face, hoping Sara hadn’t seen her distraction. “Yeah, yeah thanks.” She followed Sara out of her bedroom, shaking her head and reprimanding herself silently. She really needed to get a freakin girlfriend. Maybe she just had to refine her standards on Tinder.

 

 

 


 

Messenger

(Ava Sharpe)

The Gals & Gary™
Active now

MON 7:47am:


Lils:
Hey so I look fuckin great
today so someone better
take pics of me for insta
so that brett peterson will
see & then ask me to prom


Nora:
Hi good morning to you
too Lily


Kuasa
HAHA wow Lils


Lils:
Guys pLS i’ve been
thirsting after this guy
for almost a year help me
out here


You:
Babe we know


Lils:
Help me get laid then

I thought we were putting
the ‘get all of us laid’ plan
into action

I’ve heard fantastic
things around school
abt brett’s dick

Like ava sweetie i don’t
expect u to understand but


You:
Don’t even fucking
finish that sentence Lily
I swear to god

It’s 7:30 and i just had
breakfast and I am way
too gay to start the day
by having a conversation
about Brett Peterson and
his dick


Nora:
I’m dying HAHAHAHA


Gay Carebear Green:
dw lily i got ur back we can
have a photoshoot at lunch
or something

and i, unlike ava, am the right
kind of gay to start the day by
having a conversation about
brett peterson and his dick


Lils:
I love one (1) man and his name
is gary green


Kuasa:
If only he was straight


Gay Carebear Green:
i think we’ve established that
if i was straight, i would have
dated all of you at least once


You:
I love you Gar, I do

But not a chance

 



Messenger

Sara Lance
Active now

WED 1:08pm:


hey so I’m gonna be out of
the city this weekend


and we said we’d message abt
the research we were gonna
do for history


and obvs if I’m not at home
I don’t have internet so I
can’t fb u


so i thought now would be as
good a time as ever to ask
for ur cell number instead


(202) 318-6547


cool will text u now
to make sure


Seen: Wednesday, 1:11pm.

 



Messenger
(Sara Lance)

legends™
Active now

THURS 9:06am:


Z:
Anyone wanna come over
to mine and do some SAT
study this weekend?

I’ve got my last few over
the next couple weeks


Haircut:
Lucky

Mine don’t finish until
halfway through October


Animal whisperer:
I’m keen Zari!


Pretty boy:
Yeah, me too


Kid flash:
i’m visiting my dad and sister
in central city this wkend can
we do another study sesh next
week plssss


You:
yeah dw wally I’m down
for something next week

I’m outta town this weekend
too sorry guys


Heat wave:
Where you going


Animal whisperer:
You going to see your mom?


You:
no just

going to see family outside
the city


Engineer extraordinaire:
would totally come study but
coach is going crazy w the extra
football practices before the
homecoming game

speaking of

homecoming dance

we doing dates or we going as that
obnoxious gang everyone hates


You:
obnoxious gang obvs

prom is the one dance
where we’ll all separate
and find people to make out
with in the bathrooms ;-))


Z:
You say that now

But chances are you’ll
be the one person out of
all of us actually doing that


You:
yeah no this year I’m
wingmanning all of you

I believe in ur ability
to all get super hot dates



 

Messenger
(Ava Sharpe)

The Gals & Gary™
Active now

FRI 3:09pm:

Gay Carebear Green:
yo someone tell me they
were also in the cafeteria
when all that shit went down


Lils:
FUCK NO I WASN’T BUT I
HEARD SOME CRAZY SHIT
HAPPENED WERE U THERE


Nora:
Wait what

What happened


You:
Idk, apparently there
was a fight or something?


Kuasa:
Almost a fight

That bitch Trinity Bradley
decided to have a go at
Sara Lance

Sara got in one good swing
before Mick Rory and Nate
Heywood intervened


You:
What????

What did Trinity say???


Gay Carebear Green:
idk i think a whole bunch of
stuff

It’s like she had a checklist on
how to piss sara off

1x homophobic comment
1x dig abt sara’s mom leaving
1x taunt that sara wont make
soccer captain this year
1x stupid comment abt laurel
not actually being at college
or something (where tf did
that even come from everyone
knows laurel’s at stanford???)


Kuasa:
Yeah and Sara just snapped

Literally decked her in the face


You:
Oh shit

And Sara’s done martial
arts too so that would’ve
hurt so bad omg

Wow I can’t wait to
see Trinity’s face on
Monday


Lils:
I hope it looks fuckin awful
that’s so shitty for her to
make those comments

Like I know we all have that
long standing rivalry w sara’s
group but like obvs none of us
actually hate each other


Gay Carebear Green:
i actually rlly like most of them


Lils:
Trinity’s always just been mad
that sara beat her out for the
spot on the soccer team in
freshman year


Nora:
She also had this massive
thing for Leonard Snart in
sophomore year and was FUMING
that the one person he hooked up
w before leaving for Central City
was Sara


You:
All of that shit was
years ago now, surely
she’s moved on???


Gay Carebear Green:
apparently not


Lils:
Do u guys think sara’s ok?

Like, she’s feisty as hell sure
but she’s actually a pretty calm
person most of the time

For her to snap like that, one
of the things trinity said must’ve
rlly hit home


Kuasa:
I’ll ask Amaya?? Maybe she knows


You:
I’ll text Sara too

Just to make sure


Gay Carebear Green:
since when have u and sara been
close enough to text each other

when did u even get each other’s
numbers

how

I feel like i’ve missed a pivotal
moment in the evolution of ur
relationship


You:
Oh my god Gary you’re such
a weirdo it’s nothing

We needed to text bc we’re
partnered on that history
project

We’re not even friends


Seen by: Gary, Nora, Kuasa, Lily.

 



Messenger
(Lily Stein)

Nora Darhk
Active now

FRI 3:14pm:

Just so I know that someone
else is on the same page as me


Ava and Sara could’ve totally
gone the whole year working
on that history project via fb
and not had to have each
other’s cellphone numbers


Right?


100 fucking percent


Ohhhhh boy


This is gonna be good.


I wonder who at school bet
it would be senior year.


I did


I’ve got like, 200 bucks
riding on this thing


Oh my god are you serious


Fuck yeah i’m serious


I know I told you to tell
gary to lay off w the
comments to ava


Doesn’t mean i dont
need this to happen
more than I need to
graduate  


I placed this bet at the
beginning of last year
nora i’ve been WAITING


Lils, you are something else
I’m telling ya


And dw


We’ve ALL been waiting.


Seen: Friday, 3:18pm.

 


 

 

Sara Lance

iMessage
(Ava Sharpe)
Friday


4:58pm:
Hey are you okay?


4:58pm:
yeah why?


4:58pm:
I heard about the fight


4:58pm:
And you were super out of it
in like, every class today


4:58pm:
It was weird, it was like
you didn’t want the day to
end or something, like you
were dreading the weekend


4:58pm:
Which is super unlike you bc
you’re usually first out the
door when the last period
bell rings on a Friday


4:58pm:
And, well, you’ve kind of
been super out of it for the
past 3 weeks


4:59pm:
And I know we’re not friends
or anything so you obviously
don’t have to tell me but we
do have every class together
so I’ve kind of noticed and
I just wanted to check


5:03pm:
there’s just some stuff
going on


5:03pm:
i’m fine


5:03pm:
trinity was just being
her usual bitchy self
and wanted to get a
rise out of me, which obvs
worked


5:03pm:
i was just out of it and let
her get to me that’s all


5:04pm:
thank you for asking though
that’s really nice


5:04pm:
didn’t know you had it in you ;-))


5:05pm:
Look Sara


5:05pm:
I know you like to pretend
that you’re okay all the time


5:05pm:
And we don’t know each other
that well so hey, maybe you are


5:05pm:
But from the looks of it, whatever’s
going on is getting to you and I’ve
seen Jax and Amaya and Zari ask
you about it and I’ve seen you brush
them off


5:06pm:
And I get that you’re like, the mom
friend or whatever and you like
taking care of everyone else but
you deserve to have someone
take care of you too


5:06pm:
And I know how close your whole
group is and I get the kind of thing
where if you tell one person, you’re
sort of obligated to tell everyone
else as well bc my group’s the same


5:06pm:
But I’m not in your friend group


5:06pm:
So


5:06pm:
If you wanna talk to someone
who’s, idk, separated from
everyone else and won’t have to
keep it a secret from their closest
friends then you can talk to me


5:07pm:
God knows I owe it to you after what
you did for me last year


5:07pm:
you don’t owe me anything
for that ava


5:07pm:
you needed someone


5:07pm:
You need someone now


5:09pm:
i’m fine


5:11pm:
Okay


5:11pm:
But if you’re ever not fine


5:11pm:
I’m here.


Read: Friday.

 

 


 

 

The one thing that was getting Ava through what was quite possibly the most agonising game night of her entire life, was the promise that her aunt Susan would be gone after this weekend. Gone, and back to Florida, not hovering around the house waiting for Ava to make an appearance downstairs and immediately pulling apart every flaw in Ava’s entire damn life.

This past week had been an absolute nightmare. Though Susan hadn’t outwardly said anything homophobic, or made any comments aloud about Ava’s coming out, the undercurrent of tension had been clear, as was Ava’s mother Barbara’s attempt at pretending that everything was fine.

Ava and Ali had survived by spending most of their time upstairs, in of their rooms, studying, watching movies or sneaking out the back door to go into the city. But dinners had been mandatory, as had two consecutive weeks of church on Sunday morning that had Ava shifting uncomfortably in her seat and itching to get out of the revolting dress Barbara had shoved in her hands when she’d woken up.

Now, it was Sunday night, just over a week since Susan had first arrived, and Ava and Ali had been forced downstairs for a game night before Susan left the following morning. They’d made their way through snakes and ladders (Ava couldn’t believe that Susan had found a way to make that game into something resembling a sermon), had spent about forty-five minutes on Articulate , and were now playing the most boring game of scrabble Ava had ever had to experience in her life. She made eye contact with her father, who pretended to fall asleep and Ava ducked her head down to hide the smirk that crossed her face. She fiddled with her sleeves absentmindedly, itching for her phone to give her something to do . Susan had made Ali, Ava and Layla leave the phones upstairs as a way to disconnect and engage with family time. (When she’d said it, Ali had mimed puking behind Susan’s back.)

Ava sighed and her eyes flickered back down to her letters for this round.

A, J, U, Q, M, Y, O, G, I

Ali leaned over the armchair, resting her head on Ava’s shoulder as Barbara and Susan were distracted by trying to decide whether Quidditch was an acceptable word for Robert to use. Ava wanted to bring up that quidditch was now in the Oxford dictionary, but she didn’t exactly want to speak to Susan unless absolutely necessary. She felt Ali snort with laughter and frowned, nudging her lightly.

“What?” she murmured.

“You know what you could spell with your letters?” said Ali in barely a whisper, but Ava could hear the laughter in her voice.

“What?” said Ava again.

I’m gay.

Ava choked on her breath in an attempt to muffle her giggle, ending up having a brief coughing fit as Ali shook with laughter behind her. All other eyes shot to them curiously.

“Are you girls alright?” asked Susan, arching an unamused eyebrow.

Ava nodded, reaching over to the coffee table to grab her water and take a long gulp to avoid having to reply.

“Fine,” said Ali, snickering.

Susan eyed them both for a long moment before looking back over to Barbara and Robert. “I’m going to get the dictionary,” she said decidedly.

“You do that,” muttered Ali under her breath, waiting until her aunt had left the room before leaning back over to Ava and going “ Please just spend this entire game spelling out super queer things that will make Susan so mad that she won’t come back for thanksgiving.”

“And get grounded by Mom until graduation?” said Ava. “Yeah, no way. You’re welcome to though.”

“Yeah but it’ll be funnier coming from you!”

Ava rolled her eyes. “You’re a terrible influence. And that’s not a yes, I’m still not doing it.”

Ali sighed over exaggeratedly. “You’re no fun.”

Ava just poked her sister’s knee lightly and replied with “So how’s the first three weeks of school been?”

Ali shrugged. “Okay, I guess. Same old same old.” But there was an edge to her voice that Ava could hear, a clear line of something she wasn’t saying and after 15 years of having Ali in her life, Ava latched onto it in seconds. She touched Ali’s knee lightly, raising an expectant eyebrow to which Ali just sighed and shook her head. “It’s … it’s nothing Aves, seriously.”

“If it’s nothing, then tell me.”

Ali avoided looking at Ava as she said “I’m just hanging out with a different group, that’s all.”

Ava glanced over her shoulder to check that Susan was still out of the room and her parents were still engaged in conversation with Layla before shuffling closer to Ali’s armchair. “Different group isn’t the same old. Why? What happened to Erica and Becky and stuff?”

Ali picked at a lose thread of fabric from the chair. “We had a disagreement.”

“About?”

“Nothing.”

“Sure, because disagreements usually happen about nothing and usually result in you completely changing who you hang out with.”

“Just drop it okay, it doesn’t matter.”

“You’re my little sister, of course it matters!”

Ali’s eyes darted up in what seemed like a mixture between surprise and affection, and a small, grateful smile crossed her face. She moved, sliding down to the floor to sit beside Ava and bit her lip. “You … you can’t get mad or anything,” she said in barely a whisper so that their parents wouldn’t hear. “Don’t say anything to anyone.”

“I won’t,” promised Ava quietly, but she frowned in concern. “Al, are you okay? You’re not in trouble are you?”

“No, it’s not like that.” Ali sighed shakily. “Erica. She … she was saying some stuff. Making these shitty jokes. They were super offensive and I called her out on them and we had this massive fight and I told her I didn’t want to hang out with her if that’s what she thought was okay and she said that I should probably leave then and I did.”

“Wait, all this is about some jokes?” said Ava, trying to catch up. “I get that sometimes people say stupid stuff but a lot of the time, they don’t even realise it’s wrong, you’ve just gotta make sure they know -”

“It was about you,” said Ali in a rush, her voice breaking as she said it. “It … she was making jokes about you being gay.”

Ava felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and an uncomfortable, sickly feeling build in her stomach. Ali was pointedly looking away, and Ava tampered down her own confusing feelings of uncertainty and distant anger, instead reaching out to gently tug her sister’s arm, pulling Ali to face her.

“Ali,” she said softly. “You didn’t have to cut ties with your best friends for me.”

Ali shrugged, sniffing wetly. “Yeah, well I did. It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it matters -”

“Erica’s the only one who was saying stuff anyway. I know the others were uncomfortable about it, they’re just too chicken to say anything. It’s fine, I bet they’ll soon come crawling back apologising and Erica will be the one with no friends.”

Ava couldn’t help but chuckle proudly, spreading an arm around Ali’s shoulders and pulling her into a half hug. “God, you’re a spitfire kiddo.”

Ali laughed into Ava’s shoulder, squeezing back tightly. “I learned it from you,” she murmured before pulling away with a small, slightly relieved smile. “Besides, I’ve been hanging out with Thea Queen and Roy Harper and stuff instead and they’re so much cooler. They said I should join archery club with them.”

Before Ava could approve Ali’s new choice in friends and encourage the archery endeavour, Susan returned to the room and both Ali and Ava fell silent, exchanging subtle looks of disdain as their aunt took her place back on the couch and flipped the dictionary open to Q. Thankfully, before conversation resumed, the loud ring from the doorbell echoed through the house.

“Are you expecting anyone?” asked Susan, looking at Barbara in surprise.

“Not that I know of,” said Barbara. “Girls?”

Layla, Ali and Ava all shook their heads.

“Sunday is family time,” said Susan, tightening her lips. “How rude for someone to call in unannounced on a Sunday of all days -”

“I mean, maybe somebody tried to call us but we didn’t know because our phones are upstairs,” said Ali, shrugging and ignoring the way Susan bristled and the warning glare that her mother sent her way.

“Regardless, someone should go see who it is,” said Robert, and before anyone else could move, Ava jumped to her feet to volunteer, grinning when Ali quietly groaned in disappointment, evidently having hoped to be the one to go.

Ava resisted the urge to also retort something bitchy as Susan continued about how inconsiderate and discourteous it was to show up unannounced at this time of the evening, going into a rant about the thoughtlessness of the younger generation etc etc etc, that made Ava want to throw something at her. She hurried down the hall and let her anger out into violently yanking open the door, eyes widening almost immediately.

“Sara?”

Sara looked so small on Ava’s doorstep, shivering a little even though it wasn’t really that cold. She was dressed in faded black jeans, a pair of tattered old white trainers, and was bundled in what Ava suspected was one of Laurel’s old lacrosse hoodies and a big, oversized denim bomber jacket. She had her hands stuffed in the jacket pockets, her hair in a messy bun at the top of her head, and Ava could see smudges of mascara in the crinkles of her eyes.

“Hey,” said Sara, and her voice cracked a little as she spoke. “Sorry for just showing up. I know it’s late, i just … I … I tried to call you but you didn’t reply and I -”

“No, it’s okay,” said Ava quickly. “My phone’s upstairs.” She suddenly noticed the puffy redness of Sara’s eyes and something uneasy jolted in her gut. “Are … are you okay?”

Sara sniffed, let out a quiet, unhumorous laugh as her eyes flickered upwards as though she was trying not to cry. She swallowed, shifted her weight and then her gaze fell back to Ava, expression tired and vulnerable and far too close to broken. She smiled weakly.

“That offer to talk still stand?”

Chapter Text

 

Ava gaped for a second, her brain taking several moments to catch on to what was happening, before she snapped her mouth shut and nodded.

“Yeah, yeah of course it is. Hang on, let me just grab a jacket -”

“Ava?” Barbara’s voice echoed down the hallway and Ava straightened, cringing. “Who is it?”

“Wait, if you’re busy -” said Sara quickly, looking a little alarmed.

“No, seriously, it’s okay,” promised Ava. “You have no idea how glad I am to have an excuse to not be here anymore.” Though a flash of slightly amused relief crossed Sara’s face, Ava could see the uncertainty flickering in her eyes and the hesitance to pull Ava away from her family. Before Ava knew what she was doing, she stepped closer to the door, curling one hand around Sara’s forearm and smiling reassuringly. “I’m not busy,” she said softly. “I swear.”

Sara’s shoulders relaxed a little and she gave in with a small nod. At the sudden click clack of approaching footsteps, they both glanced nervously towards the hallway. Ava let out a quiet “thank god” when Robert appeared in the faint light of the doorway rather than Susan or Barbara. He furrowed his eyebrows in momentary confusion when he saw Sara before he seemed to catch sight of her puffy, tear stained eyes and her slightly disheveled appearance. His gaze turned to his daughter, who was giving him a pleading, beseeching look.

“Please Dad,” she said. “You know I’m gonna lose it and say something that’s gonna get me in trouble if I have to stay in there and deal with Aunt Su for another two hours.”

Robert cracked a sympathetic smile. “I know,” he said, sighing as he glanced over his shoulder. “I’ll cover for you, just don’t be out too late okay?”

Ava sagged with relief, surging forward to hug her father tightly. “You’re the best, I love you.”

Robert chuckled, patting her back. “Go get a jacket before you leave, it’s getting cold outside.”

Ava tried to stay clear headed as she sprinted upstairs, grabbed Spencer’s old basketball varsity jacket, her wallet and her phone before hurrying back down. She didn’t want to think about the fact that Sara - stubborn, refused to ask anyone for help, unrelenting Sara Lance - had actually caved and come to ask for help. Ava knew that if Sara had reached this much of a breaking point that she couldn’t stick it out on her own, whatever was going on couldn’t possibly be good. She paused before she reached the bottom stair, clutched the railing tightly and let out a stuttering breath as she tried to school her thoughts and prepare herself for the worst.

No matter what was happening, she had to be ready to support Sara, regardless of what (or who) it was about, despite the fact that they had literally no actual friendship for Ava to call on in how she should comfort Sara.

She didn’t give herself more time to overthink it, to consider how mad her mom was going to be. Instead, she hurried back through the hallway and flashed both her dad and Sara a smile - a grateful one to her father, and a comforting, it’s okay one to Sara as she shrugged on the jacket and shoved her belongings in its pockets.

“I’ll see you later,” she said to her dad, mouthing a quick thank you so much before slipping out the door and slamming it shut behind her and Sara. “We should walk quick for a bit so that my mom doesn’t have the time to stop us,” she added and Sara grimaced apologetically even as they both picked up the pace down the sidewalk.

“I’m so sorry,” she said and Ava hated the way her voice cracked again as she spoke. “I should’ve known when you didn’t pick up your phone that you were busy -”

“Sara, I told you,” said Ava, shaking her head, “I really, really didn’t wanna be there. That conservative aunt I mentioned last week? She’s making the most of her last night here and giving us every remaining lecture she can in every way possible. She’s ruined snakes and ladders for me.”

Sara snorted a half hearted laugh, managing a barely-there smile. “I don’t wanna get you in trouble.”

Ava shrugged. “I’m a straight A student, don’t go to parties, don’t try and sneak in shitty boys past my curfew, always do as I’m told - which is more than I can say for all three of my siblings. I think I’m allowed some leeway once in a while. Especially if it’s to help a … friend.” She couldn’t help the shyness in the smile she offered Sara because it felt strange to acknowledge the shift in their dynamic, to say that they were friends out loud, especially because she’d spent the last couple of weeks denying that very fact to Gary, Lily, Nora and Kuasa.

Sara let out a shaky exhale. “Well, I appreciate it. Seriously.”

They dropped into silence as they walked, and Ava could practically hear the cogs in Sara’s head turning, could see her struggling to get her thoughts together, the way her breath hitched and her eyes squeezed shut in an attempt to stop the oncoming tears every time she attempted to talk. Sara’s hand tensed, as if instinctively, she wanted to move to grab Ava’s before changing her mind and shoving both her hands in her jacket pockets instead.

Ava stepped closer, bumping her shoulder against Sara’s gently so their arms brushed as they walked. Though Sara startled initially at the touch, it quickly seemed to ground her enough that she let out a soft, relieved sigh.

“You’re okay,” said Ava quietly. “You don’t have to say anything yet, or at all if you want. We can just walk for a bit.”

Sara nodded, murmuring a barely audible “Thank you”, and the hesitance and unease began to roll off her shoulders, her body visibly relaxing as they settled into a more comfortable quiet between them, walking with ease down the sidewalk. They headed further into the wealthier parts of town, and Ava was surprised at how familiar Sara was with the area, before remembering that she’d grown up with Oliver and Thea Queen. Sara seemed to know these roads off the back of her hand, appeared to be following them instinctively, turning corners on streets that Ava had never walked down, heading in a direction that Ava only vaguely recognised from driving past on the way to somewhere else.

“So where are we going?” she asked, gently nudging Sara’s elbow with her own.

Sara paused, eyes flickering over to Ava before glancing around in sudden surprise, as though she hadn’t realised where they were until now. “Queen’s Park,” she said, her mouth curving upwards in wry amusement. “Sorry. I didn’t even realise I was leading us there.”

“It’s okay,” said Ava. “I haven’t been there in years.”

As the large, brass gates to the park that the Queen family founded almost two decades ago appeared in the distance, Sara smiled, a softness in her eyes as she gazed fondly at their destination.

“We used to go all the time when I was a kid,” she said, chewing her bottom lip. “Robert and Moira Queen used to have fundraisers and benefits here every summer and Ollie, Laurel, Tommy and I - and obviously, Thea once she was old enough - would always sneak off and explore because the speeches were so fucking boring. By the time I was seven, I knew the entire park off the back of my hand.”

“That’s impressive,” said Ava with a quiet whistle. “It’s pretty big.”

“Those fundraisers were long,” smirked Sara, shaking her head reminiscently. The smile on her face dimmed a little. “After Mom left, Dad liked taking us here because it was one of the places that didn’t remind him of her. He’d take us ice skating at the pond in winter, I’d practice soccer when it was warmer, Laurel would practice softball … or lacrosse, once she got older.”

Ava didn’t reply, her gaze lingering on Sara as they reached the gates. They paused, letting three young boys race past them before strolling through. Something about the tone of Sara’s voice was telling, and though Ava couldn’t figure out what , she felt like what she was saying was some kind of clue about what’d been wrong these past few weeks. She decided that now was good a time as ever to offer Sara the chance to talk. “Wanna keep walking or …?”

Sara’s jaw clenched and she sucked in a sharp, stuttering breath. “No uh … we can …” She nodded towards a series of benches by the pond before glancing over to Ava with an uncertain look on her face.

Ava had never seen Sara so hesitant. She smiled comfortingly, reaching out to curl her fingers around Sara’s wrist and tug her over to one of the benches, a free one near the middle of the pond with one corner wrapped in ivy and the metal frames just slightly starting to rust. It had an inscription along the back that on any other day, Ava might have bothered to read. But the way Sara seemed to curl in on herself as she sat, pulling her legs up to the bench to cross them, fingers nervously picking at a tear at the knee of her jeans, sniffling a little and firmly keeping her eyes fixed on the pond in front of them, made Ava forget everything else apart from the clearly distraught girl beside her.

Because she remembered so, so clearly when that was her. When she was a shaking, incoherent, broken mess on Sara’s doorstep, remembered the comfort of Sara’s hug, the warmth of her hands on Ava’s back, the softness in Sara’s eyes as she’d pulled Ava upstairs, talked her down, promised it would be okay, somehow put the entire world in perspective and actually made it seem like maybe, just maybe, it would be.

“Hey,” said Ava gently, reaching out and trailing her fingers lightly down Sara’s arm. “It’s okay.”

Sara let out a choked laugh, her head ducking down as she rubbed the heels of her palms into her eyes. “I don’t even know where to start.”

Ava shrugged, tilting her head with a small smile. “The beginning’s probably a good idea,” she teased, relieved when Sara shot her only a slightly unamused glare. “Start anywhere Sara,” she added softly. “It doesn’t have to make sense, I’ll listen either way.”

Several moments passed, in which the only sounds breaking the silence were Sara’s uneven breathing, the ducks splashing in the pond and the loud, shrieking laughter of the children playing in the playground a few feet away. Eventually, Sara gathered the courage to speak, her voice thick with tears.

“Laurel’s not at Stanford.”

Ava wanted to to reply that she suspected as much, wanted to ask whether Laurel was okay, whether something serious had happened, but knew interrupting was probably the last thing Sara needed right now.

“She’s uh … she’s …” Sara shook her head, and the tears finally came rolling down her cheeks. “She’s in rehab.”

Of all the things Ava expected Sara to say, of all the things she thought might have been wrong with Laurel, this was definitely not one of them. She was glad she stopped herself from saying what ? extremely insensitively.

Sara shrugged helplessly, not even attempting to wipe her eyes. “It started over the summer. Or maybe even towards the end of last year, I don’t even know - what does that say about me? That I didn’t even notice when my sister started drinking and using.”

Ava opened her mouth, ready to provide a defense about how busy the end of last year was, about how the SCHS soccer team had made it to the district champs and then lost, about how Zari’s brother had gotten really sick for a while and Sara had dropped everything to help her friend, about how even Ava knew that Sara had gotten her first and only contact from Nyssa since sophomore year around exam season which hadn’t exactly been easy to deal with. But Sara carried on before Ava had a chance to speak, her voice now cracking with emotion and tears streaming down her cheeks.

“She hurt her arm kickboxing at the start of the summer and was given these temporary painkillers but … I dunno, she just, got hooked on them. And then she started drinking lots, like, going out with her friends every weekend, ordering drinks whenever we went out anywhere … it got bad. And everytime me or Dad tried to bring it up, she got so defensive and angry that we were just scared. She was so unlike herself, we didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know why or what had happened. Maybe it was the stress of moving to Stanford, or breaking up with Tommy - I don’t know, she didn’t say anything, why didn’t she just talk to me -” Sara’s voice caught in her throat, a strangled sob slipping from her mouth and Ava instinctively reached out to stretch an arm around her shoulders, smothering a gasp when Sara burrowed her head into Ava’s shoulder and broke down, entire body shaking.

For all that their relationship had evolved over the past three years, Ava couldn’t help but feel like she and Sara weren’t nearly close enough for whatever this was. They certainly hadn’t ever acknowledged any form of friendship until Ava had said the word earlier tonight, and although Ava had been the one to offer a shoulder to cry on or a person to talk to, she definitely hadn’t expected that to be taken literally and for her to end up with a crying Sara Lance in her arms in the middle of Queen’s Park. Not when Sara was the fiercest, most stubborn, pain in the ass, unflinching and invulnerable person Ava had ever met. But she couldn’t help but remember the way all their silently drawn boundary lines had been smudged when she’d been in this position last year, the way every wall they’d built between them had immediately crumbled the minute Sara had pulled her into a comforting hug, and Ava knew that Sara deserved at least that much from her. Because yeah, they’d spent most of the time they’d known each other arguing and getting on each other’s nerves, but they had known each other most of their lives, gone to the same schools since middle school, been in the same classes the past three years of high school and Ava realised with a start that knowing Sara that long and awarded her a level of trust and respect that Ava didn’t even realise she held for the girl that used to be her arch rival.

So when she felt Sara tense at her obvious hesitation and make a move to pull away, Ava just tightened her grip around Sara and murmur “It’s okay, I got you.”

“I’m sorry,” Sara mumbled and Ava could feel her hot tears soaking through her jacket, heart twisting at how broken Sara sounded.

She shook her head, rubbing small circles on Sara’s back the way she always did for Ali when she was upset. “Don’t apologise,” she said, shaking her head. “Literally no one in the entire world would blame you for being upset right now, this is a lot to deal with.”

Sara’s hands curled around the fabric of Ava’s jacket and Ava could feel how tightly she was hanging on, how desperately she was clutching the old, worn fabric as though if she let go, she would just start drowning. Ava couldn’t blame her. It had been three weeks since school began. Three weeks of Sara trying to pretend everything was normal, spending everyday with people she trusted more than anyone in the world and not being able to confide in them, three weeks of having to deal with the amounting stress of senior year and continuing to sit SATs and ACTs, three weeks of soccer trainings and trying to work hard enough to make team captain, three weeks of Honours level classes and the excess amount of homework they were given - three weeks of pretending that her sister wasn’t falling to pieces and there was nothing she could do to help. Almost worse too, was that if Ava had her math right about the timeline of what Sara had told her, it had all been going on for almost three months already.

No wonder Sara was at breaking point.

It wasn’t a far stretch that the stress of school starting again had been the catalyst for Sara breaking. Ava was just surprised that she had been the one to get through to Sara. She’d known something was wrong right from the start of the year, when Sara had turned up at school with a tension in her shoulders and a look in her eyes that just didn't belong there, didn’t belong to the girl who usually had a carefree smile and a laid back attitude and a it’ll be fine way of rolling through the year. Somehow, the over exaggerated smile she had plastered on Sara’s face seemed to have fooled most people, if only temporarily. But after all this time - after months of the growing strain over the summer and weeks of trying to come to terms with it since the term started, Sara hadn’t told anyone anything, hadn’t let the crushing weight off her shoulders for a second until now, if the way she was crumbling was anything to go by.

She'd clearly been keeping this to herself to protect Laurel's reputation, and Ava knew that while it might be what Laurel would want, it was so obviously eating away at Sara from the inside. Ava shifted slightly on the bench, only for Sara to tense, clearly anticipating Ava pulling away. “It's okay, Sara,” she murmured again. "It's okay. I’m not going anywhere.”

It took a worryingly long time before Ava felt Sara’s shaking stop, felt her still and clutch Ava tighter for a brief, fleeting moment before pulling away and scrubbing her hand forcefully over her face.

“I’m sorry,” she said again, and there was a tremor in Sara’s voice that was so unlike her that it made something uncomfortable jolt in Ava’s gut. “I didn’t mean to … I shouldn’t have just unloaded this all on you -”

“Hey,” said Ava immediately, interrupting before Sara could finish. “No. Don’t do that Sara.” She reached over, curling her hand around Sara’s wrist and giving it a light, comforting squeeze. “I know we’re not like … proper friends or anything but I’m glad you came to find me. I know Laurel probably didn’t want you to tell people, but you can’t go through everything alone. That’s too much, even for you.”

She was sure she was overstepping any remaining boundaries between them, but hey, there was no fucking rule book on how to comfort your ex-rival who had been there for you when some of your family were weird about you coming out and whose sister was now a drug addict recovering in rehab and who had no-one else to talk to about any of this. Honestly, Ava couldn’t bring herself to care because Sara looked like an absolute ghost of the person Ava was so used to seeing and she hated it more than anything.

“I …” Sara’s breath hitched in her throat as she tried to speak and she let out a frustrated, unhumourous laugh, her gaze flickering up to the sky and Ava could tell she was trying to blink back more tears. She wanted to tell Sara that she didn’t have to pretend it was okay, that she could cry as long as she wanted, but Ava also knew that Sara wasn’t that kind of person. Even when her life was crumbling around her, Ava knew Sara would still want to break down on her own terms.

Finally, Sara let her gaze drift back down but she pointedly stared at the pond ahead instead of looking back at Ava. She didn’t speak, clearly still struggling for words. When she eventually let out a quivering sigh, her eyes flickering over to Ava’s face hesitantly, Ava’s heart plummeted to her stomach. Because oh, she really was not prepared for the grief and loneliness she found staring back at her and without thinking, she let go of Sara’s wrist and tangled their fingers together, squeezing tightly. She knew she should’ve seen this kind of brokenness coming, should’ve expected to see Sara this lost after everything she’d just told her, but somehow, the pain in Sara’s expression was so overwhelming that Ava could almost physically feel it, as though her chest was collapsing in on her lungs.

Ava knew in that moment that every smile Sara had put on, every laugh she had faked over the past few weeks had cut a little bit deeper, adding to the problem and now the wound was so deep and raw that it couldn’t be covered, couldn’t just be fixed with anything as small as a bandaid and a lollipop because Sara was so clearly losing every part of herself that made her who she was and was desperately trying (and failing) to stitch herself back together by herself.

So Ava shuffled slightly on the bench, nudging Sara’s arm gently with her own and pressing her leg against Sara’s, hoping it would ground her enough to start talking again if she wanted to. Sara glanced across, gave Ava a barely there, grateful smile and she sucked in a sharp breath, murmuring “I know … I know should talk about it. About how I’m feeling and all that crap.”

“You don’t have to,” Ava said quickly.

“I will,” said Sara, her voice still far too close to cracking. “I need to. Just … give me a second, okay?”

Ava nodded, squeezing Sara’s hand once more before disentangling their fingers, giving Sara the space to work through her thoughts. Sara swallowed thickly, closing her eyes for a long moment before taking several, deep, stuttering breaths and leaning almost subconsciously against Ava’s shoulder before she said, in the smallest of voices “We should’ve done something sooner. Me and Dad we just … God, for ages we were in this stupid holding pattern of waiting for the other person to suggest intervening first because we didn’t want to be the one she snapped at.” She sniffed, wiping her eyes with her sleeve hurriedly. “I mean, once we realised how serious it was obviously … obviously we tried , but she wouldn’t listen, and we couldn’t think of what to do, it just kept getting worse, so we -”

Her voice broke and she stopped abruptly, presumably hoping Ava hadn’t heard. Ava didn’t feel right to call her out on it, but desperately wanted to comfort Sara somehow , so just placed a gentle, tentative hand on Sara’s knee. Sara flinched momentarily but when Ava hurriedly attempted to retract her hand, Sara quickly grabbed Ava’s wrist and kept it there.

“In the end … me and Dad told her we were going to Central City for an overnight thing as a family retreat before we dropped her off at college, when in reality we drove her to the facility and … God , Ava, she was so … the way she looked at me. I -” Sara shuddered and pulled her knees up to hug them against her chest, digging her nails into her calves. Ava couldn’t stop herself from reaching out and touching Sara’s shoulder comfortingly, helpless, because how did you even begin to tell someone that this was gonna eventually be okay?

“We went and visited her this weekend and she barely even talked to me,” whispered Sara. “She wouldn’t meet my eye, didn’t even say five fucking words to me but she stayed in there for like half an hour talking to dad. I know she feels like I betrayed her. I’m her sister, right? I’m not supposed to go tell our parents what she’s doing, I’m supposed to lie for her and protect her like she always did for me and -” She cleared her throat, harshly wiping her face with her sleeve, “I - I don’t know if she’ll ever forgive me.”

Ava sighed, carefully using Sara’s chin to turn her head so they were looking properly at each other. Surprisingly, Sara’s tears had stopped - at least for the moment - but the redness around her eyes and the misery in her expression gave Ava the urge to hug her so, so tightly.

“Sara,” she said softly, ignoring the way tears seemed to collect in Sara’s eyes as she started speaking, the way Sara immediately looked away and swallowed. “You didn’t betray her. There’s a difference between not telling your dad about Laurel sneaking off to see a boy and then not saying something when she’s spiraling into a drug addiction. She needed that help and as much as you and your dad wanted to, you couldn’t be that for her. She’ll see that, eventually.”

Sara mumbled something inaudible and leaned back against the bench, and part of Ava wanted to keep pushing until she got through to Sara, made her understand that she had actually done right by Laurel. But if Sara didn’t want to hear that right now, Ava knew she didn’t have a chance - all she knew she could do for sure was be her and make sure Sara knew that whatever she was going through, she didn’t have to go through it alone, even if she was determined not to tell any of her friends.

It was a while before Sara spoke again. They both were content to watch the kids playing around them, the ducks in the pond, the way the sun was lighting up the whole sky in a soft, peach glow and a burning orange along the horizon.

“I can’t help but think it’s kind of my fault,” said Sara eventually, and Ava was surprised at how calm and still her voice was.

Ava couldn’t help the way her head snapped round to face Sara, immediately opening her mouth to contradict her before Sara saw her expression and added hastily “I don’t mean it like that ...it’s just… Laurel was always there for me, through everything. But when my parents split up, Dad kind of threw himself into work to try and distract himself and there was a huge mixup with settlement and stuff so for ages, Dad was struggling to support us by himself because the child support payments were all complicated. Laurel had to grow up so fast and look after me, and I can’t help but feel like maybe if I hadn’t acted the way I had - if I hadn’t been such a troublemaker and rulebreaker - then she would’ve gotten a chance to grow up normally instead of being the parent that Dad couldn’t be at the time, and this … this wouldn’t even be happening.” Sara shrugged helplessly, biting her lip so hard that Ava was scared she would draw blood. For what felt like the fiftieth time, Ava had to stop herself from reaching out and pulling Sara into yet another hug. Sara slid her legs back down to hang over the bench, swinging them and letting the soles of her shoes scrape over the concrete of the ground. She cleared her throat and Ava could hear the thickness of tears in her voice as she said, quieter than Ava had ever heard her before, “I feel like I stole her whole life before she even got a chance to live it on her terms.”

“Sara,” murmured Ava softly, trying not to sound pitying or sympathetic because she knew that was the last thing Sara would want. “I … I don’t know Laurel well. I guess I only really know her the way the rest of Star City does - as the golden girl. But if going to the same school for the past six years and growing up in the same city our whole lives has taught me anything about you two, it’s that Laurel loves you more than anything. I’m willing to bet she wouldn’t have changed a thing about your childhood, would never take back the way she took care of you because I know how much you mean to her and I know that all that shit you guys went through together as kids with your parents’ divorce made you as close as you are. And that’s gonna be one of the things that gets her through what’s going on right now, I’m certain of it.”

She’d thought that maybe Sara had exhausted her supply of tears, but her eyes looked suspiciously watery once again, although if the way she was blinking furiously was anything to go by, she was determined not to let them fall. Ava thought for a moment about calling her out on it, pointing out that she had every right to be upset and to cry as much as she wanted, but their moment for unapologetic honesty seemed to have passed, and she got the impression Sara had reached her limit for emotions for the day.

The sun was beginning to disappear and the crowds were starting to thin out, so Ava finally pulled her phone from her pocket and realised how late it had gotten (ignoring the several texts from Ali, and her parents because she just didn’t have the energy to deal with that at that very moment).

“It’s getting late,” she said, squeezing Sara’s shoulder gently.

“Yeah,” agreed Sara, her voice hoarse and her eyes fixed in her lap as she pulled the sleeves of her bomber over her fingers. “I should let you get home. I hope I didn’t get you in trouble with your mom.”

“It’s fine,” promised Ava. “Pretty sure I would’ve ended up saying something that would’ve gotten me in trouble at some point over the night. At least this way, I got out of a night with Susan and her dumb board games too.”

Sara chuckled half-heartedly. “Still. If there’s anything I can do to make up for it -”

“There is,” said Ava and Sara’s expression morphed into a surprised, wait, really? “You can tell one of your friends what’s going on.”

Sara looked immediately torn and uncertain. “Ava, I don’t know -”

“Look,” Ava interrupted, putting on the firm, no-arguments, big sister voice she used whenever Ali needed convincing of something, “as much as I’m glad you took me up on my offer to talk about everything, and as much as I promise I’m always here if you need to talk, I’m not Amaya. Or Jax. Or Zari. Or even Ray or Nate or Mick or Wally. And I know that they would drop absolutely everything to help you in any way possible if you were to tell them, I know they would keep it a secret to protect Laurel’s reputation and I know that they would have a much better idea of how to help you because of how much history you guys have.” Ava sighed, this time unable to keep the sympathy from her voice as she said “You need them Sara.”

Sara didn’t say anything, and Ava guessed it was because they both knew what arguments she had going through her head because she’d used all of them already. They sat there for a little longer, Ava not wanting to push Sara to leave because something told her that this was one of the first moments of something resembling okayness in God knows how long. It was only when the sun had set and the cold had settled into the air, the wind sharp, that Ava made the executive decision and stood up, pulling Sara to her feet. Sara gave her a wary, tired look and Ava just smiled warmly, nodding towards the gates.

“Come on,” she said softly. “I’ll walk you home.”

Something reminiscent flashed across Sara’s features, and to Ava’s surprise, a small grin appeared on her face.

“Walk me home?” echoed Sara with a small, still teary smirk but a classic Sara Lance trademark smirk nonetheless. “You know I’m black belt in like, three different martial arts, right?”

Ava remembered in an instant, remembered those same words slipping from Laurel’s mouth last year when these roles had been reversed, and she couldn’t stop herself from laughing dryly and giving Sara a playful shove.

“I’m being nice ,” she retorted, clearly recalling Sara saying the same thing that night when Ava had made a similar joke, grinning too as she added “Not that you’d know what that is.”  

Sara’s eyes sparkled with a fire that Ava found wonderfully familiar after it had been so heartbreakingly absent the whole time they had been talking this evening. She still looked exhausted, was still clearly on the edge of broken, but for the first time since they’d gone back to school, Ava felt like Sara actually looked like herself.

It wasn’t until halfway through their walk back to their neighbourhood - strolling down footpaths still damp from the rain earlier in the day, ducking in and out of the beams of light from the towering streetlamps above them, watching the evening joggers on runs with their dogs, and the last few businessmen who were returning home late - that Ava realised that she and Sara had a rhythm. Their comfortable silences, their nonverbal communication, their push and pull, the balance between raw honesty and playful bickering that all had an odd sense of familiarity even though this development in their relationship was so recent.

“You okay?” asked Sara, breaking Ava out of her introspection.

“Are you kidding?” said Ava, raising an eyebrow at her. “You’re asking me that?”

Sara shrugged, pulling her jacket tighter around herself as the wind whistled around them. “You kind of zoned out for a bit. Are … are you worried about your mom being mad?”

In truth, Ava was a little worried about that, wasn’t sure how exactly her dad was planning on covering for her when she’d just ran out on Susan’s ‘very important’ goodbye game night. But she shook her head, bumping her shoulder lightly against Sara’s.

“No,” she said, “I’m worried about you .”

“I’ll be fine.”

Ava wasn’t sure she believed it, and by the sound of her voice, Sara didn’t either, at least not completely. But Sara was no longer trembling the way she’d been when Ava had first opened her front door, and the haunted expression on her face had faded into something between resignation and acceptance, which Ava knew Sara could deal with more than the numbing confusion she’d evidently been feeling earlier.

They reached Ava’s house first, and Ava went to walk past it but Sara grabbed her arm and pulled them both to a halt.

“I’ll let you get back to your family,” she said. “I can walk the rest of the way.”

“Sara,” Ava tried to argue but Sara seemed to have regained her ability to give impressively silencing looks , and utilised one now.

“I’m good Ava,” Sara said firmly.

“Somehow I doubt that,” Ava said, folding her arms challengingly.

“I’m not saying I’m okay ,” Sara shot back. “I’m saying I’m good. For now.” She paused, eyes flickering over to Ava’s house and Ava was sure they were both thinking of the last time they’d stood here, of how Sara had held Ava’s hand tightly in reassurance and offered to come inside in support, how Ava had been so distracted talking to Sara that she’d managed to actually say the word lesbian for the first time, of how they’d both gazed at each other nervously, well aware that everything about their relationship was about to change after that night.

And it had.

This night was proof of it.

“Hey Ava?” said Sara.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.” She looked over at Ava as she spoke and there was a determined sincerity in her eyes that Ava had only seen once before - last year, sitting on Sara’s bed as Sara promised that Ava’s mother didn’t hate her, that everything would eventually be okay even if it didn’t seem like it right now.

Again, Ava wanted to say always or anytime you need but it felt like too much for them, or at least too much right now. So she smiled softly, taking a couple of backwards steps towards her house as she said “Text me so I know you got home safe?”

“I will,” promised Sara, pushing some stray hair from her face and biting her lip as she slowly started to walk down the footpath. “Uh … let me know how much shit you’re in with your mom, yeah? I’d say I’ll do your homework for something gross like physics to make up for it, but knowing you you probably like doing your homework -”

“Shut up!”

“- so I’ll shout you coffee or something instead.”

Ava glared at Sara so indignantly that Sara laughed, and Ava realised with a start that the familiar sparkle in her eyes had returned again. She swallowed the nagging thought that the only few times she’d seen it this year so far was when the two of them had been playfully bickering, silently insisting to herself that she’d probably just not seen it any of the other times.

“If uh … if you need to talk, text me okay?” she said, fiddling with her keys in her pocket. “Or just turn up on my doorstep. Either works.”

Sara laughed again, a sound somewhere between embarrassed, grateful and still just a little broken. “Yeah, I will. Thanks Aves.”

It took everything in Ava’s power to ignore the way her stomach fluttered at the nickname. Barely anyone used it anymore, usually only Ali, and Sara hadn’t used it since That Night last October. Sara was almost past her house on the footpath when Ava quietly called out “See you at school tomorrow?”

Sara stopped walking, nodded, then smiled, wider than she had all evening and brighter than Ava had been expecting. “See you then.”

 


 

 

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

Amaya, Zari
Active now

MON 8:18am:

 

You created the group.

 

You:
hey

any chance you two are
free for a girls night tonight?

I know it’s a monday and all
so alg if your parents aren’t
cool abt it

my dad’s working late and
i kinda had some stuff i
wanted to talk to you guys
about but it can wait if
tonight doesn’t work


Amaya:
I’m free tonight

My mom’s visiting family
out of town and my dad
pretty much lets me do
anything when she’s away

Are you okay?


You:
it’s … complicated


Zari:
It’s abt why you’ve been
weird these last few weeks
isn’t it?


You:
yeah


Zari:
I can be free


You:
if you’ve got shit on z then
it’s no big deal we can do
whenever

I wanna tell the boys too

just … not rn

idk i love them but it’d
just be a Lot to have to
explain it all to everyone
all at once


Zari:
Yeah no whatever this is
sounds big

I’m now officially free


You:
are you sure?


Amaya:
My house, 5 o clock

Zari, you’re on snacks and
Sara, you’re on movie selection


Zari:
Be prepared to eat ur weight
in donuts ladies


You:
i love you guys

 


 

Instagram


saraalance posted 1 new photo:

so, so grateful for this bunch of crazy kids after this week <3 i don’t know what i would do without you all, especially rn. thank u for putting up w my moodiness this last month and for always being the most supportive bunch of weirdos i’ve ever met!! endlessly thankful to have found a family with you legends, love youuu XXX

Tagged: ztomaz, amayajiwe, raymondcpalmer, nathanielheywood, wallacewesttt, jeffersonjax, mickrxryy.

Liked by: avacsharpe, oliivxrqueen, tommyxmerlyn, amayajiwe, iriswestxx and 184 others.
Comments:
amayajiwe: I love you so much XX always here if you need anything.
raymondcpalmer: We got ya back captain <3 (you’ve done it enough times for all of us)
nathanielheywood: what @raymondcpalmer said. Love you Sara X
wallacewesttt: <3 <3 <3 #legendsforlife
mickrxryy: If you think i’m leaving some gross sappy comment then you’re very mistaken
ztomaz: lmao @mickrxryy same (jk i love u sara, got u always xx)
jeffersonjax: love ya sis X
saraalance: @amayajiwe @raymondcpalmer @nathanielheywood @wallacewesttt @jeffersonjax <3 <3
saraalance: @ztomaz @mickrxryy fuck u both I DONT DO SAPPY EITHER SO WHEN I DO IT YOU HAVE TO TOO (i love u two as well)

Thursday 15 September.

 


 

 

Ava Sharpe

iMessage
(Sara Lance)
Thursday


9:41pm:
Proud of you


9:41pm:
For telling them


9:41pm:
yeah, well you were right


9:41pm:
i do need them


9:42pm:
Sorry any chance you can
voice record that message
and send it again


9:42pm:
I just want tangible proof that
Sara Lance told me that I was
right about something


9:42pm:
fuck u sharpe


9:42pm:
goodbye


9:42pm:
;’-D ;’-D ;’-D


9:42pm:
no longer buying
you that coffee


9:43pm:
It’s been almost a week


9:43pm:
I figured you’d just
forgotten anyway


9:43pm:
um rude


9:44pm:
Am I wrong?

9:44pm:
… It may have maybe
temporarily slipped my
mind


9:44pm:
Ha


9:44pm:
Knew it


9:45pm:
FINE YOU’LL HAVE A
DOUBLE SHOT CARAMEL
LATTE EXTRA FOAM IN UR
HAND BY FIRST PERIOD
TOMORROW


9:45pm:
happy???


9:45pm:
Immensely


9:45pm:
Also how tf do you
know my coffee order?


9:45pm:
gary


9:45pm:
I asked my him on sunday
night when i still had full
intentions to actually give u
the coffee on monday lmao


9:46pm:
Well now that I see that the
intention was there, maybe
I can be more lenient


9:46pm:
ur the fucking worst


9:47pm:
Ok no but for real


9:47pm:
I am proud of you for telling
your friends


9:47pm:
I know it couldn’t have been
easy


9:47pm:
it wasn’t


9:47pm:
and tbh … i still kind of feel
like i’m betraying laurel but


9:48pm:
i also know i probs couldn’t
have done this for much
longer without them


9:48pm:
so uh


9:48pm:
thank you


9:48pm:
for pushing me


9:49pm:
i wouldn’t have done it
without you

Chapter Text

 

Messenger
(Zari Tomaz)

Ray, Amaya, Nate, and 3 others.
Active now

FRI 10:29am:

 

You created the group.

 

You:
Ok first of all

Raymond i fckn see you
typing YES I KNOW I DIDNT
ADD SARA TO THIS GC IT
WAS ON PURPOSE

DON’T U DARE ADD HER


Mick:
Is this about her bday

It’s not til december


You:
Nope not abt her bday

Yall

What in the name

Of EVERYTHING that we know
and love in this world

Was up w sara showing up to
homeroom this morning w a
coffee for ava fucking sharpe
of all people????????


Wally:
OH MY GOD

RIGHT?!?!?!?

I DIDNT KNOW WHAT
TO DO WITH MYSELF


Amaya:
Honestly Wally, I’m surprised
you didn’t go into cardiac
arrest, you’ve been shipping
them forever


Wally:
i think i was too in shock tbh

the heart palpitations are only
setting in now


Ray:
Omg guys

Did you see Ava’s SMILE though?


Nate:
YES

I DID


Mick:
You reckon stick up her ass
goody too shoes sharpe has
the hots for sara?


You:
I’m sure there are more
romantic ways to put it

But yeah for sure


Jax:
ok yes but

i don’t think either of them
REALISE it

like they’re not friends yet
you know???? I think they
probs think the other is hot
and idk, interesting or something


Amaya:
At the rate this year is going, I
think they’ll be friends pretty
quickly


You:
Honestly if they could
bang before we graduate,
that would do wonders for
my college fund


Mick:
Now who’s being crass?


Nate:
Oh shit yeah the bet

I don’t even remember how
much I’ve got riding on this

Who’s got the moneypot?


Jax:
Gwen I think?


Amaya:
Yeah, Gwen has it


You:
Wait yall

You dont think

Wait no

No way


Amaya:
What???


You:
Do you think maybe
sara went to ava first
about this laurel thing?

And that’s why she told us?

Bc ava told her to?

And the coffee would be like,
a thank you kind of thing


Wally:
the coffee literally had ‘thank you’
written on it in sara’s handwriting

i sit behind ava i saw it


Amaya:
And we all know Sara’s not the
type of person to just confront
feelings like this voluntarily


Nate:
But if anyone could have pushed
her to talk about it


Ray:
And to TELL us


Nate:
It would be ava


Wally:
g u y s i can’t


Jax:
they’ve been different
the past year too

like remember how they
just kind of … stopped
arguing around october
last year?

like they didnt really argue
much by that point anyway but
it was like something just changed


You:
I’m so invested in them guys


Nate changed the name of the chat to
“avalance will rise y’all”.


Mick:
He’s not wrong


Wally:
lmaooooo ACCURATE


Amaya:
Omg subtle Nate


You:
Fuck Sara’s coming

We’ve got French

Gtg

We will continue this
later akdghja

aLSO @Ray Palmer I s2g
if you tell her abt this gc
I will end you


Ray:
Honestly, my want for this
to happen pretty much
completely overshadows my
inherent need to tell the truth

For like, the first time in my life


Jax:
oh boy, we are all in way too deep
with this


Seen by: You, Nate, Amaya, Ray, Wally, Mick.

 


 

“So what was that thing this morning? With the coffee. Between you and Ava?”

Sara looked over at Zari in surprise as they hovered outside their French classroom, waiting for the few lingering students from the previous class to disperse. Zari wore a curious expression that was tinged with confusion and suspicion, not that Sara could really blame her. A lot of the significant evolution of her and Ava’s now-friendship had happened behind closed doors - Ava’s quiet offer of condolences for when Nyssa left, Sara comforting Ava about her mom’s homophobia, Ava’s gentle reassurances about everything with Laurel - so it was easy to see where Zari would be bewildered about the sudden friendliness between them.

“I may have mentioned what was going on with Laurel to her on Sunday,” Sara mumbled with a nonchalant shrug. “She listened. I said I’d owe her a coffee for being nice about it all.” She hoped Zari didn’t feel hurt or anything about the fact that she’d gone to Ava before any of them, but Zari just nodded.

“I didn’t realise you guys were that close.”

“We’re not really,” said Sara, waving to Amaya who was just hurrying down the hall towards them. “She was just returning the favour.”

“Who was returning what favour?” asked Amaya as she reached them, giving Sara a wide, hello smile and then an even brighter one to Zari that had Sara biting back a fond smirk.

“Ava was,” said Zari as explanation, giving Amaya a look that Sara couldn’t decipher. “But yeah, what favour Sara?”

Sara rolled her eyes at the identical expressions on their faces. “It’s not a big deal you guys. Her mom was being shitty about her coming out last year and I gave her some advice about it. She did the same for me about Laurel the other night.”

The final stragglers from the previous class finally pushed past them and they all herded through the doorway to hurry to their seats, and Sara was distracted enough by pulling her books from ber bag that she missed her two best friends exchanging incredulous looks with each other.

“When was that?” asked Amaya, trying to sound casually interested. “Ava came out in like, October, right?”

Sara nodded. “Yeah, mid October I think? We talked about it super early on too, like, she came out on a Sunday and she came over the next Thursday.”

Zari spluttered on her water, choking loudly and Sara reached over to rub her back, half concerned, half amused.

“You okay Z?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“She came over to your house?” said Zari, voice strangled.

“Uh, yeah,” said Sara, sounding uncertain, eyes flickering to the front of the room where their French teacher was still organising herself before the lesson began. “She had a fight with her mom at dinner, walked out, ended up at my place kind of a mess and we just talked about her coming out and I told her that my mom wasn’t the greatest at first too and that it would mellow out eventually, she just needed to give it time. Then we just did some bio study for that Genetic Materials test we had the next day and I walked her home. Why?”

Zari shook her head, cheeks still flushed from her choking fit and she took another, long gulp of water before mumbling out “No reason.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” asked Amaya, furrowing her eyebrows pensively.

Sara shrugged. “Wasn’t my place to talk about Ava’s family stuff. She just needed someone who got it .” She looked suspiciously between the two of them, at Amaya’s too-innocent face and Zari’s seeming inability to look anywhere but at the front cover of her French textbook. “Why do you guys care, anyway?”

“We’re just curious,” said Amaya, immediately moving to rectify Sara’s growing unnervings. “The whole coffee thing this morning threw us. You guys have never really been overly friendly so we were just wondering.”

Sara was satisfied at that, nodding and twisting in her seat so she could face the front of the room. “I dunno, I guess we’re kind of becoming friends now I suppose.” A surprised smile crossed her face at the thought and she ducked her head down and bit her lip to try and smother it, hoping neither Amaya or Zari had seen it.

(Their French teacher clearing her throat to get everyone’s attention distracted from Zari choking on her water again and Amaya’s silent laughter, both very clear indicators that they definitely had seen it).

 


 

 

Instagram


jeffersonjax posted 1 new photo:

Yeah yeahhhh give it up for the star city wolves back again for one last season WHADDUP #homecoming #startingtheseasonstrong

Location: Star City High School

Liked by: saraalance, nathanielheywood, lilssstein avacsharpe, and 218 others.
Comments:
wallacewesttt: yeaaaaa boi nice win!!!!
saraalance: i bet i could kick ur ass if they let girls play football but whatevs
nathanielheywood: @saraalance Let him live  

Friday 30 September.

 

sara1ancepriv posted 1 new photo:

catch me bout to throw myself out my bedroom window bc i need these stupid fckn SATs to be over like yesterday jfc @laureldlancepriv you wont see this but I wish u were here to help me

Liked by: Zzzzpriv, amayajprvt, jaxisbetterthanu, raymondpa1merpriv and 28 others.
Comments:
raymondpa1merpriv: Ugh same (p.s. Love you)
Zzzzpriv: big mood
Zzzzpriv: also calling u now X
amayajprvt: Text me if you want me to come over later <3

Sunday 2 October.

 


 

Instagram
(raymondcpalmer)

You uploaded 1 new story:

What it’s like trying to study with @saraalance & @avacsharpe:

Sara: stop using big words
Ava: they’re good for your SAT prep!
Sara: yeah well we’re studying classics rn so latin or nothing.
Ava: you don’t KNOW latin!
Sara: i COULD KNOW LATIN!

#helpcomesaveme #mondaymood

 

 

Monday 3 October at 5:24pm:

ztomaz replied to your story:

Are they for real?

Like … that is flirting

They’re aware they’re
flirting, right?


Listen I’m just trying
to pull myself together
enough to study for this
test I don’t have time to
be having a Wally level
freakout about Ava and
Sara ffs ZARI HELP ME

 


 

Sara Lance

iMessage
(Ava Sharpe)
Saturday


8:12am:
hey


8:12am:
wanna come over & do
some history today?


8:14am:
Hey


8:14am:
I’ve gotta take Ali to her
lacrosse game at 9 because
my Dad got called into the
clinic & Mom’s comforting
Layla over another really
‘traumatic’ heartbreak


8:14am:
So maybe after 11?


8:14am:
i am living for the clear concern
you have for layla in her post
break-up state ;’D


8:15am:
It’s her 3rd break-up
in 4 months, I think
she’ll live


8:15am:
HAHAHA


8:15am:
but yeah say 11:30?


8:16am:
on ur way over can u stop
at that burger place in the
village & grab lunch, there’s
literally no food in this house


8:16am:
i’ll transfer u money


8:16am:
You’re a disaster Lance


8:16am:
don’t ya know it sharpe!


8:17am:
tell ali good luck for her game!!
see u at 11ish??


8:17am:
She says thanks :-)


8:17am:
Yup, see you then

 

 


 

Ava always found that every year, regardless of situation or circumstances, September passed in a flash. One minute she was walking into school again for the first time in three months, and the next she was stressed out of her mind over assignments, tests, balancing a social life, trying to attend football games to give herself her sport fix for the week, deciding whether to attend the ridiculous number of school dances being planned, managing her internship at the Star City Archival Society, trying not to explode over increasing tension within her family as everyone got busier, and this year, having to manage the last straggling SATs to sit and college early applications.

She didn’t hate it though.

Ava always loved being busy, and it made a nice change from the endless weeks of lazy days summer days that she became so accustomed to over the break.

This year was no exception, and the quickly established routine of early mornings, late nights and jam packed hours at school had the days of September rolling into each other until one day, Ava pulled up the wooden Venetian blinds covering her bedroom window to see orange tinged leaves along the trees in front of their house slowly beginning to fall to the ground. Momentarily surprised, Ava glanced at her calendar and realised with a start that it was almost a week and a half into October already.

(She was used to seeing a glimpse of the date every day in class, but it never really registered how much time was passing until she took a minute to think about it. How weird was it, that she was already one month into her last ever year of school?)

Even weirder though, was how different this September felt from each one that had come before. Ava was used to feeling overly tense and stressed during the first month of school, was used to doubling up on her runs every day and spending late nights sprawled on her bedroom floor trying to avoid falling behind before the year had even really begun. Perhaps more significantly, she was used to suddenly being on edge again because of Sara. They barely saw each other over the summer usually, only a couple of run ins in the little village halfway between both their houses, and that first month at school every year tended to be spent with them making up for all the bickering they hadn’t done over the past three months. This last summer, Ava had seen Sara even less (which she now chalked down to everything that happened with Laurel), so she expected for the shock of being tugged back into the bickering, antagonistic, argumentative relationship she’d been so used to between them to be even sharper than normal.

Only it didn’t come.

Sara had been withdrawn and uncharacteristically quiet those first few weeks, and apart from a couple of short, unheated debates in homeroom, Ava was surprised to go through the end of August and the first half of September without a single, proper fight with Sara. Then, Sara had shown up on her doorstep and it was like the entire world shifted a little, like everything Ava had known and grown accustomed to in her relationship with Sara vanished and they were suddenly on a brand new playing field, playing a brand new game that had no rules whatsoever.

While Ava had tossed and turned about this sudden development of friendship between them for a couple of nights, she soon realised that it wasn’t actually making her more stressed. Instead, it was quite the opposite. Sara being in all her classes gave Ava this abrupt reassurance that there was someone who cared as much as she did about school and grades that she could call on for every subject, someone she could badger with homework questions, someone she could study with, someone she could complain to when their teachers were being stupid. Conveniently too, someone who lived just a 7 minute drive down the street, someone who was just the right amount less wound up than Ava and knew exactly how to tell her to relax without making it sound patronising. Someone Ava didn’t realise how glad she was to be friends with until now.

For the first time ever, instead of making Ava’s September more aggravating, Sara Lance had made it calmer, lighter, with more laughter and eye rolls and quiet days after school spent studying in the library (the occasional study session spent with some of Sara’s friends also in their classes.)  Somehow, she’d worked her way into Ava’s top 6 contacts on Messenger and had sneaked into her best friends on Snapchat. It would have been disconcerting if Ava wasn’t becoming increasingly used to being around Sara literally all the time (she avoided thinking about how comfortable that made her too).

The one thing that made her less freaked out about all these developments was telling herself that they had been heading towards a tentative friendship for years now. They and their respective groups of friends had stopped being enemies a long time ago - their pranks were harmless now, their arguments barely ever had any heat or weight, and more often than not, Ava found they actually got along quite well.

Which was why when they all started sitting together at lunch, for some reason, it felt as though they’d been doing it for years already.

 

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.”

Ava glanced up from her phone, almost crashing into Nora who’d come to a standstill in front of their regular lunch table. She swerved, managing to hold on to her tray tightly enough to fall into line with Nora and Lily, raising an incredulous eyebrow when she saw what they’d stopped walking at.

“No way,” Lily muttered with a scowl. “Absolutely not. I refuse. We are seniors , don’t we get some stupid, highly unfair privilege system that outranks literally everyone?”

At the table they’d sat at since the third week of freshman year, a group of sophomores were occupying every available seat, crowded in close and watching an episode of something on someone’s laptop.

“They’re not even newbies,” said Kuasa, frowning. “Don’t they know better?”

“Should I scare the shit outta them?” asked Nora, grinning a little.

“Don’t be mean,” said Gary, tugging Nora’s arm. “Look how crowded the cafeteria is right now, they probably just took the first table they saw.”

“Yeah, and that’s fine for them but where are we gonna sit Gary?” demanded Ava, stomach growling as they all glanced frustratedly around the room, eyes scanning for any sign of a free table or spare seat. Usually lunch breaks were divvied up based on year level so there was enough space for everyone to eat comfortably, but today was the first in a three-day career expo that was messing with the regular schedule of the day, hence everyone being forced to squish into one cafeteria or find somewhere to eat lunch outside.

“I hate career expo week,” whined Lily. “Nobody even pays attention anyway, they realise that right?”

While Nora answering Lily with a snarky comment about the school’s need to feel as though they have an influence in their students’ college success, Ava found herself catching Sara’s eye. Sara and her friends were sitting at their regular table, evidently having managed to claim it before any ignorant lowerclassmen decided it would be a good idea to take it themselves.

“You good?” Sara mouthed.

Ava shrugged, nodding towards her regular table and grimacing. Sara grinned with recognition and understanding, rolling her eyes before her gaze flickered around the cafeteria, clearly trying to help locate a spare table. When she was unsuccessful, she leaned back and glanced at both ends of her own table before her eyes landed back on Ava.

“Yo Sharpe,” she called aloud, gesturing in a come here motion. “You guys can sit over here. Hey, Nate, Mick, shuffle over. There’s plenty of room if you guys stop manspreading everywhere.”

Ava raised a surprised eyebrow, nudging Nora and jerking her head towards Sara. “Sit with them?” she suggested. “It’s not looking like we’re gonna find a seat anywhere else.”

Nora tilted her head thoughtfully. “Yeah why not.” With one last scathing look at the sophomores that had put them in this table-less predicament, Nora led the pack over to Sara’s table, offering Sara a thank-you smile before shoving Ray down the bench less than delicately and flopping down beside him. Ava managed to sit down beside Nora and opposite Sara, Gary on her other side while Lily squeezed in between Sara and Jax (whom she knew well through her dad, the Head of Physics Martin Stein who had personally mentored Jax to get his GPA up for football), while Kuasa snuck in next to Amaya, (her cousin). Though it was somewhat of a squeeze, with some shuffling and readjusting, Ava was surprised the two tables that Sara and her friends usually claimed could fit all of them without much discomfort or difficulty. She lightly bumped Sara’s shin with her foot, smiling almost shyly.

“Thanks,” she said, finally spearing her overcooked hash brown with a fork. “For letting us sit with you.”

Sara shrugged, eyes twinkling. “Yeah well, Nora over here looked like she was either about to physically remove them from their seats or dump her lunch over their heads so I thought offering another solution was best.”

Gary snorted with laughter and Kuasa, Ava and Lily chortled at the indignant expression on Nora’s face.

“Is she wrong?” asked Lily, snickering.

“I mean, no ,” muttered Nora, elbowing Ray as he grinned. “Shut up Palmer.”

“I didn’t say anything -”

“Yeah, and you better not start saying anything -”  

Ava rolled her eyes at them, attention drifting to actually eating as she tuned into a conversation Sara had begun between her, Zari, Kuasa and Lily about the first fitness and weights training they had for the season. Ava didn’t say anything, just scrolled through her phone and listened to brief snippets of the multitude of flurried conversations happening around her - Amaya and Mick debating which Pirates of the Caribbean movie was better, Lily checking over Jax’s Calculus homework, Nora leaning behind Ava to ask Gary about whether he was coming over this weekend for a Stranger Things rewatch, Sara and Nate devolving into a debate over which part of the world would be the best place to live during the 16th century.

It was so much louder, more hurried and spontaneous and busy than Ava was used to her lunchtimes being. But it didn’t feel wrong . It was different, and new, but all these people were familiar enough to her that their voices, their laughter, their jokes and teasing retorts and bickering was the comforting kind of new, and Ava realised suddenly that she wouldn’t hate it if those dumb sophomores decided to claim their table again tomorrow.

Her eyes flickered over to Sara, who was absentmindedly brushing hair from her face and laughing at a story Wally was telling from his track practice yesterday afternoon. The bags under Sara’s eyes from those first few weeks at school were almost completely gone, as was the distant despondence and the hesitance in her general demeanour. She had more colour to her cheeks, and though her freckles had faded slightly as the summer sun slowly disappeared over the past month, her eyes were no longer cloudy with uncertainty and helplessness, were back to the bright, brilliant blue Ava always remembered them to be. She looked happy again, and Ava’s stomach fluttered with relief at the sight. Sara caught her staring in that moment and gave her a challenging smirk.

“What?”

“Nothing,” said Ava, shaking her head.

“No, seriously -”

“It’s nothing ,” Ava insisted, tossing a protein bar wrapper at Sara when she just gave Ava an infuriating, patronising look accompanied by that cocky, Sara Lance eyebrow raise. “God, you’re annoying. I was just thinking that this is cool. Sitting here. It’s nice getting to do things a bit differently, talk to other people and stuff.”

Sara looked a little surprised and her grin softened a little. “Yeah well.” She ducked her head down, bumping her ankles against Ava’s under the table. “You guys are free to come crash our lunch table anytime.”

 

(The group of sophomores officially claimed that table for the rest of the year. Ava and her friends couldn’t bring themselves to care.)

 

Chapter Text

 

Sara had read somewhere once that being family of a cop meant that at some point, you got used to the constant feeling of terror you carried around with you. Well, it’d been 17 years and Sara was pretty sure she’d never quite be used to the low, aching dread in the pit of her stomach as she watched from the kitchen as her dad pulled on his dark blue police vest and holstered his gun to his hip. Quentin let out a soft sigh, fingers thumbing over the badge hanging from his neck before his eyes flickered over to Sara hesitantly.

“Are you sure you’re gonna be okay by yourself?” he asked softly.

“Yeah,” said Sara, relieved when her voice didn’t crack. They both knew she wasn’t gonna be okay, that she was never okay when he had to do this kind of thing.

“Can you at least get a friend to come over?” begged Quentin, crossing the living room to stand in front of his daughter, curling his hands around her arms. “I can’t stand the thought of you just sitting on that couch alone, waiting for me to come back.”

“That’s what we always do,” said Sara in a barely audible mumble.

Quentin sighed shakily, gently tilting Sara’s head upwards to meet her eye. “That was when Laurel was here.”

The air between them chilled and Sara felt her heart drop to her stomach at the mention of her sister, at the sadness in her father’s eyes, at the feeling of tears burning behind her eyelids. They didn’t talk about it much, could barely stomach bringing her up because Sara still hadn’t decided if she was upset or angry or numb, and she knew Quentin blamed himself for everything that had happened.

“I’ll be fine Dad,” Sara whispered. “I’ll make dinner, do some homework and if I need to, I’ll call Z or Amaya and talk to them for a while. Don’t worry about me okay? Just … just come home safe.”

Quentin nodded, taking Sara’s face in his hands, kissing her forehead and pulling her into a tight hug. Sara shuddered into it, burying her face in his chest and clutching tightly, trying to memorise the way he smelt, just in case - the sharp, cinnamon like scent of his cologne, the warm muskiness of his aftershave, the lavender soap from the downstairs bathroom. When she was little, she’d always run upstairs immediately after he left and write down every detail of how he looked, of his smile and what he smelt like, what he’d said before he left, everything she could remember about the last time she saw him on the horrible, unbearable off chance that it was the last time.

“I love you,” she mumbled when he reluctantly pulled away. She didn’t realise she’d started crying until Quentin gently wiped the tears from her cheeks.

“I love you too baby,” he murmured, voice hoarse. “I shouldn’t be later than midnight, okay?”

Sara nodded, stepping away from him because she knew if she went in for another hug, she wouldn’t be able to let go. She turned to the bench, snapping her eyes shut and waiting until she heard the front door creak open and then bang shut before she let out a strangled sob, letting the tears fall fast down her cheeks again now that there was noone to brush them away.

Laurel had always distracted her from the minute Quentin walked out the door. Had always let Sara choose the first movie, had pulled her down onto the couch and let her cuddle in close, had ignored Quentin’s ‘at least try and eat healthy’ request and dragged all the junk food from the cupboards and let Sara have her pick, let Sara have an entire pizza to herself and even order dessert if the op Quentin was working on happened to be particularly dangerous.

Laurel had always kept her awake, had soothingly talked her down and eased her worries, had made jokes and asked her about school and offered to practice soccer with her in the backyard, had made Sara buckle down and do homework, had smoothed her hair and hugged her tight if it started getting too late and too quiet, and had always let Sara jump up and hug Quentin first when he came walking back through the front door.

But Laurel wasn’t here.

Sara sucked in a sharp breath, trying to steady her breathing. She was holding on too tightly to the stainless steel benchtop in front of her and her knuckles were going white.

Breathe Sara, come on dammit. He’ll be fine. He’s always fine.

But what if -

She sniffed, dropped her head to her hands and exhaled into her palms, rubbed her eyes roughly. She needed to distract herself. There was no way she would be able to focus on homework, no chance of being calm enough to sit through stupid amounts of Chem equations and English analysis. Her eyes darted to her phone that was sitting silent by the sink.

It was unlikely but maybe … maybe if she just called -

Her hands were reaching out and grabbing the device before she could remind herself out of how dumb this idea was, swiping the screen, scrolling through her contacts and dialling the contact that made her feel sick everytime she saw it.

“Hello, this is the Starling-Central Cities’ Rehabilitation Facility, you’re speaking with Jonah. How can I help you?”

“Hi,” said Sara, but it came out as barely a whisper and she cleared her throat quickly. “Hi,” she said again, stronger. “Uh … My name is Sara Lance. My sister is a patient - Laurel Lance?”

“Laurel, yeah! She talks about you all the time.” There was a warmth in Jonah’s voice, a recognition of who Sara was and Sara startled a little at it. Laurel hadn’t been able to look at her the last time she and Quentin had visited, hadn’t even said more than ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’.

“She does?” Sara said before she could stop herself.

“Never runs out of stories about you,” said Jonah with a quiet chuckle. “What can I do for you Sara?”

“I uh …  I know you probably have like, regulations and stuff for this kind of thing but uh … is there any chance I could talk to her? I know you’ve got visiting hours and I understand if it’s against the rules or whatever -”

“Hey, kid, slow down a lil. Yeah, we’ve got rules about this kind of stuff but listen, it’s a quiet night over here and your sister is a good patient and I owe her a favour anyway.”

The lump in Sara’s throat disappeared suddenly. She was going to get to talk to Laurel. The hand that had reached back down to tightly grip the kitchen bench loosened a little and she exhaled shakily in relief, smoothing a wrinkle in her sweatshirt with trembling fingers.

“I’ll have to record your conversation for safety and security,” informed Jonah. “Need to make sure you’re not helping supply your sister with any substances.”

“Yeah, yeah I understand,” mumbled Sara, an unpleasant shiver tickling up her back at Jonah’s last sentence.

“Okay Sara, just give me about 5 minutes to get a hold of your sister.”

Sara nodded, before remembering that she was on the phone and snorting a little at her stupidity, murmuring a quiet “Thank you.”

As the phone line turned to classic, 80’s on hold music, Sara hurriedly scrubbed the last remnants of tears from her face even though she knew Laurel wouldn’t be able to actually see her. With shaking hands, she pulled open one of the cupboards opposite her and pulled out her favourite, navy blue ceramic mug and a packet of herbal tea, the type Laurel used to always drink that Sara had scoffed her nose at when they were younger and loudly proclaimed her preference for coffee. She managed to keep herself busy as she waited, tucking her phone between her chin and her shoulder as she set the water to boil and found the one tea strainer they had in the whole house (a result of both Sara and Quentin being obsessed with coffee). She had just left the tea to steep when one of Celine Dion’s chart toppers abruptly stopped playing and the line crackled with static as the receiver was clearly handed off to someone. Sara held her breath, squeezing her eyes shut in almost dreaded anticipation. It had been almost two months since Laurel had even spoken to her, and there was a flicker of fear that licked in Sara’s stomach as she heard a soft whoosh of breath from the other end of the line, immediately recognising who it belonged to.

“Sara?”

Even with one word, - said quieter, hoarser and more hesitant than she was used to - Laurel’s voice was so achingly familiar that Sara couldn’t stop the quiet sob from slipping past her lips as she slid down to the floor, shivering at the chill of cold tile against her bare legs and curling in on herself as she began to shake. Suddenly, talking to Laurel seemed like the worst idea in the world because all Sara wanted right now was her sister.

“I want you to come home,” she whispered in a choked voice, hugging her legs tightly against her chest.

Laurel’s sharp inhale sounded wet and broken. “Sara, what’s wrong? Are you okay? Is Dad okay?”

“He’s on an undercover op tonight,” Sara croaked out. “He just left.”

There was a long pause, and Sara heard Laurel sigh heavily, heard her sniff and heard the shuffle of something moving against the microphone of the phone. “Oh Sara.” Her voice was so soft that Sara buried her face in her knees to muffle her broken cry, curling her fingers into her calf as she mumbled “I wish you were here Laur. I don’t know how to do this without you.”

“Sara, please tell me you’ve asked a friend to stay the night with you,” demanded Laurel, her voice automatically switching to the big sister tone Sara remembered despising when she was younger, but now ached to hear more of. “Don’t you dare tell me you’re alone right now.”

Sara didn’t reply and Laurel groaned.

“It wouldn’t be the same,” said Sara quietly, sniffling. “I want you.”

“I know,” said Laurel, softer. “I wish I was with you. I …” Sara heard her breath hitch, heard her clear her throat and take a steady breath. “God Sara, I’m so sorry for how I acted when you visited last month. You deserved so much better than that.”

“Laur, don’t -”

“No, listen. I … I was humiliated okay? You should’ve seen me that whole Friday, I was so freaked out about you and dad visiting. I was still so messed up from all the withdrawal symptoms and I was spiraling, overthinking everything and the easiest way to mask how scared I was to see you guys was to be angry instead.”

Sara picked at a scab on her knee, chewing on her bottom lip. “Why’d you talk to Dad and not me?” she said in a small voice.

“Because I could handle seeing Dad,” said Laurel, her voice much quieter and even more regretful than before. “He’s … he’s my dad , I mean, he changed my diapers and sat through the night with me when I had that god awful stomach bug when I was six and comforted me from nightmares and dealt with my moodiness after Mom left and comforted me through my break-up with Ollie and gave me the sex talk … he’s seen all my lowest points and my embarrassing moments because he’s Dad and he’s meant to and I know he’ll never judge me for them.” Laurel sighed and there was a long pause in which Sara could’ve sworn she heard a muffled cry. “But you’re you Sara. Mom and Dad always said that you idolised me since the day you were born, that you’d follow me around everywhere and always want to be around me, that you’d cry when I went to school or daycare in the morning and be the first person at the door when I came home. You asked me for advice with everything , you covered for me when I snuck out to see Ollie, you supported me in anything I ever did. I was the first person you came out to, you trusted me with that, you trusted me to be a role model for you and look at what I turned into. I couldn’t bear for you to see me like that, I couldn’t bear to not see that awe and admiration in your eyes when you looked at me. I was too ashamed.”

“Laurel, I never needed a role model from you,” Sara tried to insist. “I just needed a sister. I … I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You felt this insane responsibility to be something you shouldn’t have had to be for me - you shouldn’t have had to raise me the way you did, be this person I was always in awe of and aspiring to be, that was too much weight on your shoulders.”

“Stop,” said Laurel firmly. “I can see where this is going and I’m stopping you right there. This is not your fault.”

“But -”

No. My addiction is my mistake, not yours, do you understand?”

Sara just let out a half hearted mumble of affirmation, wiping her nose with her sleeve.

“Sara,” said Laurel, voice thick with tears. “Sara, please. Don’t blame yourself, I’m begging you. I need to know that you’re not beating yourself up over this.”

“I’m not,” said Sara, rolling her eyes at the Laurel’s scoff of disbelief. “I’m not Laurel. Not … not anymore. Not as much as I was.”

“Okay.” There was a distinct tremble in Laurel’s voice as she spoke but it was coated in overwhelming relief. “Good. Now … how long did Dad say he’d be gone for?”

Sara let her head fall back onto the cupboard behind her, swiping the tears from her cheeks with her free hand. “Til around midnight.”

“I can’t guarantee I can talk to you for that long,” said Laurel remorsefully, “but I’ll stay on the line as long as I’m allowed to okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” Sara said, releasing a breath she hadn’t even realised she was holding before hauling herself off the floor and catching sight of the tea brewing on the counter. “So why did Jonah say he owed you a favour? That sounds super dirty.”

Sara !”

Sara giggled at Laurel’s affronted tone, tossing the tea strainer into the sink and taking a tentative sip, sighing at the warmth and comfort it brought.

“It was not like that,” muttered Laurel, making a retching sound. “His girlfriend is trying to get her citizenship and her boss is some racist asshole getting in her way. I was telling him what legal options he could take to help her out.”

Sara laughed softly. “Dinah Laurel Lance. Not even in law school yet and still trying to save the world.”

Laurel echoed Sara’s laugh, affectionate and a little sad and wistful. “Don’t you know it. Hey, now tell me about what’s been going on with you. I miss you. How’s school and soccer and stuff?”

Sara knew that Laurel was trying to distract her, but it’d been months since they talked, and she’d missed this. She’d missed the way Laurel laughed at her jokes and teased her about her friends, (she could imagine the smile on Laurel’s face, warm and soft and caring, just like it always used to be when she and Laurel would curl up on the couch together and talk the night away as they waited for their dad to come home). So yeah, she knew what Laurel was doing, but as she sank down onto the empty couch and pulled a blanket over her legs she couldn’t bring herself to care because if she closed her eyes for long enough and let Laurel’s voice wash over her, she could almost convince herself that her sister was here, arm around her shoulders, pointing out the bad CGI of whatever movie they were watching, threatening to finish all the pizza if Sara didn’t stop picking at her food. It was easy to let it all spill out to Laurel, to tell her about Jax’s homecoming game last week, about Zari and Amaya’s flirting, about how soccer trainings were going, about how she and Ava had stopped fighting and were actually friends, how their two groups were actually sitting together at lunch now. When Laurel quietly said “How have you been doing?”, clearly asking about more than just school and friends, Sara hesitated for a moment. But when Laurel just murmured “Come on Sara, you can tell me. I wanna know”, it was just as easy to let the truth fall from her lips, to tell her about how much she missed her and the awkward conversations with Quentin, about how she wanted to just call her and tell her about her day every single evening and how much it ached that she couldn’t.

(Sara didn’t mention her talk with Ava though, nor did she admit that she’d told her friends about what had really been going on. She loved Laurel, but couldn’t bear to confess that she’d betrayed her trust by revealing the one secret Laurel had asked her to keep. Instead, she just said that her friends had noticed her acting weirdly and had been endlessly supportive, eventually easing the burden of everything until Sara felt somewhat okay again).

Yet, as much as they both wanted it to, the conversation couldn’t last forever. When Sara suddenly heard Jonah clear his throat over the end of the line and apologetically tell Laurel it was time to hang up, her eyes flickered to the large grandfather clock near the living room doorway and realised with a start that she and Laurel had been on the phone for almost two hours. She tried to ignore the flare of panic that shot through her at the thought of Laurel leaving her alone, at the idea of everything suddenly being slow and quiet and empty in this big old house. She would be fine. She could be fine. She was 17 for God’s sake, she didn’t need her big sister holding her hand. But when Laurel softly murmured “Sara, I’m so sorry but I have to go now”, Sara couldn’t help the way her breath caught in her throat and her fingers curled desperately into the blanket on her lap.

It wasn’t Laurel’s fault, and the remorsefulness and regret in her voice didn’t belong there, and maybe if Sara was a better person she would manage to tell her all these things. But instead, the words died in her mouth, and she could feel the tears from earlier burning at the back of her eyes as she let out a choked “ No.

She shouldn’t’ve said it - she should’ve kept her thoughts to herself, because Laurel had to go and she didn’t need the guilt of leaving her little sister alone piled on top of that, but then Laurel sighed a soft “Oh, Sara,” and suddenly Sara couldn’t think and she couldn’t breathe all over again and she could barely see through her tears or concentrate on what Laurel was still saying to her, voice low and comforting and on the edge of desperate as she tried to calm her sister down in the little time she had. “Sara, babe, I have to go, but there’s something you can do for me, yeah? Please?”

Laurel waited until Sara managed to choke out an agreement before continuing softly “Call one of your friends. I don’t want you sitting there alone.”

Sara swallowed the I don’t want them, I want you that was on the tip of her tongue, but any other responses were cut off by a choked sob, and she pressed a hand across her mouth in a panicked attempt to contain the rest - Laurel didn’t need her making things difficult, not now (and not ever - just look where that’d ended up). She swallowed, biting her lip as Laurel almost begged “Please Sara. I said I’d stay here for you, get better for you … and I am. Do this one thing for me.”

For Laurel.

She could do it for Laurel. She would do anything for Laurel, so Sara took several deep, shaky, shuddering breaths before telling her sister in a voice she hoped was less hesitant than it sounded in her head “Okay. I’ll call Amaya or Zari or … someone.”

(Somewhere in the back of her mind was the nagging reminder that today was Zari’s little brother’s birthday - his first birthday since he’d gotten sick last year - and there was no way Sara was going to interrupt that after everything the Tomaz family had been through, that Amaya and Kuasa were in Central City for their grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and Amaya probably wouldn’t have her phone readily available anyway. She didn’t tell Laurel that. She just made the promise, silently and half heartedly convincing herself that she’d find someone else.)

Laurel’s sigh of relief shouldn’t have cut through her like it did, but Sara didn’t have chance to process it before Laurel was telling her everything would work out and that she loved her and that Quentin would come home safe, and then hanging up, leaving Sara staring at the clock in the semi-darkness, nails digging into the palms of her hands as she wondered how she was going to make it through the next 2 hours, 37 minutes and 42 seconds. 41 seconds.

40 seconds. Sara cursed out loud, running a trembling hand through her hair before picking up her phone and opening her contacts.

 


 



Ava Sharpe

iMessage
(Sara Lance)
Thursday


9:23pm:
hey


9:23pm:
Hey


9:25pm:
… You okay?


9:25pm:
yeah i was just wondering
if you’d done the engl hw


9:25pm:
Just finishing it now


9:25pm:
How much have you done?


9:26pm:
haha uhhhhhhhh


9:26pm:
none???


9:26pm:
SARA


9:27pm:
whaaaaaat it’s not a big deal
aves chill out


9:27pm:
mr murphy is so chill abt hw
and it’s friday anyway he’ll
probs just give us a practice
pop quiz and it’ll be fine


9:29pm:
If you don’t care then why
are you texting me about it?


9:33pm:
Sara?


9:35pm:
Sara are you okay?


9:35pm:
so my dad’s heading a rlly
dangerous undercover op
tonight and usually when
he’s on jobs like this, me
& laurel wait up together
but obvs she’s not here &
i just spent the better part
of 2 hours on the phone to
her but she had to go & she
made me promise to call a
friend but z and amaya both
have family stuff that i dont
wanna interrupt & i needed
an excuse to text you


9:37pm:
You don’t need an excuse
Sara


9:37pm:
I told you to text me if you
needed anything, remember?


9:38pm:
yeah well


9:38pm:
idk i wasn’t sure if all that
stuff last month was you just
repaying the favour for when i
was there for you last year i guess


9:38pm:
What?????


9:38pm:
Sara no, that’s ridiculous


9:39pm:
Do you want me to come
over?


9:39pm:
no, no you don’t have to
i was just hoping i could
text you for a bit to
distract myself


9:39pm:
if ur busy doing hw tho i dont
wanna distract you


9:39pm:
Please, I’m the world’s best
multitasker


9:39pm:
Plus this way I can make you
actually do your english homework


9:40pm:
oh come ON


9:40pm:
Hey, if you do it then you’re not
distracting me, just saying


9:40pm:
you’re the actual worst,
you know that right?


9:41pm:
Shut up I know you’d feel awful
if you didn’t do your homework
and Mr Murphy gave you the ‘I
expected more from you Miss
Lance’


9:41pm:
ouch


9:41pm:
that was cold


9:41pm:
that was a dirty move
sharpe


9:42pm:
Did it work?


9:42pm:
um no


9:43pm:
maybe


9:44pm:
brb i just need to eat
dinner hang on


9:45pm:
Sara wtf it’s almost 10pm


9:45pm:
i was talking to laurel!!
i didn’t even realise it
had gotten so late until
we hung up, i swear


9:51pm:
there just ordered pizza


9:55pm:
Sorry, had to go mediate a
Layla and Ali argument over
who gets the shower rn


9:55pm:
sounds riveting?


9:56pm:
Oh it was -.-


9:56pm:
How’s Laurel doing?


9:58pm:
she’s good!! heaps better


9:58pm:
giving legal advice to the
receptionists who work
there even tho she hasn’t
even made it to law school
yet?????


9:59pm:
Hahaha omg


9:59pm:
Why am I not surprised


10:00pm:
That sounds like the Laurel
I always saw and heard about


10:01pm:
she apologised for the way
she acted last month when
we went and saw her


10:01pm:
sounded more like herself
too which is nice


10:01pm:
i miss her so much though


10:03pm:
I can’t even imagine


10:03pm:
I wish I could help more
somehow


10:04pm:
aves you have no idea how
much everything you’ve
done for me over the past
month has helped i swear


10:04pm:
wow can u imagine us from
freshman year seeing us now


10:05pm:
Oh they’d be horrified


10:05pm:
they’d be so disappointed
in our friendship


10:05pm:
I can hear the arguments now


10:05pm:
14 year old me would be screeching
something about ‘how dare you help
the most despicable frustrating girl
in school Sharpe are you insane’


10:06pm:
;’D ;’D ;’D


10:06pm:
*despicable frustratingLY HOT
girl in school tyvm


10:07pm:
Uh sure whatever helps you sleep
at night Lance






It was so easy to talk to Ava.

In the same way that their arguments, bickering and banter had become instinctive over the years, talking without any of those antagonisms was somehow just as seamless. Ava redirected their conversation back to their English homework, and Sara was surprised at how readily she found herself lying on the living room floor, laptop in front of her and English notes sprawled all over the carpet, texting Ava and comparing their analyses on the short story they’d been working on that week. Sara hadn’t planned to actually accomplish any schoolwork tonight, anticipating being too anxious to even begin to concentrate, but by the time the doorbell rang to alert her to her pizza delivery, with Ava’s encouragement she’d managed to finish all the English work she had to do for tomorrow and start on a Calc worksheet that wasn’t even due til Monday.

As Sara curled up on the side of the couch, switching movies on Netflix and devouring the piping hot pepperoni and mushroom pizza before her, her and Ava’s topic of discussion drifted back to Laurel. Ava somehow made her comfortable in sharing what she wanted to share, but she never pushed for more than Sara was willing to give, and Sara couldn’t help feeling so incredibly grateful for that. Their conversation soon lightened up to stories about stupid things their friends had done over the past few days and plans for Halloween next week. Sara laughed out loud when Ava launched into a detailed, clearly frustrated story about Layla almost flushing her toothbrush down the toilet out of spite, jumping a little at the sound of her own voice and blinking in surprise at the fact that despite the fact that four hours ago, she was an absolute, crying wreck on the kitchen floor, she was now actually laughing, being productive, feeling calmer and more at ease than she could ever remember being when her father was working late. For a reason Sara didn’t want to consider, talking to Ava was relaxing and strangely familiar in a way little else was, and between Ava, returning her attention (though admittedly, half heartedly now) to her homework, and the trashy movie she was watching, Sara didn’t even notice how much time had passed until she felt a warm hand on her shoulder, giving it a light squeeze.

If anyone else were here to see it, Sara might have been embarrassed at the less than put together yelp of alarm she let out, or how quickly she leapt off the couch when she saw who was standing beside her.

Dad !” she gasped, curling her fingers into his jacket and sighing in relief as Quentin pulled her in closer.

He was safe.

Sara couldn’t focus on anything other than the overwhelming relief flooding her system, and those three words repeating in her mind like a mantra, soft and soothing in a gentle voice that reminded her of both Laurel and Ava at the same time. She buried her head into her father’s shoulder and inhaled deeply, grateful that earlier wasn’t the last time she would get to do so. His arms tightened around her in a brief squeeze before he dropped a gentle kiss to the top of her head and laughed tiredly.

“You good?” he asked softly into her hair.

Sara nodded, breathing deeply for a moment before pulling away and nodding. “Yeah, I’m good.”

Quentin studied her face for a moment as if he wasn’t quite sure he believed her, and Sara rolled her eyes at the clear Dad expression of suspicion and concern on his face (though she wasn’t sure she could really blame him, considering how unsteady she’d been when he left).

“I’m good Dad,” she repeated quietly, squeezing his hand. “I mean it.”

He laughed again tiredly, this time sounding relieved, and he poked her in the side as she moved to switch off the TV and gather up her loose sheets of homework and messily scattered books. It was almost half an hour later, nearing a quarter to one when Sara heard a quiet knock on her door, glancing over her shoulder to see Quentin hovering in the doorway, now in his pyjamas.

“DId you get the guy?” she asked, crossing the room to stand before her father.

“Yeah,” said Quentin, smiling. “We got him.” His eyes flickered with hesitance, eyebrows furrowing momentarily. “Are you sure you were okay tonight Sara? I was so worried that leaving you alone was the worst thing I could’ve done.”

“It wasn’t great at first,” Sara admitted with a shrug, “but I talked to Laurel -” Quentin’s eyes flashed with surprise, “- and then some friends after she had to go and I was fine after a while. I swear.”

“Full disclosure?”

“Full disclosure.”

Quentin nodded, seemingly satisfied with that and he reached out to gently tuck some of Sara’s hair behind her ear. “I’m glad.” He leaned forward, kissed her forehead and dropped his hand to her shoulder to squeeze gently. “Go to bed baby. I love you.”

“Love you too Dad.” Sara smiled as he waited in the doorway, watched her clamber into bed and tie up her hair before shuffling under the covers. It was an old habit, was something they did every time this happened. Neither Laurel or Sara had been ‘tucked in’ by a parent since elementary school, but on nights that Quentin worked late on dangerous jobs, he always paused in the hallway between their rooms, waited til they were in bed to murmur a soft “Goodnight” and switch off their lights for them. Sara gave him one last smile before sinking into her pillows, chuckling at the familiar sound of the hallway floorboards creaking as Quentin walked back down to his room before she reached over and unplugged her phone from where it was charging on her bedside table to send one last text to Ava.

 


 

Ava Sharpe

iMessage
(Sara Lance)
Friday


12:42am:
hey


12:42am:
sorry i disappeared for ages


12:42am:
my dad got back and i was
getting ready for bed


12:42am:
i hope you went to bed tho
oh shit it’s so late


12:42am:
nope just saw ur online on fb
GO TO BED AVA I KNOW UR A
WEIRDO WHO THINKS IT’S NORMAL
TO GET UP AT THE ASSCRACK OF
DAWN TO GO FOR A RUN


12:43am
I’m glad he’s okay but shUT UP
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH
BEING A MORNING PERSON


12:43am:
Anyway. Goodnight Sara


12:43am:
I’ll see you tomorrow

 

12:54am:
hey aves?

 

12:54am:
thank you


Friday


7:03am:
Anytime Sara x

Chapter Text

 

When Ava thought about it, the ease with which hers and Sara’s friend groups melded together wasn’t really surprising. They’d all known each other for long enough and were in fact very similar groups of people, that the odd rivalry that had existed for so long between them was something they seemed to have stuck to solely out of habit and familiarity. For all the animosities from earlier in high school, and the eventual good natured banter and debating, Ava found that both her and Sara’s friends were all somewhat alike at heart - loyal, humourous, focused at school, a balanced mix between sport and academically driven, quick to a laugh, adventurous and kind hearted to a fault.

It only took a few weeks of them all sitting together at lunch before the rivalry was quickly forgotten, the lines between their groups blurring until it was difficult to determine where one friend group ended and the other began. While Ava and Sara’s recent friendship was clearly the biggest change in the relations between them all, Ava began to notice the development of other friendships she never would have expected - Ray and Nora became close fast, Ava noting with a grin how Nora would roll her eyes and smother a laugh when Ray cracked a stupid joke (she and Sara had a bet running on who would ask who out between them). Lily and Amaya got on well, which was somewhat unsurprising considering Amaya could get on with everybody, but was still refreshing to see. Gary and Zari too, which was surprising given Gary’s tendency to be shy and hesitant around people he didn’t know, a sharp contrast to Zari’s brash and unflinching nature. But they talked about video games and TV shows and their deeply religious families (Gary was Jewish and Zari Muslim) and what it was like trying to balance what their parents wanted them to believe and what they were figuring out for themselves. Kuasa developed a friendship with both Wally and Nate of all people, despite the latter being her cousin’s ex-boyfriend (though Ava was pretty sure Amaya and Nate’s break-up had been pretty amicable, considering how close they still were and the lack of animosity between them).

But for all the rapid change that fused their groups together, Ava still picked up on the little things that reinforced how recent this was, how much time they’d spent separated by a dumb rivalry for so many years. The small inside jokes that only one group would understand, references to things that others hadn’t been here for, the history between some of these friendships - Sara, Jax and Amaya being so close that one of them just had to look at the others and they immediately understood whatever unspoken question had been asked. Ava had seen it before, often in Calculus when Jax seemed to just know when Sara was distracted and gently poke her in the side to remind her to pay attention the same way he did when she made a bad joke at lunch, yet somehow in the two different contexts the same action meant completely different things.

It wasn’t until the week before Thanksgiving that the slight divide that still existed between the two groups of friends finally closed. Ava and Sara’s Social Studies teacher had gone over time and their class had gotten out late, so they were the last to arrive at lunch, squeezing in a gap between Wally and Kuasa. Ray and Lily were helping Wally study for his final SAT resit, everyone else occupied in discussions and idle chatter, except Zari and Amaya. Zari was picking at her food, eyes fixed on the dull grey of their lunch tables as she pushed salad around her plate, too reserved and quiet. It was such a contrast to the Zari Ava was used to, the one who was always quick with a retort and an easy laugh. But that being said, Ava silently admitted that of all Sara’s friends, Zari was the one she knew the least. She didn’t grow up in Star City like everyone else (neither did Wally, but he was from Central City and Ava remembered him visiting every once in a while when they were kids before he eventually moved in sophomore year).

Ava eyed Zari with concern. They’d never really had many classes together, never even had any reason to speak . Zari had fallen into the routine of pranks and bickering with Ava’s group once she realised everyone else was doing it too, and Ava had always admired her hilarious insults, her quick thinking, the pranks she orchestrated.

It could just be a bad day, an unfortunate interaction with a crappy teacher, an exhausting class - Ava knew that, had plenty of those days herself. But something just wasn’t sitting right with the way Zari’s shoulders were slumped and hair was just slightly disheveled as though she got ready in a hurry and hadn’t gotten enough sleep. Ava couldn’t help the unmistakable feeling that something was wrong.

Sara, usually constantly fidgeting - crossing her legs, swinging them from her chair, twirling a pen in her fingertips, drumming her hand against the table or her own thigh - was uncharacteristically still as soon as she noticed Zari, and Ava saw her attention dart to Amaya, posing one of those silent questions that for once, Ava was able to decipher. Amaya silently shrugged as she tilted her head towards Zari, clearly unsure and anxious. Ava watched out of the corner of her eye as they unspokenly decided how to approach this, before Sara nodded and Amaya shifted in her seat so she was facing Zari, nudging the other girl lightly and giving her a warm smile.

“Hey.”

Zari looked up, seeming a little dazed as though she’d forgotten where she actually was and who she was with. As soon as she appeared to remember, her eyes flickered back down to her plate and Ava saw the way her shoulders tensed. Amaya glanced over at Sara apprehensively but Sara just nodded again, this time mouthing “Go on.” Amaya reached out to touch Zari’s shoulder, relieved when she didn’t flinch, and said, almost too quiet for Ava to hear “Talk to us, Z.”

Zari gave a small, half-hearted shrug and bit her lip. Ava tried not to watch her, tried to pretend she was focusing on her own lunch but still caught a flash of vulnerability and uncertainty in her expression that had no place there as she said “Can we do something tonight? Something crazy, or stupid … I dunno, just … something.

The desperation in her voice made Ava’s stomach drop in something that closest resembled fear rather than concern, and she could see the same feeling mirrored on Sara and Amaya’s faces. But when Amaya’s hand moved to gently brush some of Zari’s hair away from her face and Sara leaned across the table to touch Zari’s hand, Ava suddenly felt like she was intruding on a private moment between the three of them and fished out her phone, briefly switching on the screen to check for notifications she knew she didn’t have. She tried to tune into Wally and Lily’s conversation, tried to get invested in it enough that she would turn her attention to helping Wally study but instead, her ears just listened out for Sara and Amaya to reply.

“Yeah, you got it,” said Sara after a couple of moments, still soft enough that nobody but the four of them could hear. “We could go to the beach?”

It was mid November. It was freezing and the beach would be so cold that they would all probably end up with pneumonia, but Ava bit her lip and stayed silent because she wasn’t a part of this conversation and, well, if Zari needed something stupid, then this would definitely count, no matter how bad of an idea it was.

Zari nodded, flashed Sara a grateful smile before her eyes glanced over to Amaya and quietly asked “You free?”

She wasn’t, Ava knew she wasn’t; last night in their group chat, Kuasa had mentioned a huge, family dinner happening tonight to celebrate her older brother’s engagement, a family dinner that both she and Amaya had to go to. But Ava watched as Amaya’s eyes flickered to her cousin before she nodded, giving Zari a small smile and bumping their shoulders together.

“For you?” she said softly. “Always.”

Well, that wasn’t something Ava saw coming.

Zari and Amaya had always seemed close, but Ava had never thought they were any closer than either of them were with Sara too. And it wasn’t like she hadn’t noticed their easy affection before - a nudge here, a hug there, holding hands on odd occasions when one of them was having a rough day - but this was … not subtle. Ava had never really assumed people’s sexualities, not since she first began questioning her own, so it wasn’t the idea that both Zari and Amaya might be into girls that shocked her. Instead, it was the intimacy in the way they looked at each other, the relief and gratitude in Zari’s expression as she leaned over and rested her head on Amaya’s shoulder for the briefest of seconds before pulling away.

And Ava wasn’t the only one who noticed if the way Sara glanced over at met eyes with a knowing grin was anything to go by. They both waited perhaps a bit longer than they needed to before Sara cleared her throat to break up Nate and Ray’s rowdy discussion about Back to the Future.

“Guys, you free for a trip to Castle Point beach tonight? Head out sometime before dinner, grab takeout either on the way or once we get there?”

Everyone looked momentarily confused, and Ray opened his mouth to ask something, probably why the hell they were going to the beach in the middle of November as the temperatures were plummeting. But when Sara subtly tilted her head in Zari’s direction, they seemed to immediately get the hint and quickly agreed to the idea. Sara glanced around, eyes catching Ava’s again before roving over to Nora, Gary, Kuasa and Lily.

“You guys keen too?” she asked.

Ava raised an eyebrow. She’d thought Sara was only talking to her group. After all, with all the small instances of distance Ava had observed over the past few weeks, she’d assumed that them all sitting together didn’t equate to them being one massive friend group. Her friends seemed to share her hesitance because none of them said anything. Sara’s attention turned solely to Ava and she arched an eyebrow, prompting Ava to sigh.

“You don’t have to invite us just cos we’re sitting here, you know,” she said, wincing at how blunt it sounded. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m just saying … you don’t have to feel bad about making plans in front of us that don’t actually involve us.”

Sara rolled her eyes, opening her mouth to predictably chastise Ava for being ridiculous, but Ava caught the flash of guilt in her eyes that told her that Sara’s invitation had been, even if only partly, out of a feeling of obligation. But before Sara could speak, Jax chimed in, shaking his head.

“If we’re sitting together at lunch now, all our reckless, dumbass decisions are open to you guys,” he said, grinning. “This is where we come up with all the fun anyway. And hey, if you guys are as good at spontaneous adventures as you are with the pranks you pull, I think we’ll be fine.”

Lily laughed at that.

“Yeah, that fountain pen prank in sophomore year was iconic,” smirked Nora, also laughing out loud when Ray pouted (he had been the unfortunate subject of said prank).

“Come on Aves,” said Sara encouragingly, elbowing Ava lightly in the ribs. “Please? It’ll be insane and stupid and freezing but so, so fun. I swear.”

Sounds like something I’ll definitely regret tomorrow, Ava thought briefly but Sara’s bright smile was so hopeful that it made Ava want to follow her to the edge of the world, especially when Sara poked her arm and cheekily said “You’ve been overworking yourself anyway these last couple weeks, come on - live a little, take the night off.”

She wasn’t wrong. Ava had been so focused on staying ahead of her schoolwork - of finishing her early college application and her SATs and ACTs, of not getting too stressed or behind, on maintaining her A average because she would be damned if she wasn’t class valedictorian - that she genuinely hadn’t taken a proper night off in at least a week and a half. Plus, she’d come to really look forward to spending time with Sara, especially outside of their now familiar classroom context, and Zari had looked up and was smiling at her too, telling her that it’d be fun and how seeing Ava Sharpe let loose would probably make her day more than being at the beach itself. Ava shot her a half hearted glare, throwing a straw across the table at her and ignoring the shining beam on Sara’s face when it made Zari laugh.  

“You know what, why the hell not,” muttered Ava eventually, rolling her eyes at Sara’s victory whoop.

“You guys in?” asked Zari to the rest of the group.

Gary bowed out because of obligations with visiting relatives for Thanksgiving while Kuasa lied, claiming to have an assignment due tomorrow instead of the family dinner and Ava caught the grateful look Amaya flashed her. Kuasa waited til Zari was facing another direction before she mouthed “You’re gonna be in so much trouble.” Amaya just shrugged, as Lily and Nora both piped up with interest.

“We’re taking Mick’s four wheeler right?” said Sara, sending Mick a questioning look, to which he responded with a nod of confirmation.

“We’ll need one more car,” said Jax after doing a quick head count.

“I have one,” said Ava. “I could drive some of us there.”

Sara frowned, poking her again in the ribs. “Um, excuse me, why don’t I know about this? You could give me a ride to school!”

Ava smirked. “Yeah, I’d love to, but technically it’s a shared car between me, Ali and Layla. Ali’s too young to have her license yet so right now it’s just me and Layla, but she claims that as the eldest she gets first dibs so she kind of has the rights to the car all the time. And trust me, you do not want Layla driving you to school.”

Sara snorted and popped a tater tot into her mouth.

“What about tonight?” Jax asked with a frown. “Won’t Layla claim all rights to the car?”

“She’s grounded with no car privileges,” said Ava, trying to avoid showing how gleeful she felt as she said it (by the way Sara snickered, she probably hadn’t done a great job hiding it). “Tried to sneak her boyfriend into her room without Mom and Dad noticing. Dad caught her, hates the guy, so car’s all mine for two weeks.”

Times, locations and the last of the travel arrangements were quickly made over the last twenty minutes of lunch before everyone split and heads to class. Ava and Sara’s afternoon bio class flew past, particularly given how little attention either of them were paying to the material in front of them.

“We’re gonna regret being so distracted later,” said Ava, glancing ruefully at her textbook after almost twenty minutes of she and Sara chatting quietly about the evening’s plans instead of working on the exercise they’d been set.

“We’re two of the smartest kids in our year,” said Sara with a shrug. “We’ll just stick around at the library after school tomorrow and catch up.” She paused, twirling her pen absentmindedly in her fingers before humming softly. “Thanks for agreeing to come tonight.”

Ava looked up in surprise. “Thanks for offering,” she said. “I did mean it though, when I said you didn’t have to extend the invitation just because we were there.”

Sara shook her head, shifting her weight on the stool and kicking Ava’s ankle lightly. “Are we friends?” she demanded.

Ava ignored her own momentary spike of hesitance. “Yeah.”

“Then I wanted you there,” said Sara, as though it was the simplest thing in the world. “I like hanging out with you Aves, I like that we’re all friends now instead of getting on each other’s nerves all the time.”

“You still get on my nerves some of the time,” teased Ava and Sara shoved her playfully. “You think Zari’s okay?” Ava added, pretending to be reading her notes as their teacher strolled past.

Sara sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I dunno. Last time she was this down it was when her brother got sick last year. I’m hoping she’ll tell us tonight.”

Ava just nodded, biting back her reply when the class abruptly fell quiet. She and Sara managed to actually complete some of the assigned work given the lapse in chatter, and before they knew it, the bell for the end of the day was ringing shrilly through the school.

 

It was only much later, as Ava tugged on a SCHS basketball sweatshirt Spencer had left behind, that it occurred to her that her parents might have an issue with her suddenly disappearing with the car on a Thursday night to do God knows what. But as she tentatively hovered in the doorway of the living room, keys in her track pants’ pockets, her dad noticed her shoes and sweatshirt and broke into an almost insultingly relieved smile.

“You going out?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Ava, biting her lip nervously. “Is that okay?”

“Of course!” said Robert, a little too enthusiastically and Ava raised an eyebrow at him that clearly said excuse me? Robert rolled his eyes, shifting his weight on the couch to look at her properly. “I’m just pleasantly surprised to see you hanging out with friends instead of burying your nose in your books like you have been for the past month. You’re 17 Ava, go have some fun.”

“Will Mom be okay with it?” asked Ava, nodding towards the staircase. “She won’t be horrified that I might be sneaking off to meet up with a girl?”

Are you sneaking off to meet up with a girl?”

“No, I’m going to the beach with Sara and Zari and their friends. Nora and Lily are coming too.”

Robert shrugged. “Then it’s fine. Be home by midnight.”

Ava wrinkled her nose. “Dad, it’s a school night. I’ll be home by 11.”

 

It felt almost strange to be driving her car. With Layla monopolising it always , Ava could count on both hands the number of times she’d actually gotten to drive it since their parents bought it at the beginning of the previous year. Oddly enough though, it became more natural with each person Ava picked up on the way. It was inexplicably comforting to have Zari, Nate and Wally bickering in the back seat and Sara in the passenger seat either ignoring them or videoing their antics for Snapchat or Instagram. Ava laughed when she caught sight in the rearview mirror of Zari pressing a cold hand to Nate’s neck, making him let out an undignified screech and flinch away. Sara chuckled fondly, leaning back in her seat. Ava met her eye for a second, only a second before her gaze flickered back to the road, but she still saw the lightness and happiness in Sara’s expression that hadn’t appeared nearly as often as Ava would’ve liked since the start of the year. Sara’s freckles from the summer were still fading and the early evening light caught in her hair as it blew in the gentle breeze blowing in from Ava’s partially open window. Ava pretended not to notice how carefree Sara looked or how happy that made her. They’d only been real friends for a few weeks now. She needed to chill - whatever her brain was trying to stir up was too much, was far too complicated to even think about right now.

The others had beaten them to the beach, having come from further out of the city, but when Ava finished easing the car past the car park and down the ramp onto the sand, she was surprised that Sara, Nate, Zari and Wally didn’t leap out immediately. Instead, a moment of stillness and serenity swept through the car, all of them sitting in silence as they were distracted by the view - the evening sun reflected off the water, making it sparkle in a hue of peach, purple and orange and illuminating the car in a soft, golden glow. The world around them was alight with colour and Ava was stunned at how beautiful everything looked. But the peace only lasted a moment, broken by the sound of the car door slammed and through her window, Ava saw Zari out on the beach, tugging her top over her head as she stripped down to her underwear. Sara swore under her breath, shoving her door open.

“Z, what the hell, it’s like 50 degrees out here!” she said in an equally fierce and concerned voice.

Ava pulled her keys from the ignition and slipped them into her pocket as she also stepped out of the car, Wally and Nate following in suit. Zari shrugged, turning to Sara and Ava saw a flash of the same desperation she’d seen at lunch cross Zari’s face.

“I said I needed to do something crazy - something stupid,” she said, tugging off her jeans and tossing them onto the ground alongside her top. She crossed her arms defiantly over her chest and Ava could see how much effort it was taking her not to shiver from the cold. “So are you gonna just stand there and mother me, or are you gonna be stupid with me?”  

Sara stared at her for a moment, mouth twisting as she mused the pros and cons. Her eyes flickered over to the water before returning to meet Zari’s. Ava stopped herself from saying something, even as she glanced incredulously between them. Sara couldn’t actually be considering this - it was crazy, reckless and they would probably both end up with hypothermia. But after a moment, Sara shrugged and reached down to curl her fingers around the hem of her sweater and pulled it over her head, tugging her t-shirt off afterwards before starting to pull her jeans down her hips. Zari broke into a grin, glancing over her shoulder to where the others were walking over from Mick’s car, parked near Ava’s.

“Tell me you’re not doing what I think you’re doing,” said Amaya, raising her eyebrows at both Sara and Zari.

“Come on,” said Zari, reaching out to tug Amaya closer. “It’ll be fun.”

“It’ll be freezing,” amended Amaya but Zari gave her a beseeching look, squeezing her hands and Amaya caved, rolling her eyes and unbuttoning her cardigan.

Mick didn’t need convincing, nor did Jax, Lily or Nora, all more than willing to go through with these kinds of thoroughly irresponsible ideas (Ava wished Kuasa was here to be on her side about how insane this was). All it took was Sara throwing her jeans at Nate and cheekily saying “Come on pretty boy, strip! We all wanna see those famous Heywood abs.” for Nate to flip her off but over exaggeratedly pull his polar fleece over his head and twirl it in his fingers as Sara, Zari, Amaya and Jax hooted. Ray took a little more convincing, immediately launching into an argument about how likely it was that they would get sick and how he would much rather be the designated photographer. But when Nora gave him a look before pulling her jeans down, Ray’s eyes darted up to the sky and Ava almost snorted with laughter as she saw his lips murmur “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” He threw his arms in the air in defeat and unzipped his jacket, giving Sara a half hearted glare when she crowed “Get it Palmer!”

But when Sara glanced at Ava, wearing an oh, really? expression when she saw Ava was still fully dressed, Ava shook her head defiantly and purposefully kept her eyes fixed on Sara’s face because yes , she had definitely caught sight of Sara’s abs and she was not prepared to look at them again without her brain short circuiting because wow.

“No,” she said, shoving her hands in her pockets. “Absolutely not. No way. You guys are crazy, it is freezing.

“I mean, I’m aware,” smirked Sara and Ava swallowed to stop her jaw from actually falling open when Sara turned to face her, all freckled, toned skin, still somewhat tanned from the summer with a well defined set of abs and goosebumps all over her bare shoulders, muscles visibly tensing as an icy breeze blew across the beach. She stepped closer to Ava, flashing her a challenging grin with eyes alight with laughter and amusement. “What? You scared of a little cold water Sharpe?”

Ava clenched her teeth. Sara knew exactly what she was doing, knew that Ava would never back down from a direct challenge, especially from her , and Ava hated that Sara obviously knew it would work.

“Fuck you Lance,” she muttered under her breath, giving Sara a moment of uncertainty before she reached down to pull her sweatshirt and t-shirt over her head in one go, leaving her in just her bra and track pants. Her body immediately stiffened at the cold, but it was almost worth it at the way Sara’s eyes suddenly darted to her midsection, wide with surprise and Ava felt a distinct satisfaction erupt in her chest. But Sara schooled her features quickly, grinning less smugly and more sincerely at Ava.

“It will be fun,” she said, quieter so that nobody else would hear. “But you don’t have to though, if you really don’t -”

“Shut up Lance, you know I’m not backing out now,” said Ava, rolling her eyes as she shimmied out of her track pants, gathered up her clothes and tossed them to Nate who was throwing everybody’s stuff into Mick’s car (in a tangled mess that Ava was pretty sure was going to be a nightmare to sort out later).

She was glad to see that she wasn’t the only one to hesitate once they were all down to their underwear, even Zari faltering with a moment of contemplation. But Sara was Sara, never one to back out at the edge of something and put on her best, overconfident leader voice and said “Right then team. Let’s go get hypothermia.” and everyone broke into laughter. Ava wasn’t sure who moved first but suddenly, they were all running. This was stupid, so so crazy and Ava almost stopped at the edge of the water but then Sara was laughing, eyes lit up with mirth as she sensed Ava’s hesitation and Ava felt a flash of their old competitiveness burst within her because she would be damned if she let Sara win here. So instead, she followed Wally - always the fastest - into the sea, wading in until she the water was pooled at her mid-thigh before she stopped, eyes snapping shut because holy shit that was cold. It was beyond cold, it’s like ice, so utterly freezing that Ava could feel her legs start to go numb, goosebumps breaking out across her back and shoulders and she clenched her teeth together in a futile attempt to stop them from chattering.

Now she was ready to back out, very very ready to retreat back to the car, back to the warmth of her sweatshirt and the apple crumble pie from the restaurant down the road from the beach. But before she could rush away, a warm hand curled around her wrist and Ava turned to see Sara, a little deeper in the water than she was so that it came up to her waist instead. She was shivering, muscles even tenser from the cold but she’d pulled her hair out of its ponytail before they’d run in and it was falling down past her shoulders, wavy and the wet tips darker while the rest shimmered in the setting sunlight. Her blue eyes flashed with mischief and before Ava could open her mouth to ask what predictably frustrating scheme she had devised, Sara had curled her hand tighter around Ava’s wrist and she yanked them both down under the water.

Ava’s shriek of surprise was cut off by salt water filling her mouth and it felt like shards of ice were in her lungs but after the initial moment of painful numbness, Ava realised that the silence was oddly calming. All she could hear was her own heart in her ears and the hum of the water, all she could feel was the cold and Sara’s hand still clamped tightly around her wrist and before she knew what she was doing, Ava blindly reached out with her free hand to find Sara’s, grabbing it tightly before Sara pulled them both up to the surface. As soon as they emerged, sounds filled Ava’s hearing - water splashing, piercing laughter, loud cursing, the crash of people tackling each other back underwater. She opened her eyes, blinking away the water and the first thing she saw was Sara, whose mascara was slightly smudged and she wore a wide beam that was all chattering teeth, bright eyes and Ava couldn’t help but notice the way her eyelashes had droplets of water hanging off them. Another breeze blew over the beach and Ava shivered - she could taste the salt in her mouth, her body was shaking incessantly from the cold but she felt so free that she couldn’t bring herself to care. She looked around, seeing Lily clamber onto Jax’s shoulders to watch the sun drift lower in the horizon, saw Nate, Nora, Ray and Mick in an elaborate splashing competition, watched Zari duck underwater again, vanish for a second before popping up and pushing her hair away from her face, a soft smile on her face as she said “Thanks guys. For this.”

Everyone quietened, waded through the water to stand a little nearer to her and Amaya was closest, wrapping both arms around Zari’s shoulders from behind and hugging her tightly.

“Of course Z,” she said quietly.

They stood there for a while, huddled close, trying to find warmth in each other despite the fact that their skin was colder than the water at this point. They watched the sun disappear, the sky an ombre of dark, navy blue shifting gradually to the lightest of yellows tinged along the horizon.

Wally eventually broke the silence. “So uh, can we get out now and all crowd into the biggest car and literally crank up the heating to full because I think hypothermia is a real threat right now. I’m numb in places I do not want to be numb, y’all.”

A rumble of chatter and laughter broke out among them and suddenly it was chaos as they all pushed and shoved, rushing to get out of the water. Ava was surprised when Sara’s hand found hers again, tugging her forward until they were both on dry land again. Once they all reached the cars, Nora popped the trunk of Ava’s car, pulling out the towels that were still there in case of spontaneous beach trips from the summer, everyone passing them around to dry off before they all stood at the back of Mick’s car and tried to determine which clothes were whose in the faint evening light.

“You know what, screw it,” said Sara decidedly. “Everyone just put something on and get warm, we can figure out what belongs to who later.”

They were all still shivering, so nobody really had any complaints with that, and there was a flurry of hands and limbs everywhere as they all reached in to grab some form of clothing to tug on. Ava managed to find her own track pants but ended up pulling on what she recognised as Nora’s t-shirt and Nate’s polar fleece before clambering into Mick’s car and helping Amaya and Mick push down the seats so the trunk and back seats became one big space for everyone to sit in.

“Yo Mick,” said Sara, holding up one hand. “Keys.” She had her socks on, was wearing her Berks but had given up trying to shove her still wet skin into tight fitted jeans. Ava blinked as she recognised her (well, Spencer’s) sweatshirt on Sara, large enough that it hung past her hips almost halfway down her thighs. Ava let out a quiet, huffed laugh. Something told her she was never getting that sweatshirt back.

Mick tossed the keys to Sara without question and she ducked into the driver’s seat to start the engine and crank up the heating. Somewhere outside, Jax, Lily, Nora and Ray were taking photos for Instagram, but soon they gave up and practically fell into the car and banged the trunk shut behind them as they ungracefully pulled on some clothes.

They all ended up in a huddled mess in Mick’s car, wet towels thrown into the passenger’s seat and some thick, fluffy blankets tossed around them to share. Ava found herself squished between Jax and Lily, until Sara shuffled over, kicked Jax’s leg and squeezed between Ava and Jax.

“It was fun right?” she said, smirking at Ava.

“Yes, it was fun,” Ava admitted with an eye roll. “But if I get sick this weekend, I’m blaming you.”

“Hey, at least it’s Thanksgiving next week so if we all come down with colds, we have the whole break to mope around at home,” said Zari with a wry grin and everyone half groaned, half laughed.

“Yeah, you’re lucky tomorrow’s the championship game otherwise I would kill you for making me do this during football season,” said Jax, poking Zari in the side.

Small, infrequent conversations quickly broke out between them all, one of which was deciding who was going to get food. Lily, Ray and Amaya lost paper scissors rock, much to their dismay, and Ava tossed Lily her keys so that they could at least take her car and avoid walking in the cold.

It was so warm and soft and comforting to be sitting there, huddled in a car on a clear, fall evening with people who Ava had genuinely come to enjoy spending time with more than anyone else. Sara had her legs tucked under Ava’s as she cuddled into Jax’s side, Zari was sitting next to Nate and had a wide smile on her face, wider than any smile she’d worn in the day so far, Nora was taking Snapchat videos, Mick fiddling with Jax’s bluetooth speaker to connect it to his phone and play some music -

It shocked Ava how long she’d spent convincing herself she didn’t like most of the people around her, using excuses that they were frustrating, reckless, never took anything seriously, irresponsible …

Now, Ava wondered whether all this time, she’d just been covering how much she actually wanted to get to know them, especially considering how much fun they always seemed to have, how close they were, how diverse and interesting and loyal. And it wasn’t like her own friends weren’t the same - Ava had known Gary and Nora since they were all six, they became friends in first grade and had been inseparable ever since, but that made them feel more like family than friends. While Kuasa and Lily were her more recent friends and Ava felt like she could tell them anything in the world, loved how different they all were, something about the way hanging out with Sara and the other ‘legends’ as they called themselves, seemed to have just opened everyone up from a shell none of them even knew they had. Most clearly of them all, Ava had seen Nora smile more, laugh more, was softer and more raw than Ava had ever seen her in the 11 years they’d known each other. But Lily, Gary and Kuasa had been different too and Ava was sure they would say the same about her, as though being with these people had brought out a better side in all of them that they didn’t even realise was there.

 

It took around twenty minutes for the others to return with the food, Amaya being the stern, organised one and passing a burger round for each person so there wasn’t mindless chaos in everyone trying to grab food. Ava was surprised that they seemed to have catered what they’d bought to everyone’s preferences, handing Zari a vegetarian burger (apparently the beach takeaway restaurant didn’t have any Halal options), giving Mick a burger with extra pickles, Ray had no tomatoes, Nate, Wally, Lily and Jax took regular ones, Nora a chicken burger, Sara a smaller size with jalapenos, and Ava one with no red onions.

“Everyone always has different tastes in this group,” said Amaya, catching Ava’s expression. “I asked Lily if you and Nora had any special preferences or allergies or something, seeing as we were being fussy for all of these guys anyway.” She shot the others an affectionate, teasing grin before settling down beside Zari.

“Fry?” asked Sara, offering the box to Ava. Ava smiled her thanks as she took one and the chatter in the car lulled as everyone was distracted with their food, the only sounds being the rustling of the paper bags and music filtering through Jax’s speaker.

This time, it was Zari who broke the comfortable silence between them all, her voice quiet and thick with emotion when she said “My parents want to send my little brother to boarding school.”

Amaya’s eyes immediately snapped over to Zari’s face and Ava felt Sara stiffen beside her.

“Who, Behrad?” Ray asked gently and Zari nodded.

“Yeah uh … now that he’s better and stuff, they have this weird thing that if he’s in Star City, he might get sick again or something and they want him to be far away where he has a ‘better chance to succeed’ or whatever.” She sniffed, placing her burger down on the bag in front of her and bringing her legs up to hug her knees to her chest. “It’s stupid but I get it. They were terrified he was gonna die last year, we all were and this is some weird way of them feeling like they’re protecting him. But -” Her voice cracked and she swore quietly, ducking her head down. Amaya stretched an arm around Zari’s shoulders and shuffled closer, leaning towards Zari to murmur “Z, it’s okay.”

Zari squeezed her eyes shut tightly, nodding before she spoke again and her voice was shaking when she did. “He’s been my favourite person from the moment he was born. He … he looks up to me so much, he’s the reason I try hard at school and wanna do well at soccer, he always asks me to tell him stories and runs into my room as soon as he gets home to tell me everything about his day and God , I love him so much.”

Ava felt Sara tense again and she let her eyes flicker from Zari to Sara, something jolting in her gut when she saw a heartbreaking expression on Sara’s face, a vague recognition and understanding and pain in her eyes and Ava had to stop herself from reaching for her when she realised.

Oh. Laurel. Everything Zari was saying sounded like it echoed Sara and Laurel’s relationship and as much as Ava knew Sara was doing better, there was no way she was completely okay yet and though Zari desperately needed this, Ava wasn’t sure if this was what Sara needed to hear either. She wanted to say something but it wasn’t the right time, didn’t want to take attention off Zari, so just leaned in a little, letting her arm rest against Sara’s and Sara seemed to relax just slightly at the touch.

Zari sucked in a sharp breath, curling her fingers tightly into her palms. “I know they just want what’s best for him but I just … I feel like my parents are being so selfish because they think they were scared when he got sick? So was I! And now he’s okay and he’s better and I was just starting to feel like everything was back to normal and now they wanna take him away from me and I just -” Her voice broke again and she turned, letting Amaya pull her into a tight hug as her shoulders began to shake.

“I’m so sorry Zari,” said Ray softly.

“We could kidnap him and he could take my room and I’ll move into my mom’s basement?” offered Nate and Zari let out a teary laugh into Amaya’s shoulder.

“It’ll be okay,” said Amaya gently, rubbing her hand up and down Zari’s arm. “I promise. I know it feels hopeless right now but whatever happens, you’re not losing Behrad, not the way you think you are.”

Suddenly, Sara’s warmth beside Ava was gone and she was crawling across the trunk of Mick’s car to sit in front of Amaya and Zari, reaching out to take Zari’s hand and tug her just slightly from Amaya’s arms so they could look at each other.

“Listen,” said Sara, her voice quiet and firm. “When we had to drop Laurel off at rehab, I thought my entire world was crashing down around me because I couldn’t imagine any scenario where I could be in any way okay without her, without being able to text her everyday and Skype her like, three times a week and have her visit every birthday and holiday and Christmas without fail.”

Both Lily and Nora’s eyes widened with shock and Ava realised that they didn’t know about Laurel. Their gazes darted to her, expecting to find the same astonishment on her face and they both furrowed their eyebrows into identical looks of surprise when they didn’t find it there.

“Tell you later,” Ava mouthed and they nodded, staying quiet.

“I’m sorry,” said Zari hoarsely. “I didn’t want to make you feel even like shit about Laurel by bringing this up, I know everything with her is even worse -”

“Hey,” interrupted Sara, eyes flashing with determination. “No. Absolutely not. Shut up. This is not a ‘who has it worse’, us trying to outdo each other with our respective sibling pain, dick measuring contest.”

A series of snorts and guffaws of laughter filled the car with sound, and even Zari cracked a grin. Sara winked at her before squeezing Zari’s hand tightly, eyes mellowing into both sympathy and understanding.

“Z, I’m not talking about Laurel to make you feel guilty,” she said gently. “I’m talking about her because I need you to know that Amaya’s right, that it’s gonna be okay. Ideal scenario, your parents realise they’re being kind of ridiculous and connecting two totally unrelated things and Behrad stays here in Star City. But if he does end up leaving, the world isn’t gonna fall apart just because he’s not here, I promise Z.”

Zari’s breath hitched and her eyes flickered to the roof of the car, blinking furiously.

“You’re already doing better than I was because you’re talking to us now,” said Sara. “Which means we can be there for you, no matter what, whatever you need because we know. I know how much you love him Z, because that’s how much I love Laurel and as much as that first month was absolute hell, if Behrad goes to boarding school, it’ll get easier eventually okay, I swear.”

“I know it’s not the same,” mumbled Zari.

“It doesn’t have to be the same,” Sara said firmly. “It hurts the same, that’s what counts and I know exactly how much you’re hurting right now.”

Zari didn’t reply, just tightened her grip on Sara’s hand and curled into Amaya a little more. Several heavy moments of silence hung in the car, everyone reluctantly returning to their food and wishing there was something they could do to ease Zari’s unease, to make her feel less lost and upset.

“You know,” said Ava eventually, and everyone’s eyes shifted to her. “My brother left to join the army when I was 13. I know it’s not the same either but Sara’s right in that it hurt the same. It was his choice, so at the time I wasn’t angry at my parents but at him , but that kind of made it hurt even more.”

Zari shuffled to sit upwards a little, moving her legs so she was sitting cross legged instead. “Why’d he go?” she asked, voice still a little hoarse.

“I don’t know,” admitted Ava with a small shrug. “He’s the eldest so he always kind of had the brunt of the rules and stuff, was sort of the guinea pig for our parents on how to successfully raise a kid. I think he needed a way to just get out of Star City and this was the only way he could see how. He wasn’t a bad kid either - he had his fair share of sneaking out and going to parties but he did well at school, was a basketball star, everyone liked him.”

“Spencer, right?” said Jax, leaning forward to look across at Ava. “I remember seeing him in a couple games. He was good.”

Ava smiled wryly. “Yeah, he was amazing. I adored him when I was little, thought he was the greatest person on the planet. I would’ve done anything for him, and I’m pretty sure he would’ve for me too. We were the closest out of all my siblings and I was so, so heartbroken when he left. I didn’t speak to him for weeks, even considered not coming to the airport to say goodbye because I was that mad.”

She shook her head, sighing a little shakily. She could still remember Spencer’s face when he told her, the earnestness as he said she would still see him heaps, he would still visit, the broken regret as she’d shoved him away and stormed off, tears streaming down her cheeks. “But the thing was … I was madder for reasons he didn’t even know about. It was an insane year for me - I was just hitting puberty, was gonna start high school soon, it was actually the first time I started to think about my sexuality … I needed him more than ever but he didn’t know that. What I’m saying is, your brother is the kid here, same as I was. I know you’re upset and I know you’re probably really angry too but don’t let Behrad see those things because he can’t control what’s going on anymore than you do. Chances are, he actually needs you more than you need him, he’s probably even more scared at the prospect of leaving and he really needs his sister to tell him it’s gonna be okay. Cause Sara and Amaya are right, it will be okay. You’ve got all of us to tell you that - make sure your brother has someone too.”

Zari’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully and she nodded slowly. “Thanks Ava. I … I actually really needed to hear that. I’ve been so caught up in how I felt about this … I don’t think I’ve even talked to Behrad about how freaked out he must be.”

“Meanwhile, you’ve got us always,” said Nate warmly, reaching out to squeeze Zari’s arm. Zari smiled gratefully, the tenseness disappearing from her shoulders and the frown seeming to ease from her face. Ava could see the slight colour appearing on her cheeks, a self consciousness of being the centre of attention, of having been so vulnerable and Sara seemed to catch it too because she let go of Zari’s hand, shuffled around to face Mick and said “Still got that deck of cards in your glovebox?”

It was easy for conversation to seamlessly shift from there, Sara clambering into the front of the car to retrieve the cards, everyone shifting closer into a circle, huddled under blankets and returning to the food scattered between them. Sara returned to her place beside Ava as she shuffled the cards, nudging Ava’s arm with her own.

“Thanks,” she said, so soft that only the two of them could hear.

“For what?” asked Ava.

Sara’s hands slowed in her shuffling of cards and she bit her bottom lip. “For what you said to Z about your brother. I don’t think anyone else could’ve made her see it like that and she really needed to.” She paused, gaze softening as it flitted to Ava, smile small and slightly sad. “And … for being there when you knew I was thinking about Laurel.”

Ava shook her head, a little surprised. “I didn’t do anything.”

“You didn’t need to,” said Sara, meeting Ava’s eyes for a moment before looking away, clearing her throat. “Alright, what’re we playing team?”

Ava let out a quiet, breath of a laugh, revelling for a moment in the warmth in her chest, in the sounds of laughter and playful arguing and teasing around her, in the still darkness of the beach surrounding them and the surprise of seeing how such a sad, vulnerable moment could turn so quickly into joy and happiness and comfort. And when Sara glanced over her shoulder to look at Ava again, her grin was infectious, so much so that Ava had to roll her eyes and look away because she felt a little ridiculous at how light hearted and free she felt in this moment.

For the first time in a very, very long time, Ava felt like she belonged here.

 


 

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

legends™
Active now

THURS 11:37pm:


Zari added Ava Sharpe to the chat.

Zari added Lily Stein to the chat.

Zari added Gary Green to the chat.

Zari added Nora Darhk to the chat.

Zari added Kuasa Jiwe to the chat.


Z:
Welcome to the insanity


Nora:
@Ray Palmer Why is your
nickname ‘Haircut’?


Pretty boy:
HAHAHAHAHAHHAHA


Heat wave:
Ohhhhh boy


You:
omg wait lemme find
the photos


Haircut:
NO

Ok well she’s gonna post them
no matter what I say so

Listen in 5th grade my mom
thought it’d be a good idea
to give me a haircut herself

Let’s just say my mom should
never take up a career in
hairdressing


Z:
I had one of these photos
as my lockscreen for like a
month they’re so funny


Kid flash:
@Zari Tomaz same ;’D


Haircut:
I hate all of you


Kuasa:
You should see the photos of
the afro Amaya’s mom made
her have when we were like 4


Z:
WHAT

I NEED THIS NOW


Animal whisperer:
K U A S A


Kuasa:
Brb lemme go find the photo
albums


Animal whisperer:
Do that and I’ll tell your dad
about the time you snuck out
past your curfew to go on a date
w Liam Quinn.

 

Kuasa:
… Yeah sorry Zari you’re gonna
have to go without those pics


You:
Sent 3 pictures.


Nora:
Oh

My

God


Haircut:
Oh wow I’d forgotten how
bad they were


Engineer extraordinaire:
I’m dying oh my god HAHAHA


Ava:
Okay well that’s one of the
greatest things I’ve ever seen
in my life


Lily:
When’s your 18th birthday
@Ray ? Jw ;’D


Haircut:
31st of February


Gary:
It really says something abt
how tired I am that I genuinely
thought that was his birthday


You:
go to bed gary

(@Lily Stein @Nora Darhk his
bday is on the 10th of march
just fyi)


Lily:
Fantastic


Haircut:
@Sara why do you hate me?


You:
<3 <3 <3

 


 

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

legends™
Active now

FRI 4:18pm:


Engineer extraordinaire:
i’m so nervous i think i’m gonna
puke you guys

i can’t


You:
hey

breathe

you guys have had the best
season SCHS has possibly
ever seen you’re gonna kick
ass tonight


Pretty boy:
And we’re all gonna be there
to cheer you on bro!


Animal whisperer:
Win or lose xxx


You:
preferably win

you guys are capable of
winning so u better do it


Haircut:
SARA DON’T PRESSURE HIM


You:
I’M A SPORTSPERSON WHAT DO
U EXPECT RAY


Engineer extraordinaire:
lmao tbh i think i needed that

wow

okay

last ever SCHS game


Lily:
Dad told me to tell you that he’ll
be cheering for ya @Jax


Z:
Omg bless Mr Stein


Engineer extraordinaire:
i just wanna make everyone
proud u know

my mom and my dad if he were
here to see this and @Lily your
dad for everything he’s done for
me and you guys too


You:
only person you need to
make proud is yourself jax

everyone else is proud of u
already, us more than anyone

just be a legend and play your
heart out, and like amaya said
we’ll all be there no matter what

 


 

Instagram


jeffersonjax posted 1 new photo:

Last home game as an SCHS wolf and making the playoffs was the best I could have ever asked for!! Not ready to say goodbye to this team or this jersey, but glad to at least have a few more games in it before it all comes to a close #SCHSwolves #fridaynightlights

Location: Star City High School

Liked by: lilssstein, saraalance, wallacewesttt , nathanielheywood, and 241 others.
Comments:
saraalance: TOLD YOU YOU’D KILL IT
saraalance: SO PROUD OF YOU <3 <3
lilssstein: YEAH JEFFERSON WOOOO
nathanielheywood: CONGRATS
jeffersonjax: @lilssstein dont call me jefferson lily I s2g just bc ur dad does it
lilssstein: :-)))))

Friday 18th November.

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Messenger
(Ava Sharpe)

Sara Lance
Active now

WED 10:04am:

Hey


hey


don’t u dare ask me something
abt homework right now ava
we’re on THANKSGIVING BREAK


literally day ONE of thanksgiving
break if you’re doing homework
i am about to come over & throw
it out your fucking window


No I’m not doing homework


But you can come over tonight
at like, 6:45 and stop me from
committing murder instead


what


I’m kidding

Sort of

Ugh

My aunt Susan is here for
Thanksgiving and I’m about
to either throw her or myself
off the roof I swear to god


yikes


that bad???


However bad you’re thinking,
multiply it by 10


It’ll be fine tomorrow bc her kids
are gonna be here and they’re
actually decent human beings


But it’s just Susan today and
ughhhhhhh


I’ve literally been hiding in my
room all day pretending to do
homework so I don’t have to see
them til dinner


how much were you kidding
about me coming over &
stopping you from committing
a severe felony?


The felony part? 100% kidding


Inviting you over? Only about
50% kidding


i could if you wanted


dad is working tonight so i don’t
have anywhere to be


I feel like it’s my duty to warn
you that it won’t be in any way
pleasant


Like, it’ll be all kinds of awkward
and Ali will be cracking jokes all
night to make mom mad and make
EVERYONE uncomfortable and then
Layla will probably make a bunch
of jabs at both of us to win points as
Susan’s favourite and my mom will
be awful and my dad will be trying
to diffuse the tension and I swear
it’ll be this big unbearable time


You really don’t have to Sara, I
was being overdramatic


your aunt susan


she’s the super conservative one,
right?


Yeah


homophobic?


Yeah


what time should i come over?

 




This is a bad idea , Ava thought, shaking her hands out nervously in an attempt to not pace back and forth in front of the doorway. She shouldn’t have dragged Sara into this - it was her problem, her family, and Sara shouldn’t have to sit through this family diner just because Ava didn’t think she could handle it alone. Also … as much as she admired Sara for normally being so open about her sexuality, so bold and unapologetically herself, and Ava had begun to think having her of all people here in the same room as her aunt Susan was just a recipe for disaster.

She’d just turned away, run a desperate hand through her hair and kind of convinced herself to stop freaking out, to go upstairs and breathe for a second, when the doorbell rang shrilly. Ava paused, snapping her eyes shut and letting out a long, anxious sigh as she turned the handle and tugged it open.

Sara looked amazing, unsurprisingly. Somehow, Sara was one of those people who was capable of pulling off literally any outfit effortlessly and making it look somewhat stylish, and now was a prime example. She wasn’t wearing anything more dressed up than Ava - ¾ length blue jeans, a black, loose fitted silk sleeveless top with a high enough cut that Susan (and Barbara) wouldn’t have a fit over it, a casual grey cardigan overtop and an elegant, camel coloured coat. She’d put on some light makeup and pulled her hair into two neat space buns on the top of her head. Her wide, greeting smile was so familiar and reassuring that Ava couldn’t help but pull her into a hug, embracing her tightly and Sara laughed softly as she squeezed her back as hello. “I take it it’s going well then?”

Ava snorted lightly as she pulled back and flashed Sara an already exhausted smirk, but before she could respond her dad had appeared. Robert gave Sara a warm smile as he took her coat and thanked her for coming. Ava leaned against the doorway to let Sara step inside, watched as she returned Robert’s smile and handed handed him a box of chocolates Ava hadn’t even noticed her carrying.

“Thank you for letting Ava invite me,” said Sara with her winning Lance beam.

“No problem, kid,” Robert replied with an easy grin, before moving towards the kitchen to check up on dinner. Ava brushed a hand across Sara’s arm, too brief to be mistaken for anything except an accident by anyone but Sara, and then tucked her hands firmly into her pockets, ignoring Sara’s raised eyebrow. “You ready?”

Something resembling surprise and amusement flashed across Sara’s face before she carefully schooled her expression into the picture of innocence, saying in an incredibly un-Sara like voice “I was born ready, Sharpe.” Sara paused for  a moment, her voice softening to something that couldn’t be overheard, also slipping her hands into her back pockets. “Are you ready?”

Ava snorted again, less sure this time, desperately trying to give herself the energy and courage to actually be ready for the nightmare that about to ensue because she really, really just wanted to grab her jacket from the coat rack, take Sara’s hand and rush out the front door before anybody could notice. But when she glanced up at Sara, Sara’s eyes were full of patience and understanding. So instead, Ava took a deep breath, steadying herself before murmuring “Yeah. I’m … I’m okay. I’m ready.”

Come on Sharpe, she thought, glancing over her shoulder down the hallway to where the rest of her family was either in the living room or the kitchen. You got this.

She nodded in the direction of the living room and Sara seemed to get it, started walking so that Ava had no choice but to snap her legs into action and follow. Barbara was in the kitchen finishing up dinner but came and said a curt hello when Robert informed her that Sara had arrived. Introductions were mostly brief - her parents already knew Sara - at least vaguely in the way they knew all the kids Ava had gone through the past eleven years of schooling with - as did Ali, and Layla didn’t seem to care, still annoyed that Ava had been allowed to invite a friend whilst her request to bring her boyfriend had been ignored (Ava just stopped herself from chuckling at the thought, because it was kind of hilarious just how much her dad despised Layla’s current guy).

Introductions with Susan, however, were another story altogether. Ava had to stop herself from speaking, biting her lip hard as her aunt’s disapproving gaze skimmed over Sara’s clothes before returning to her face and giving her a terse greeting, as if she already resented Sara for intruding on their precious family time. Ava felt her jaw tense - there was nothing about Sara that indicated anything that Susan had any real reason to dislike, yet Susan was clearly picking out flaws already. Ava curled her hands into fists behind her back, nostrils flaring when Susan just let out a quiet “Hm” and asked Sara how she knew Ava. It was clear what she was doing - she wanted to know if Sara was Ava’s girlfriend and it made Ava beyond mad. Ali must’ve sensed that because she leaned over, poking Ava’s leg as a distraction and murmuring “I was kinda hoping Sara would come wearing a pride flag as a cape.”

Ava had to turn her back to Susan as she choked on her laughter, slapping Ali’s arm as her sister also dissolved into giggles.

“Alison, behave yourself,” said Susan, arching an unimpressed eyebrow, and Ali struggled to compose herself, coughing a little as the quiet laughter stuck in her throat.

There was no way Sara hadn’t heard, she was definitely close enough, but she didn’t even bat an eyelid, just gave Susan a firm handshake (Ava suspected it was stronger than necessary because Susan’s eyes widened and she looked a little perturbed momentarily, and Ava and Ali both pointedly avoided looking at each other so they didn’t burst into laughter again). Only once Susan had gone to offer her help to Ava’s parents in the kitchen did Sara turn to face Ali and Ava, immediately throwing a couch cushion at Ali, a wide grin on her face as she said “Are you kidding me little Sharpe? Aren’t I supposed to be making a good impression and then you go off saying something like that?”

Ali winked as she jumped to her feet, shoved the cushion back at Sara and said “Buckle up, heaps more where that came from.”

“Don’t you fucking dare!” Ava hissed, attempting to trip Ali up but Ali just dodged and gave Ava a cocky grin as she disappeared down the hallway.

“She’s fun,” smirked Sara, tossing the cushion back to the couch.

“She’s a pain in my ass, that’s what she is,” muttered Ava. “I told her to take it easy tonight, Susan’s gonna make this painful enough without Ali throwing a wrench in it all with her provoking comments.”

“Hey,” said Sara, elbowing Ava gently. “Breathe. It’ll be fine.”

Ava exhaled shakily, wiping her sweaty hands on her jeans and offering Sara a small, apologetic smile. “I’m sorry for Ali. And … I dunno, everything that’s to come tonight.”

“Stop apologising,” said Sara sternly. “I knew what I was signing up for here. I’m just here to make this less agonising for you.”

Ava paused, eyes softening. “I appreciate this Sara. Seriously.”

Sara just shrugged, trademark smirk on her face. “What are friends for if not to help you through uncomfortable family dinners with horribly conservative relatives?”

Ava rolled her eyes, hip checking Sara before swerving around the coffee table and grabbing her phone from the mantlepiece to check it quickly before placing it back where it was and letting her eyes flicker over Sara’s outfit once more. “Thanks for uh … dressing … um …”

“Not gay?” finished Sara, grinning.

Ava rolled her eyes again but the smile she gave Sara was sheepish and guilty. “Yeah.”

“I know I’m the person who usually intentionally tries to make a situation worse, but I can be responsible sometimes you know,” said Sara, jaw dropping when Ava snorted. “Excuse me!” she added defensively.

“Sorry, it’s just you and responsible in the same sentence is a lot,” teased Ava, easily stepping away from Sara indignantly throwing a pillow in her direction like she had at Ali earlier. Before either of them could continue a conversation, Susan returned to the room with Barbara and Robert, each of them holding a glass of wine. Barbara and Susan were engaged in a conversation that Ava was certain she didn’t want to be a part of, and was immensely relieved when Robert told her and Sara to go help Ali set the table.

“Sara’s a guest, she shouldn’t have to do Ava’s chores,” said Susan briskly.

Ava smothered down the urge to snap something rude and just put on as joking of a smile as she could manage and said “Well I’m not leaving her here to get interrogated by you guys, so she can just admire Mom’s pride and joy of a renovated kitchen while me and Ali do all the incredibly difficult manual labour of setting the table.”

Robert coughed to disguise a laugh and Barbara shot Ava a warning look as Ava dragged Sara into the kitchen, huffing frustratedly. Ali caught sight of the expression on Ava’s face as they walked in and grimaced.

“Yeah Aves, you can do napkins and cutlery,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Pretty sure you would crush any glass or plate you held right now.”

Ava glared at her sister but didn’t argue, catching the stack of cloth napkins Ali tossed in her direction and carefully laying them out on the table while Sara surveyed the dining room, eyeing the photographs along the walls with a small smile and poking her head around the doorways to catch a glimpse of the rest of the house.

“Your house is gorgeous,” she announced as Ali straightened up the last of the chairs.

“It’s a lot, I know,” said Ava, flushing with slight embarrassment. The Sharpe home was the clearest indication that her family were wealthy. Robert was a doctor and owned his own separate clinic that Ava worked at every summer, so his wealth was unsurprising. Barbara was an elementary school teacher but came from a rich family, and the Sharpe family home as a result was hugely extravagant. They’d done several unnecessary remodelings and renovations over Ava’s lifetime, had built an enormous patio out back that included a spa, had installed a basketball hoop against the garage, built a pool house and two guest bedrooms (one upstairs, one down, though the downstairs one was currently a makeshift storage room of sorts for sports gear, old school books and clothes put aside to give away to charity). Ava had always been uncomfortable with how much her family - particularly her mother’s family - flaunted their wealth, especially when so many of her friends came from much more modest backgrounds. While Sara’s house was lovely, spacious, well kept and modern, Ava was very aware of how much larger and fancier her home was and found herself self conscious of what Sara might be thinking as she first took in the space.

“I like it,” said Sara, seeming to sense Ava’s unease. “It suits you guys.”

“You mean it suits Mom’s innate need to have the best house of all her siblings,” piped up Ali with a grin before she stuck her head out into the hallway and called “Table’s set Mom!”

Ava straightened her shoulders, flexing her hands anxiously before glancing over at Sara. “You sure you’re ready for this?”

Sara chuckled softly, rolled her eyes at Ava’s uncertainty and bumped their arms together. “Since when have Sara Lance and Ava Sharpe ever been afraid of a challenge, huh? We got this.”

 

Ava was shocked at how smoothly dinner went. Her parents and Susan monopolised most of the conversation, and when Susan did address Ava, Ali or Layla, thankfully it was to ask menial questions about school (or college, in Layla’s case). When she asked Ava what her plans were for college, Ava informed her aunt of her early applications to Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford and Brown, as well as a few non-Ivy League schools like Rutgers and NYU. Out of the corner of her eye, Ava saw Sara’s flicker over to her momentarily, clearly impressed at Ava’s choices in colleges. Ava wished they weren’t here , weren’t stuck at a dinner that felt more like an uncomfortable, awkward interrogation because this was one thing she and Sara hadn’t chatted about yet, and given how hard Sara worked at school these days, Ava was dying to know what her college plans were. She made a mental note to text Sara about it later, instead just staying quiet, returning her attention to her food and praying that the rest of the dinner would go without a hitch so it would be over soon.

In hindsight, Ava felt like she should’ve known it was too good to be true.

Robert was clearing the last of the dinner plates from the table while Barbara carefully placed desserts down in front of everyone when Susan decided it was time to interrogate Sara.

“So … Sara,” she said, her smile thin and shallow. “You and Ava know each other through school, was it?”

“That’s right,” said Sara. “We’re in the same friend group.”

“Ah. And … why are you here tonight?” The undertone of what she was asking was obvious, the reiteration of her implied question from earlier, the blatant are you Ava’s girlfriend, are you like Ava, are you gay too?, making Ava’s blood boil and skin itch uncomfortably. Sara didn’t even seem fazed though, just took it in her stride and offered Susan a winning smile.

“Well, my dad’s a captain for the Star City Police Department,” she said, looking Susan dead in the eye. “He’s working late tonight and Ava was kind enough to invite me over for dinner seeing as I didn’t have any plans.”

Susan seemed mildly impressed by Sara’s father’s profession (Ava guessed that was because the cops where she was from were not good hearted, justice-seeking, morally sound people like Quentin was), eyes darting to Ava to gauge how she was reacting. It took considerable effort for Ava to maintain her smiling poker face.

Susan nodded slowly, taking a long sip of wine before returning her almost predatory gaze on Sara and casually asking with a smile that made Ava want to throw something at her, “Where’s your mother tonight then, if your father’s working late?”

“My parents divorced when I was younger,” said Sara, not batting an eyelid. “I live with my dad, my mom is based in Chicago.”

Susan’s expression shifted to disapproval and it took everything Ava had not to physically drag Sara out of the room because God , it was not fair that she had to deal with this just because Ava had invited her over for moral support, this was ridiculous -

“What are your plans for college, then Sara?” asked Robert as he pulled up his chair and finally took his seat again. Ava shot her father a grateful look and he returned it with a small, knowing smile as Sara began talking.

“Actually, I’m applying for a lot of the same schools Ava has it turns out,” said Sara, shooting Ava a grin. “Both me and my friend Zari are aiming to play Ivy League soccer so we’re applying for all the best soccer teams those schools have to offer.”

Susan appeared impressed by that too and the tension dissipated in the room momentarily, much to Ava’s relief. It fell quiet for a few seconds as they all dug into their desserts - grilled peaches and vanilla ice cream (Robert’s specialty) - but any mediocum of calmness and civility Ava felt about the whole situation vanished when Susan broke the silence by asking “Do you have any siblings Sara?”

The way Sara tensed was barely noticeable, and Ava knew at least her mom, Layla and Susan wouldn’t have noticed, especially from where around the table they were sitting. She wouldn’t put it past her ever observant dad to pick up on something, or Ali, who at least knew Sara a little and might have been able to tell she was suddenly uncomfortable. But Sara didn’t hesitate, didn’t falter, just plastered on the fakest smile Ava had ever seen in her life and answered with “Yeah, actually. An older sister, Laurel - she’s Layla’s age. She’s currently studying Politics at Stanford, planning on getting into Law school.”

There was an edge to her voice that wasn’t there usually, again something that to anyone who didn’t know Sara, wouldn’t even be an issue. But for almost three months now, Ava had spent all day every day with Sara, studying with her, sitting in class with her, bickering sometimes but mostly just talking , laughing and joking at lunch time, hanging out after school with their friends, doing their history project, going to Jax’s football games - and Ava could tell that though Susan might not know it, she’d achieved her goal in finding one of Sara’s vulnerabilities.

Ava knew her mom was right there, knew Susan was too, but she didn’t care at this point and couldn’t stop herself from reaching out and squeezing Sara’s thigh under the table. Sara let out a soft, subtle exhale and relaxed just a fraction, her hand slipping under the table to curl around Ava’s and clutch it tightly in thanks. Ava glanced across the table, saw the question in Ali’s eyes and knew immediately her sister had noticed Sara’s reaction. She gave Ali a look which Ali understood, changing topic immediately by asking Susan about one of their cousins which quickly changed the track of conversation.

Dessert passed without any more drama, and again, Ava found herself falling into the trap of hoping that maybe, just maybe, that would be the only real uncomfortable encounter of the evening and that maybe they were actually going to get through the whole dinner without a scene. She was just beginning to daydream about slamming her bedroom door shut, getting into her pyjamas and watching an episode of Buffy in bed, when Layla excitedly brought up her friend Nia, who had recently gotten engaged and made Layla a bridesmaid.

Susan chuckled with a warmth she only ever exhibited towards Layla (and Spencer, when he was here) as she said “Well it’ll be you before you know it, honey!” She smiled at Barbara and Robert, her southern tang more pronounced with the term of endearment, before she added “You two better start preparin’ yourselves - in the next five or so years, you’ll be handing your little girls over to their future husbands!”

“Or wives,” said Ali automatically, and the entire room fell quiet.

In all honesty, Ava hadn’t even been listening closely enough to what Susan was saying to realise her purposeful use of ‘husbands’ to describe all their future partners, but as soon as Ali spoke, the realisation of what her sister had risked saying sunk in and she immediately sent a grateful smile in Ali’s direction (because they both knew Ali would be in a lot of trouble with Barbara later for this).

“Yes, well,” said Susan, pursing her lips into a tight line.”We’ll see. Ava, darling, I still think that when the right man comes along, you’ll snap out of this … unfortunate experimentation , let’s call it.”

If the silence could have gotten quieter, it did, and the temperature in the room seemed to drop to ice. Ava’s stomach churned and there was angry, fuming white noise that abruptly began buzzing in her ears, the words unfortunate experimentation ringing loudly in her mind. Though time seemed to slow down with the awful, weighted comment hanging in the air, in reality, it only took a second of silence before the tightly wound coil of still suspense snapped as Ali’s dessert fork clattered to her plate loudly and Robert exclaimed “Susan! That is unacceptable!” Even Barbara shifted in discomfort, Layla’s jaw hung open in shock. Sara, whose poker face had been perfect all evening, looked astonished, her eyes darting to Ava ready to back up any play, offer any form of comfort or support any argument Ava was ready to make.

Because Ava could see the fire in Sara’s eyes, could tell how much she wanted to fight on Ava’s behalf but still wanted to let Ava make that decision for herself, to not overstep. And part of Ava - the part that was still alight with rage and defiance, the part that couldn’t believe that those words could even come out of someone who was supposed to care about her’s mouth - did want to hold her own and call Susan out. But overshadowing the anger was shock, because Susan had made subtle digs before, had quietly expressed her disapproval, but never once had she said anything as blatantly homophobic as this and Ava felt a low, numb ache in her chest, the telltale burn of tears behind her eyelids.

So instead of arguing, she just glanced up at her father, and, in a voice that was much calmer and stiller than she expected, said quietly “Can I be excused?” All eyes flickered to her, surprised by her low, controlled voice. Ali’s eyes were wide with worry, Sara looked as though she was about to reach for Ava’s arm, hell, even Barbara of all people seemed as though she was about to say something. But Ava knew the minute any of them spoke, she was going to lose it so she looked pleadingly at her dad, already shuffling to the edge of her seat, ready to run.

Robert hadn’t even finished nodding before she was out of the room.

 


 

 

The moment Susan had spoken Sara felt the room freeze, and her eyes instantly shot to Ava as she started to reach out, not knowing what to do but desperate to do something. Because right now, she wanted nothing more than to wipe Susan’s self-righteous expression off her face, to tear her apart with words and demand to know how she could be so heartless and demeaning towards her own niece. But this was still Ava’s fight, and as much as Sara wanted to, she couldn’t interfere with that. She had to give Ava a chance to respond. But when Ava finally spoke, it was to Robert, and her voice was deathly quiet, didn’t even have a single trace of anger.

“Can I be excused?”

Ava’s words were much calmer than she expected, almost still, but Sara could see the glimmer of unshed tears in Ava’s eyes, and as Sara moved to reach out a hand to grasp Ava’s as tightly as she could - homophobic relatives be damned - Ava shuffled away, perched right on the edge of her seat.

Robert nodded and Ava bolted, exiting the room as fast as she possibly could, and Sara longed to curl her fingers around Ava’s wrist like she had the year before and tell her everything would work out. The room was silent apart from the faint echo of Ava’s chair legs scraping hastily across the floor and the subsequent slam of the back door, and Sara’s eyes flickered to meet Ali’s, whose were filled with identical concern. Ali barely had to nod before Sara was on her feet too, following Ava out into the garden.

She found Ava on the the patio out back that overlooked the excessively large garden space the Sharpes owned. She was leaning against the railing as if it was the only thing holding her up, her head was ducked down, eyes closed, breathing shaky and unsteady. Sara saw Ava stiffen at the sound of the door opening, but she made no attempt to move or open her eyes as Sara cautiously stepped closer, careful not to invade her personal space. She’d learned, after years of being friends with Mick and Zari, that as much as she wanted to wrap her arms around people and pull them close when they were hurting, it wasn’t always what they needed. And she hated that for all that they’d grown close over the last few months, she still didn’t know enough about Ava to know what she wanted or to understand how much space to give her. Sara swallowed, leaning back against a patch of the railing near Ava and whistling softly through her teeth. “Shit, Aves, I knew you guys were rich, but I didn’t realise you were loaded till now. Pretty sure my entire fucking house could fit in your backyard. Like, is that a goddamn pool house?”

Ava let a choked laugh fall from her lips and she finally looked up at Sara. Her eyes were red but they were dry, and the fierce anger burning there seemed to overshadow the need to cry over Susan’s hurtful comment. The anger didn’t surprise Sara. Why would it; Ava was Ava, not someone who’d let people just walk all over her without a second thought - but Sara was shocked by an intensity to Ava’s gaze that Sara hadn’t seen before. What did surprise Sara was Ava’s hesitance as she moved to step closer but stopped herself at the last minute, a flicker of shame and embarrassment in her expression before she looked away, eyes drifting back towards the railing.

Sara felt her own anger bubbling in her veins, and she wanted nothing more than to storm back into the house and demand to know why Susan thought it was okay to make Ava doubt her own sexuality, why she thought it was okay to make Ava doubt herself, and why Ava’s parents seemed okay to just let it happen. But that wasn’t what Ava needed right now - not that you know what Ava needs , she reminded herself with slight frustration.

Still not wanting to crowd Ava’s personal space, Sara took a step backwards before sitting down on the patio and then lying back to stare at the night sky. She had never really been able to see the stars well from her own home, but Ava lived in the fancier area of their neighbourhood. Here the houses were further apart and had bigger gardens with less street lamps and light pollution, and Sara could see the stars twinkling vibrantly above her. It took a moment, but eventually Ava also lay down on the patio, not touching but close enough that Sara could feel her body heat, a direct contrast to the cool November air.

“I’m sorry you have to go through that,” said Sara softly.

She still couldn’t see Ava’s face, but Sara heard her scoff lightly as she muttered “Pretty sure I should be saying that to you.” Sara rolled her eyes, even though she knew that Ava couldn’t see her, and resisted the urge to reach out and take Ava’s hand as an act of comfort and reassurance. They lay there in silence for a while, content to watch the sky darken as evening turned into night and more stars became visible. It was peaceful, and Sara almost didn’t want it to end, didn’t want either of them to burst the bubble of comfort they were in and bring them crashing back to the reality of why they were out here in the first place. She found herself relieved though, when Ava let out a long exhale and said teasingly, her voice considerably less shaky than before, “I had no idea you were even capable of being that polite and put together.”

Sara laughed softly and reached out to nudge Ava lightly with her elbow as she said “Yeah, well, there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

Ava hummed, barely audible before murmuring “Yeah, I guess there is, actually.”

Sara paused for a moment. “There’s a lot I don’t know about you too, I guess,” she said thoughtfully, a wry smile crossing her face. “We never really made an effort to properly get to know each other when we were rivals, and then we kind of skipped the ‘hi, nice to meet you’ part of the friendship.”

She tried to ignore the burst of warmth in her chest as she mentioned their friendship , but when Ava gave let slip a pleased chuckle she gave up, letting her lips curve upwards into a grin. It was still disconcerting, this sudden shift in their relationship, and calling Ava her friend and meaning it still felt foreign even if it did make her feel dumb and giddy in a way that would’ve been embarrassing had she not caught Ava with a similar expression on her face every time Sara deliberately let the word slip from her lips. She rolled over onto her stomach, propping her head up on her hands as she grinned down at Ava, who was still lying on her back.

“Okay then,” she said decidedly. “20 questions. That’s a good way to get to know people, right?”

Even in the dim glow of the patio lights, Sara saw the way Ava rolled her eyes and chuckled “When you’re in grade school, sure.”

Sara glared at her lightly. “You wanna go back in there Sharpe? Or do you want to play this stupid icebreaker with me?”

She heard Ava sigh exasperatedly and knew she wasn’t going to refuse, especially as a small smile began to creep onto her face, making her seem more relaxed than she had been all evening.

“Okay,” she said, huffing, “but … no questions. We just … I dunno, tell each other things we think the other person doesn’t know, and if they do know it, it doesn’t count. Up to twenty, first person to run out of things loses.”

Sara snorted and adjusted her position so the patio was no longer digging into her hips. “Of course you had to make this into a competition.”

“It’s us,” Ava replied instantly with a shrug and a sly smirk. “Did you expect anything else?”

Sara swore under her breath but the unwavering, affectionate grin on her face gave her away, and she stole a glance in Ava’s direction to find Ava’s eyes sparkling with amusement. Even though she seemed far more relaxed than she had been earlier, her muscles were still tense and she clearly hadn’t forgotten what was still waiting for them inside the house. Sara briefly thought again about reaching out to take her hand, but instead bit her lip and gave Ava’s leg a soft nudge with one knee. “Okay, well prompt me or something, I can’t just think of something on the spot.”

Ava rolled her eyes, falling silent for a second to think before saying “Tell …. tell me something you can’t do.”

Sara felt her eyebrows creep up towards her hairline and couldn’t help her quiet noise of surprise. Ava smirked at her again, warmer and softer this time, and Sara hummed thoughtfully for a moment before she replied. “Play any sport other than soccer.”

A flash of surprise crossed Ava’s face and Sara grinned, happy to have caught her out. Ava pushed herself up onto her elbows, leaning closer into Sara’s space “Wait, really?”

Sara nodded, shrugging slightly. “Yeah. I mean, I can do some martial arts, but other sports? No chance. Laurel played softball in grade school and lacrosse for a bit in high school and she tried to teach me but I have terrible hand eye coordination. Like … you know all the games where you have to hit a ball with a bat or a racket or something? Forget it, no way. I can never judge when to swing the bat and I never hit the ball and it’s just an all round bad time.” She smiled wryly, gave Ava another shrug. “I started playing soccer when I was six, and never looked back.”

Ava looked at her for a long moment, as if she was filing the information away for later before she said with a quiet chuckle “I bet you’d be good at basketball, you know.”

“Aves, I’m so tiny,” Sara laughed softly, leaning onto her left side so she had a hand free to poke Ava in the stomach teasingly.

Ava squirmed away with laughter in her eyes, and Sara couldn’t help but notice that this was the happiest and least on edge she’d looked all evening.

“You don’t have to be tall to play basketball,” said Ava insistently. “You need the short players to make things interesting.”

Sara tilted her head in Ava’s direction in acknowledgement before rolling back over and lying back down on her back in the middle of the patio, staring up at the sky, lost in thought. “Your turn then. Tell me why you stopped playing basketball.”

Sara heard Ava’s breath hitch and rolled over, concerned, watching as Ava moved her elbows so she too was lying on her back, next to Sara but carefully avoiding her eye. Putting Ava back on edge was the exact opposite of what Sara was trying to do, and she bit her lip. “Ava? You don’t have to - ”

“No, don’t,” Ava murmured quietly, still avoiding her eye. “I will. It’s not … I uh … ” She shook her head, reaching up to pinch the bridge of her nose. “I don’t mind telling you.” There was a slight emphasis on the final word and Sara’s stomach flipped at the undercurrent of what that meant - that Ava wouldn’t necessarily tell anyone else, that Sara was special somehow. A beat of silence fell between them, before Ava let out a breath, and said quietly “I was scared.”

She was … what? Sara frowned, stopped herself from scoffing a little at how strange it sounded and instead just asked, as unobtrusively as possible, “Of making it big?”

Ava shook her head again, and Sara couldn’t see her face, but her voice sounded slightly hoarse as she started “No, no, not of that. I always knew I was good, especially spending my whole life around Dad and Spencer. Seeing Spence do so well at it in high school made me excited to get there, to make him proud, you know? I would’ve loved to have ended up playing college ball. But … when I was thirteen, in eighth grade, I … I first discovered being gay was a thing through schoolyard gossip and stuff. And it was through all the stereotypes - girls who were super butch and were really muscly and played sport, or who didn’t like dresses or weren’t super girly, any girl who didn’t fit in somehow would get bullied and laughed at, would get called a lesbian as an insult when the teachers weren’t listening. I’d spent my whole life raised by a Christian mom who never outwardly said being gay was bad, but hinted that anything other than the norm was wrong. And that, coupled with everything I heard about at school … it made me scared that maybe that was me. And even more than that, I think I was scared of people thinking that was me, of my family maybe finding out. So when the season was over I told dad I was quitting basketball. When he asked why, I couldn’t exactly tell him I was scared it was making me gay or something, so instead I just lied and said I wanted to focus on grades more in high school. He didn’t look like he believed me, but he supported me anyway.”

Ava finally rolled over onto her side so Sara could see her as she finished speaking. “That’s when I made Nora teach me how to do makeup, let mom buy me a few skirts and dresses to wear at birthdays and thanksgivings, grew my hair out past my collarbones … just ... tried to become someone people wouldn’t notice.” Her eyes flickered up to Sara’s hesitantly, offered Sara a sad, resigned smile that made Sara’s heart sink into her stomach. She hoped it was dark enough that Ava couldn’t see the pity in her eyes, because Ava of all people would loathe being pitied right now. But Sara’s heart ached, she couldn’t quite manage to pull her emotions together because Ava deserved so much better. She’d thought that everything she’d had to deal with her mom’s disapproval last year was the height of unfair in trying to deal with her sexuality, had only been proved wrong tonight when she’d encountered Susan, but now … this was something else. Ava hadn’t come out until she was 16. That meant there had been three long, lonely, terrified years where Ava had been trying to come to terms with being gay after being conditioned her entire life to believe it was wrong, after listening to the horrible names and discriminatory slurs her classmates threw around during lunch.

This time, Sara couldn’t stop herself from slipping her hand into Ava’s, giving it a tight squeeze and not letting go as she ran her thumb softly across Ava’s knuckles. She couldn’t even think of a coherent response, because this had suddenly become so much more than some breezy game they were playing to pass time and distract themselves from having to go back inside. Sara could see the pain in Ava’s eyes at the memory, and even worse , could see the acceptance and resignation, as if it was now just a part of who she was. Sara sighed. This could have so, so easily been her if her parents had been different, or if she hadn’t had someone like Laurel who she could tell so early on. She cleared her throat quietly, swallowing the lump in her that had formed there as Ava had spoken, before she asked in a soft voice “What about now? Now you know? You could try out for the team this year.”

Ava shook her head, looking Sara in the eyes despite the darkness. Her voice was quiet when she spoke, calm in a way that Sara couldn’t even fathom.

“Nah,” Ava said with a shrug. “As much as buckling down at school started off as an excuse for quitting basketball, it really did become a part of who I was quicker than I expected. I don’t wanna be valedictorian just to keep up the act, not anymore.” She was telling the truth, Sara could see that, but she could also hear the unmistakable longing and regret in her voice, could imagine what it would feel like if she had to give up soccer after so many years of it becoming an integral part of who she was. So she squeezed Ava’s hand again and murmured softly “Maybe … maybe you can teach me then.”

Ava smiled, rolling onto her front and propping herself up on her elbows to mirror Sara’s position from earlier. “Yeah,” she murmured with a shy smile. “I’d like that.” She swallowed, words barely a whisper when she added, in a slightly pleading tone “Tell me something else.”

Sara nodded, immediately understanding. Talking about Ava coming to terms with her sexuality was far too similar to what had just happened inside with Susan, and it was too much right now. The conversation quickly dissolved into little discussions about things they didn’t know about each other, nothing too heavy or emotional, and Sara once again found herself surprised by just how much there was to Ava that she’d never found out about over the years due to the distance between them. She learned that Ava knew how to surf, and that she was closest to Spencer out of all of her siblings, although the more time that passed with Spencer away, she was quickly becoming closer to Ali instead. She learned that Ava was the biggest Harry Potter fan (turned out they both were), that she used to drive her parents mad by sitting in her room and reading whilst she was supposed to be getting ready for school, that she was a fantastic cook, and that she once temporarily dyed her hair blue during the summer to freak her mom out. In return, Sara told Ava that she could dance (trying not to feel overly smug at the way Ava's jaw dropped at the revelation), that she still knew some Arabic from what Nyssa had taught her while they’d been dating, that the only thing she knew how to cook was pasta and pancakes because both she and her dad were useless at cooking, and Laurel was the one who always took care of that.

 

Neither of them realised just how much time had passed until the back door opened and Ali stepped tentatively out onto the patio, giving them both a long look of both fondness and apprehension, before she moved to sit next to where they both lay. Ava was still laughing, apparently not having seen her sister, and Sara slapped her gently on the arm, grinning and insisting “Shut up, I was four!” before she poked Ava in the arm and gestured towards Ali.

Ali smiled softly as Ava sat up, and then gave Ava’s shoulder a gentle nudge with her own “You okay?”

Ava nodded, reaching out a hand to pull Sara up too as she answered “Yeah, I’m … I’m alright.” She bit her lip, sighing heavily as the reality of everything she and Sara had managed to escape from seemed to come rushing back in an instant. “You didn’t have to do that Al,” she whispered. “Really. You’re gonna be in so much trouble later, and all because of me.”

Ali snorted, rolling her eyes as she said jokingly “I’m always in so much trouble Aves, Mom wasn’t gonna wait that long before she dragged me across the coals.” When Ava’s frown deepened instead of lessening Ali sighed, leaning back on her arms, smile still on her face as she continued “Besides, it wasn’t just for you - do you know how long I’ve been waiting to see that smug ‘I’m too good for you’  smile wiped off Susan’s face? I wasn’t just gonna let that opportunity pass me by.”

Finally, the smile returned to Ava’s face and she gave Ali’s leg a light, grateful squeeze. Sara leaned back on her hands to mirror Ali’s position as she asked “So you finally escaped too lil’ Sharpe?”

Ali sighed again, and Sara initially thought it was due to the nickname but then Ali’s expression fell further as she scrunched her nose slightly in disgust. “Not really. I’m just a messenger. Dad’s giving you guys an out, said that you can take the car to drop Sara off, go on a detour and take a ridiculous amount of time to get home and then come back in through the back door and go to bed. I meanwhile, am going to have to deal with McBitch Umbridge for like, forty-five minutes before I can retreat to bed or something. You don’t deserve me, honestly, the things I do for you.”

Sara laughed at the indignance and pure cockiness in Ali’s voice while Ava just rolled her eyes and shoved her sister lightly. But any tension in Ava’s shoulders just disappeared with the knowledge that she didn’t have to go back inside, that she didn’t have to face Susan (or Barbara) tonight and both Sara and Ali caught the way she exhaled softly in relief.

“Here,” said Ali, tossing Ava the keys. “Layla was all mad that Dad was making her give up the car, which is dumb because where the hell is she gonna go at this hour now that they’ve given her a curfew so she’s not at her boyfriend’s all night, you know?”

“It’s because she’s Layla, ” muttered Ava darkly, catching the keys effortlessly and glancing over at Sara. “You good to go?”

Honestly, Sara wasn’t. She liked talking to Ava, liked being out here in the cold Autumn air, laughing and telling stories with the fairy lights strung up around the patio, with the enormous garden before them and the swing that hung from the huge tree in the middle of the yard, and the odd comfort and familiarity they’d begun to find with each other. But she nodded, offered Ava a smile as she said “Yeah, whenever you are.”

Ava frowned suddenly, eyes flashing with discomfort. “Shit. Your coat’s inside.” She looked so terrified at the prospect of having to go back and walk through the living room, risk confrontation with any of her family, that Sara just shook her head, bumping her knee against Ava’s.

“Leave it,” she said. “I’ll swing by and get it sometime soon, or you can bring it with you next time you come over to do History. Let’s just get out of here.”

Ava nodded, overwhelming gratitude in her eyes. Sara pulled herself to her feet, sharing a look with Ava at Ali’s overdramatic, exasperated huff of protest, before she grinned and ruffled Ali’s carefully arranged hair, making the younger Sharpe yelp and swat Sara’s hands away.

“Come on, I did my hair like this purposefully to aggravate Aunt Su!” she complained, trying to fix it in the reflection of the back door despite it being almost completely condensated over.

“Leave it Al,” said Ava, kicking Ali’s food lightly. “Come on.”

Ali blinked. “Where are we going?”

Sara exchanged a smirk with Ava before reaching out to her hand to offer it to Ali. “What, you thought we were gonna leave you here?”

A mischievous smile crossed Ali’s face and she took Sara’s hand to haul herself up. “Mom will be mad that Susan won’t have anyone to pick on,” she reminded Ava.

Ava shrugged, twirling her keys around her finger and nodding towards the car. “She’ll let it slide because of what Susan said to me, trust me. Even if Mom agrees with it, she knows it was wrong and fucked up, so I just have to claim that I needed you as ‘moral support’ and voila, grounding avoided.”

Sara hummed, arching an eyebrow. “I think I’m a bad influence on you Aves.”

Ava glanced back at her, flashing her a surprisingly sincere smile given all their joking and teasing. “Yeah well,” she said, with an only half-kidding shrug of her shoulders, “I’m not complaining.”

Ali, who had raced to the car, hissed at Ava to open the door so they could get out of the cold. Before Sara could answer, Ava hurried down the patio steps and to the driveway, trusting Sara to follow as she made her way to the car. Sara bit her bottom lip, slipping into the passenger’s seat and sending Ava a barely there, affectionate, and half surprised grin as Ava’s eyes flickered to her to make sure she was set, seatbelt on and all.

“Not complaining either,” she murmured, soft enough that Ali wouldn’t hear. “Turns out, being Ava Sharpe’s friend isn’t as bad as 14 year old me would have thought.”

To that, Ava just laughed.

 

 


 

 

Sara Lance

iMessage
(Ava Sharpe)
Thursday


9:49am:
Hey


9:49am:
Thank you (and sorry) again
for yesterday


9:49am:
You have no idea how much
I appreciate it, I wouldn’t
have managed without you


10:37am:
firstly, apologies for the late
reply i only just woke up


10:37am:
you don’t need to apologise
or thank me aves, it was
actually pretty fun until your
aunt revealed her gross raging
blatant homophobia


10:38am:
Yeah we all have our flaws


10:39am:
i think ali put it pretty nicely
with the ‘mcbitch umbridge’
thing that was pretty accurate


10:40am:
I mean she wasn’t wrong


10:40am:
Hey, by the way


10:40am:
Are you and your dad, idk
gonna be okay today? With
Laurel not here? The holidays
can’t be an easy time for you
guys this year. Do you need
anything?


10:43am:
wow


10:43am:
aves that’s really sweet


10:43am:
we’re okay


10:43am:
just gonna do it all super
lowkey this year, you know?


10:43am:
managed to get a hold of that
super nice receptionist jonah
who’s gonna give us an hour or
so to call laurel in the afternoon


10:44am:
Oh, that’s so cool!


10:44am:
honestly bless his soul tbh


10:44am:
thank you though xx seriously


10:44am:
I owe you anyway X


10:45am:
okay this owing thing is ridiculous
aves, this is gonna be our deal:


10:45am:
you need me, i’m there, got it?


10:45am:
Ditto then


10:46am:
glad we got that sussed


10:46am:
speaking of, you gonna want
to escape at all after the big
grand sharpe family lunch?


10:46am:
you’re welcome to come over


10:47am:
Depending on how it goes
I’ll let you know?


10:47am:
sounds good


10:59am:
hey aves?


10:59am:
Yeah?


11:00am:
happy thanksgiving


11:00am:
Happy Thanksgiving Sara X

Chapter Text

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

legends™
Active now

THURS 4:18pm:

You:
yo

dad’s working late tonight

i know thanksgiving break was
kinda tough on a few of us bc
the whole ‘family bonding’ thing
isn’t always easy and fun

and we’ll all be swamped studying
for midterms from next week

so was thinking maybe a movie
night tonight might be fun

quite a few of us have our study
period first tomorrow so gives us
the opportunity to sleep in and all

 

Z:
Keen


Animal whisperer:
Yes please! Today was so long ugh
a movie night would be perfect

You:
it’s like i can read ur mind ;-)


Engineer extraordinaire:
yeah nah if anyone is weirdly psychically
or mystically connected somehow it’d
be amaya and @Zari

but yeah def up for movies tonight! might
be late tho, me and the other football
boys are meeting up to give coach a thank
you present and stuff


Pretty boy:
Jax has a point they even have those cute
matching necklaces they picked up at
that flea market last year


Z:
Cool so now that we’ve established that
amaya and I are telepathically linked

Movie night

@Nate I know ur not doing anything
tonight you told me at lunch so I’m
putting you down as a yes


Haircut:
I’ll come to movie night! I don’t have
study period first though so I’ll leave
a bit earlier? If anyone else needs to
come home earlier I can give them a
ride :-)


Kid flash:
WILL ALSO BE LATE BC I HAVE TRACK
PRACTICE SOZ BUT WILL BE THERE

CAN WE WATCH THE INCREDIBLES

:D :D :D


Heat Wave:
Who tf gave wally coffee


Z:
Oh no


Kid flash:
it was just a small cup it’s fine


Ava:
Why don’t we give Wally coffee?

 


You:
HA

so this insane kid’s metabolism
burns through it so quick that he
has like, an hour of hyperactivity
and then he crashes for like 3 hrs
afterwards

I 90% guarantee u he will spend
the night on my couch bc he will
crash halfway through movie night


Kid flash:

i feel attacked


Kuasa:
I’m down for tonight

@Sara want me to bring anything?


You:
everyone just bring one or two
snack things bc there’s a fuck
tonne of us and we all eat heaps

should we say 6:30? we can order
pizza too

@Mick @Lily @Nora @Gary @Ava
y’all keen or nah? If you’re busy
that’s chill too


Heat wave:
Yeah I’ll come


Lily:
Yeah keen will just have to leave early
w Ray tho


Nora:
I’ll come around 8:30ish if that’s
okay?

Gary:
i’ll come wooo i will just need a
ride rip


Nora:
@Gary I gotcha

@Sara Ava just went out w her dad
and she doesn’t have data you probs
need to text her


You:
on it!

 


 

Ava Sharpe

iMessage
(Sara Lance)
Thursday


4:21pm:
group movie night at mine
tonight


4:21pm:
you coming? xx


4:26pm:
What time? X


4:26pm:
people are gonna start coming
at like 6 but whenever works
for you is ok :-)


4:27pm:
That should be fine


4:27pm:
Are we having dinner at yours?


4:27pm:
yeah probs just pizza


4:27pm:
I’ll either be on time or dad will drop
me a bit early, is that okay?


4:28pm:
We’re coming straight from his clinic


4:28pm:
yeah ofc that’s fine


4:28pm:
you chill w watching the
incredibles first?


4:29pm:
As long as we can agree that
Elastigirl was very very bi


4:29pm:
oh my god


4:29pm:
HAHAHAHAHAH


4:29pm:
you are my FAVOURITE omg


4:29pm:
you just changed my entire
life holy sHIT


4:30pm:
;’-D ;’-D


4:30pm:
I gtg help dad


4:30pm
See you at six-ish X

 


 

There was no reason Ava should have felt so nervous about going round Sara’s house. She’d come over so many times already this year that by now, it felt like second nature. She knew where the glasses and mugs were kept in the kitchen, knew how to wiggle the weird latch on the front door to unlock it, was aware of the third step from the top of the staircase that creaked loudly, was pretty sure she’d be able to navigate around the house blindfolded.

So Sara’s house was familiar. No reason to be nervous.

And it wasn’t like she hadn’t hung out with everyone like this before - after that night at the beach, the small, slightly tense divide that had still existed between them had vanished. Tonight would be one of the rare instances in which everyone was all free, but regardless, Ava had spent enough time by now with both Sara’s and her own friends together that she wasn’t nervous to hang out with them. Nothing about this situation warranted any reason for her to be on edge, but here she was, taking a second to catch her breath outside of Sara’s door because ever since Thanksgiving, ever since Susan’s comment , she’d spiraled just a little, getting flashes of insecurity about her place in Star City, among her friends, at SCHS, within her family, even with Sara.  While Ava was very, very aware of how unfounded her anxieties were, she couldn’t find a way to dispel them and she figured this was the way in which all her stress and exhaustion over the year so far was manifesting.

Something else had changed since Thanksgiving too. Ava had noticed a definitive  shift in her relationship with Sara. (It wasn’t like things had changed abruptly between them before - they had, many times over the last year - but this was something else.) There was a sudden, new intimacy in their friendship, a trust that Ava hadn’t realised wasn’t there yet, an unspoken understanding and closeness that Ava had only experienced a few times in her life with the people she trusted the most - Spencer, Ali, Nora and Gary. And somehow, with Sara, it felt different than all those other relationships, and not knowing what exactly this meant had Ava on edge for other reasons entirely.

She took a deep breath, firmly telling herself to get a grip as she knocked on Sara's front door and tried to push those thoughts out of her head. It swung open almost instantly to reveal Sara, smiling widely and taking the chips from her hand before curling her fingers around Ava’s wrist and pulling her into the house before Ava had any time to have second thoughts. Nothing had changed inside, but Ava still couldn’t stop her gaze from drifting to the photos on the walls, momentarily distracted until she heard Sara ask “Hey, you okay?”

Ava startled a little, eyes flickering over her shoulder as she offered Sara a small smile. “Yeah,” she said, flushing a little sheepishly. “Sorry. Just a bit out of it.”

Sara raised an eyebrow, eyes flashing with concern. “Is everything alright?”

Ava nodded, turning to face Sara and toeing off her shoes when she noticed the messy, haphazard existing pile at the door. “Yeah, just been a long week. Getting stressed about midterms and all.”  

Sara didn’t look like she entirely believed her, but let it slide. “You’ll be fine Aves,” she said, her voice warm and comforting. “Just text me if you wanna come over and study if you’re stressing heaps, okay?”

It took Ava a second to realise that Sara hadn’t invalidated Ava’s anxieties, hadn’t told Ava that she was ‘smart enough not to worry’ or ‘worked hard and would do fine in the exams’ or ‘was stressing about nothing’ or to ‘not be stupid, you’ll do great’. Sara, without even blinking, had offered to help Ava destress about school in the one tried and tested method Ava had - actually doing the work. Ava didn’t know when Sara had learned this about her, when she’d suddenly gotten to know Ava well enough that she understood exactly what Ava needed to hear, but somehow here they were.

“Okay,” said Ava, swallowing back the numerous questions nagging in her mind.

“Good,” Sara replied, smiling brightly at Ava and reclaiming her grasp on Ava’s arm to tug her into the living room. Sara dropped the snacks Ava had brought onto the quickly growing pile on the coffee table before weaving through the already small crowd gathered in the living room to head to the kitchen.

“You want a drink Aves?” she asked, hovering in the doorway.

“You still have that really nice tea that you think tastes weird?” smirked Ava, laughing when Sara flipped her off.

“Shut up, it does taste weird, you’re insane for liking it!”

“Um, why didn’t you offer me a drink when I showed up?” demanded Zari. “Where’s my good hostess treatment?”

“You know your way around this kitchen blindfolded Z,” said Sara, rolling her eyes. “Get your own drink.”

Ava didn’t speak up about the fact that she knew exactly where the box of tea in question was kept, let alone everything else in the kitchen. Zari sighed overdramatically before flopping down between Amaya and Ray onto one of the European pillows on the floor. The room was already alive with energy despite it still being 15 or so minutes before 6 o clock. A few of their friends were scattered throughout the room; other than Amaya, Zari and Ray, Lily, Nate and Wally were perched on various armchairs and cushions, all listening and pitching in to and Lily and Nate’s debate over who from The Incredibles was the most powerful superhero. Ava sank down into the couch, grinning as she watched Lily completely shut down why literally every other character was more useful and powerful than Mr Incredible and his ‘ridiculously boring super strength’. Sara appeared beside her after a couple of minutes, handing her a mug of tea that smelt like roses before dragging a beanbag across the floor until it sat next to Amaya and in front of Ava’s legs, flopping down onto it just as the doorbell rang.

Sara groaned and threw her arm over her eyes. “Someone else can get it, my feet are tired.”

Everyone laughed. Ava resisted the urge to roll her eyes and thought about getting up, but thankfully Wally beat her to it, and immediately, Kuasa, Jax and Mick piled into the room which abruptly filled with the easy chatter and laughter that had become so familiar to Ava. Jax spied Sara on the beanbag and shook his head vehemently, crossing the room and kicking Sara’s ankle with his foot.

“Uh uh,” he said. “Come on Lance. You know the beanbag’s mine. I have a bad back from -”

“From football, yeah yeah, I know,” whined Sara, pouting at Jax. “What if I have a bad back from soccer, huh? What about that?”

“My season’s over, yours hasn’t even started,” Jax shot back, folding his arms. “Come on , there’s room on the couch.”  Sara grumbled disgruntledly, making a big, dramatic flourish of hauling herself out of the beanbag and glaring at Jax when he sent her a cheeky grin. But she just moved towards the couch and bumped Ava’s knee with her own, smiling a little softer when she said “Shove a little, will ya?” Ava went to shuffle so that Sara could squeeze in between her and Nate, but realised quickly that Sara had moved to the other side of the couch so she would end up sandwiched between Ava and the armrest instead. Before Ava could pause to wonder why Sara would choose sitting only next to her rather than with her and Nate, Sara had already plopped down beside her, forcing Ava to shuffle towards Nate to make room. Sara pulled her legs up from the floor and draped them over Ava’s lap, tucking her feet under Nate’s thighs to keep them warm and smirking at him when he sent her an affronted look.

“You know blankets exist?” he said dryly.

Sara just shrugged, squeaking a little when Nate tossed a thick, fluffy grey blanket into her face and poking Ava in the arm when she burst out laughing.

“Why is everyone ganging up on me tonight?” Sara demanded. “This is my house.”

“Like you said,” Zari answered through a mouthful of popcorn (to which Amaya wrinkled her nose), “we know this place inside out. Second home ‘n all. We’re allowed to give you shit here.”

Sara just huffed, spreading out the blanket over her, Ava and Nate and reaching across Ava to snatch a pillow from Jax’s lap to rest her head on. They all agreed to start the movie without Nora and Gary who were coming in a couple of hours and everyone immediately grabbed their favourite snacks from the coffee table to get the rustling of opening everything over before the movie began. As Sara relaxed onto the couch and Wally jumped up again to switch off the lights, her gaze flit to Ava momentarily, leaning in a little closer and murmured, quiet enough so nobody else would hear “Is this okay? Do you want me to move my legs or anything?”

“It’s fine,” assured Ava quickly, smiling her thanks when Sara handed her her cup of tea from the coffee table beside the couch.

It was fine. Ava was now used to how much more physical Sara and all her friends were from her own friend group. They’d all done the 5 Love Languages test online at lunch on Tuesday and physical touch had been one of Sara’s top two. This Ava had seen (and experienced) clearly over the recent months, the way Sara’s affection came in the form of nudges, hip bumps, hand squeezes, grounding touches, playful kicks and pokes and light, half hearted, usually indignant punches to the arm.

Ava wasn’t usually one to like people in her personal space, but somehow, with Sara it was different (which in itself seemed to be a common thread in their friendship). For whatever, inexplicable reason, Sara’s touch wasn’t overwhelming and uncomfortable the way Ava found even Nora’s or Gary’s or Ali’s sometimes. Sara seemed to be able to tell when Ava needed a gentle hand on her arm or a playful elbow to the ribs, and perhaps more importantly, had figured out when she didn’t need any touch at all (the dinner at Ava’s house had been proof of that).

Ava let one of her hands rest on Sara’s knee under the blanket, the other reaching over to grab a bowl of popcorn from Nate and rest in Sara’s lap for them to share. This kind of closeness and trust was one of the things Ava had realised was different after Thanksgiving, and it was now that she wondered whether she was disconcerted by over how much she actually liked it.

Reality tugged Ava from overthinking her and Sara’s friendship and back to the movie in front of her, just in time to watch Elastigirl insistently say “Girls come on! Leave the saving the world to the men? I don’t think so!” Wally hummed and thoughtfully said “Anyone get a gay vibe from her? I kinda get a gay vibe”, prompting both Ava and Sara to burst out laughing, Sara dropping her head to Ava’s shoulder as she snickered. All eyes flickered to them and Ava snorted at Lily’s bewildered expression.

“I literally texted Sara that this afternoon,” she explained. “Apparently she can never watch the movie the same way again.”

“Okay, but who wouldn’t have a crush on that girl?” said Sara, pointing at the TV. “She’s a badass! Also, super flexible, so like …” She shrugged, a gleam in her eye and Ava’s cheeks grew hot, Zari choked on her piece of chocolate, Amaya rolled her eyes and threw a cushion at Sara while Jax and Nate wolf whistled.

 

“You’re talking about cartoon characters here,” reminded Jax, shaking his head even as he chuckled. “Cartoon characters who are married with children .”

“Elastigirl’s in great shape for three kids,” Sara said but Amaya just tossed another cushion at her and Nate tickled her foot to shut her up. Quiet fell between them quickly again, everyone becoming enthralled in the movie and the calm sense of nostalgia it provided. Ava didn’t really notice when Jax swiped the bowl of popcorn from her lap, just propped her feet up by his head on the beanbag and grinned when Jax tried to swat her feet away and poking his cheek with her socked big toe instead. He squirmed and Sara snickered before Ava finally gave in, shifting her feet to rest closer to Jax’s shoulder and reaching over to grab a last handful of popcorn before the bowl was inevitably ravaged by everyone on the ground. Sara hummed, stealing some from Ava’s hand and rolling her eyes at the faux affronted look Ava shot her.

“Shut up and watch the movie,” Sara murmured with a smirk.

“Get your own popcorn,” whispered Ava, trying not to grin as Sara just petulantly stole some more.

“Um, you gave up our bowl,” said Sara, gesturing vaguely to Jax. “Your fault.”

“You’re welcome to get some more.”

“And why should I do that?”

“You’re the one who wants it!”

“And you have some, so I’m just gonna -”

“Uh, no , fuck off -”

“Stop being stingy Aves, gimme some popcorn -”

“Shut up , you two!” complained Zari loudly, glaring at them. “Take your flirty bickering somewhere else!”

There was a chorus of shushing and hisses to shut up, and Ava wasn’t sure if they were aimed at Zari, or at her and Sara, or all three of them, and she didn’t really care because her mind had zeroed in on flirty bickering and suddenly all she could feel was every single place where Sara was touching her - Sara’s thighs and calves draped over her own thighs, Sara’s arm pressed against her midsection, Sara’s shoulder leaning into her elbow, Sara’s hair brushing exposed skin everytime Sara shifted, Sara’s fingers curled around her wrist as she’d moved to playfully grab some popcorn, and Ava wanted to tug her hand back because Sara’s thumb was resting just over her pulse point so Ava knew Sara could feel the way her heartbeat had quickened exponentially.

They hadn’t been flirting.

They hadn’t.

That wasn’t -

She and Sara weren’t -

 

Right?

 

Ava swallowed as inconspicuously as she could, tried to slow her heart, tried to bring down the flush in her cheeks, pointedly avoiding looking at Sara and using her other hand to as cool and collectedly as possible, continue snacking on her popcorn before she crushed it to dust in her tightly clenched fist.

You and Sara weren’t flirting, she told herself firmly, keeping her eyes fixed on the television. It was because they always used to fight all the time. There, that had to be it. Antagonism and banter had been such a fundamental part of their rivalry that it had just continued into their friendship. Simple. She was just freaking out because Zari’s comment was bad timing - that had to be it. Susan’s disapproving retort last week had put Ava on edge, had made her unsure of herself and feel uncomfortable in her sexuality, so it made sense that she felt weird about Zari accusing her of flirting with Sara.

Great, explanation sorted.

Not. Flirting.

It took several more minutes before Ava risked glancing over at Sara, gauging her reaction. She too had gone back to watching the movie but as soon as Ava’s gaze drifted, her eyes flickered back and the look she gave Ava clearly said you okay? She had loosened her grip on Ava’s arm but her hand was still there, pads of fingers touching Ava’s skin and thumb running soft, comforting patterns on the underside of her wrist. It shocked Ava how familiar the touch was, how much it calmed her instead of sending her spiraling further. So when she nodded her confirmation of yeah, I’m okay , it was actually somewhat truthful. Because as much as the idea that she had maybe, just maybe, been flirting with Sara Lance made Ava’s head spin and stomach flip with confusion and anxiety, Sara somehow managed to make it less of a big deal, was able to just look at Ava and make Zari’s comment less daunting and unmanageable.

Sara eyed her suspiciously for a second, clearly looking for a crack in Ava’s expression to indicate that she wasn’t fine (and honestly, Ava knew she wasn’t - she hadn’t exactly been okay since Susan had decided to be a Class A Homophobe at dinner last week and she was still putting herself back together after that disaster). But Sara didn’t seem to find the vulnerability she was looking for so relented, gave Ava’s wrist another gentle, comforting squeeze before letting her hand drift down to rest in her lap beside Ava’s, their fingers close enough to brush against each other but still far enough apart that they weren’t holding hands.

Ava offered her the last of the popcorn and Sara grinned widely, eyes sparkling with mirth as she took it and gave Ava a triumphant smirk that made Ava roll her eyes and poke Sara in the ribs exasperatedly. At the cheeky way Sara stuck out her tongue before relaxing and settling back in to continue watching the movie, Ava’s heartbeat quickened again and she clenched her jaw nervously.

Not flirting , she reminded herself. No way.

 


 

Messenger
(Amaya Jiwe)

avalance will rise y’all
Active now

FRI 7:06pm:

You:
ZARI

BE QUIET

WHAT ARE YOU DOING


Ray:
OH MY GOD Z WHY WOULD
YOU SAY THAT


Nate:
AVA LITERALLY LOOKS LIKE A
DEER IN THE HEADLIGHTS I’M
LOSING MY ENTIRE MIND


Zari:
L i s t e n

LOOK AT THEM

SARA IS HALF SITTING IN AVA’S
LAP AND THEY WERE LITERALLY
PLAYFIGHTING OVER POPCORN

I feel like they need some kind
of a nudge at this point guys


You:
Yeah a NUDGE Z

Not a push over a cliff in
which a sign saying ‘please
date’ is hanging as they fall


Wally:
i mean i’d be up for orchestrating
that too


Zari:
You’ll be the first to know if it
comes to that wally ;’D

And oKAY FINE NO MORE BLUNT
COMMENTS


Nate:
Ok but how fucking cute are
they though

Look at that cuddling

LITERALLY IF SARA WAS TO MOVE HER
HAND AN INCH RIGHT NOW THEY WOULD
BE HOLDING HANDS AND NO PART OF ME
CAN HANDLE THAT


Wally:
S T O P

i can’t pretend to be a functional hunab
being when u point this shit out alskdgjalk


Zari:
A functional hunab huh, wally?

Wally:
leave me alone ava can see my phone if she
looks over at me properly im trying to be
SUBTLE


You:
I think all of us on our phones
on a groupchat that neither of
them are a part of is the least
subtle thing we could all be
doing so maybe we should get
back to the movie

Meanwhile

Z, babe, no more nudges ok?


Zari:
F i n e

 


 

It was nearer to nine when Nora and Gary finally showed up, pushing open the front door after Sara yelled “It’s open!” to their knock and blinking in adjustment to the darkness and the glaring light of the television. The Incredibles had finished almost an hour ago. Jax had won the subsequent game of paper scissors rock to determine who would get to pick the next movie, and had chosen some cheesy, B-grade, morally sound, underdog-comes-out-on-top basketball film. As it turned out, the funniest part wasn’t actually the sheer cliche-ness of the film itself, but Jax and Ava’s indignant reactions to it (or more specifically, the basketball aspects). By the time Nora and Gary arrived, the film was forty-five minutes in and both Jax and Ava were leaned forward, shouting frustratedly at the television over how unrealistic the unfolding of the current game they were watching was while everybody else either laughed or watched them with incredible amusement.

Sara meanwhile, was just watching Ava with a wry, fond smirk on her face. Ava’s nose was crinkled with defiance, she had shuffled forward to the edge of the couch, hands resting on Sara’s shins as she waited impatiently for something else “Wildly improbably in literally any real life basketball match” to occur.

 

Nora and Gary paused as they stepped into the room, waving their hellos to everyone and trying to work out what was going on in the chaos of Jax almost throwing his packet of doritos at the television when one of the players piggy-backed another down the court for a layup. Gary immediately made a beeline for the free spot beside Lily, but Nora’s eyes scanned the room a second time, suddenly making sense of the happenings when she realised what kind of movie was playing.

“Whose dumb idea was it to put on a shitty basketball movie when Ava Sharpe is in the room?” she demanded, leaning against the doorway.

“Shut up!” said Ava, not even looking in her direction as she flipped her off, causing Sara to snort with laughter. It was then that Nora noticed how the two of them were sitting - it was clear that at one point, Ava had been properly seated on the couch, but she had shuffled forward over the course of her critiquing of this movie and had inevitably moved Sara with her. Sara, whose legs were curled in Ava’s lap, whose hand was resting on Ava’s arm as she laughed at Ava’s indignance. It was a kind of intimacy that Nora rarely saw Ava indulge in with anyone. Even in the 11 years she and Ava had known each other, they were both quite reserved and introverted people, didn’t show physical affection too often despite how relaxed and comfortable they were after so many years of friendship. The two people Nora had seen Ava be this open and touchy with were Spencer and Ali and Nora was pretty sure most of that closeness came from the fact that they were siblings , even then, with Ali this kind of intimacy was fairly recent, and with Spencer, it hadn’t been since he left to join the army four years ago when Nora and Ava were in eighth grade.

They’d all been betting on Ava and Sara jokingly for a long time, but truth be told, Nora was a little nervous about the whole situation. She knew how fragile Ava still was in terms of being confident in her sexuality, knew how much she’d suffered and how much of herself she’d lost in the three years she’d struggled on her own to figure out what it all meant. As much as Nora was invested in this growing relationship between Ava and Sara, and as much as she personally thought they would be great for each other, she was nervous that the whole bet that surrounded it and the newness of this kind of intimacy (even at its current platonic level) would scare Ava away, or at least play into her insecurities about being gay to the point that she closed herself off from the possibility of anything happening.

But even then. Nora was only human , and she seriously couldn’t handle the soft and openly fond way Sara was gazing at Ava. She pulled her phone out from her back pocket, swiping across the screen to unlock it and open up her messages, trying not think about the fact that Ray was her top contact and instead opening their conversation thread.

 

Ray Palmer

Text Message
(Nora Darhk)
Thursday


8:51pm:
Sara Lance is the definition
of heart eyes right now and
I might just be losing my mind
a little bit bc she is looking at
my best friend as if she hung
the fucking MOON in the sky


8:51pm:
Omg


8:51pm:
You should’ve seen our gc
before when Z said the thing


8:51pm:
WAIT YOU JUST GOT HERE YOU
MISSED IT


8:52pm:
You’re in on the bet right? For
Sara and Ava?


8:52pm:
Are you kidding?


8:52pm:
Of course


8:52pm:
I’m pretty sure the only
people NOT in on the bet
are Sara and Ava


8:53pm:
Also what gc?? Not the
Legends one right?


8:53pm:
Wait hang on


8:53pm:
Gary, Lily and Kuasa, are they
in on trying to get them together
too???


8:53pm:
Ohhh boy


8:53pm:
Big time


8:54pm:
Okay bear with

 


 

Messenger
(Zari Tomaz)

avalance will rise y’all
Active now

FRI 8:59pm:

You:
I fucking know we said no
more nudges but

Tell me somebody else can
see the way sara is looking
at ava rn

Pls


Jax:
i’m so fucking glad i’ve got my
back to them because i honestly
don’t think i could handle it


Wally:
why do u think i left to go to the
bathroom i was pretty sure i was
going to propose to ava on sara’s
behalf if i stayed


Amaya:
I haven’t seen Sara look this smitten
since Nyssa you guys this is a Big Deal


Nate:
Like y’all we’ve joked about this for so
many years but for ages, I never thought
it could actually happen bc they still low
key hated each other

But now

GUYS LOOK AT THEM


Ray added Nora Darhk to the chat.

Ray added Lily Stein to the chat.

Ray added Gary Green to the chat.

Ray added Kuasa Jiwe to the chat.


Nora:
Holy shit

‘avalance will rise’???

Oh my gOD


Gary:
@Wally THE BIGGEST MOOD


Kuasa:
Oh my god

This is the best thing I’ve
ever seen in my life


You:
This goes without saying but

You guys can’t tell them about
this gc they will murder all of us


Lily:
I’M LOSING MY MIND THIS IS
THE FUNNIEST THING I’VE
EVER SEEN

And also

Dw Z we’ve had enough
convos abt this between us

We have the same level of
investment in this


Nora:
I just scrolled up and @Zari WHY
WOULD YOU SPOOK THEM LIKE
THAT


You:
LEAVE ME ALONE DARHK I
ALREADY GOT CHEWED OUT
FOR THAT


Gary:
This is like that time I suggested
to Ava in our old gc that Sara was
an option for hot girls in SC to
have sex w and @Nora messaged
me ready to murder me for it


You:
You WHAT


Wally:
YOU DID NOT HOLY SHIT


Mick:
Tf did she say to that


Nate:
WHAT


Gary:
Sent 2 photos to the chat.


Amaya:
Fyi Zari is literally using me as
a pillow so Sara and Ava won’t
hear her laughing at those sc’s


Nate:
I know the whole suggesting Sara
as an available bi girl at school is
the takeaway from those sc’s but

Dude

Why is your messenger nickname
‘Gay carebear Green?’


Gary:
it’s …. a long story


Lily:
I can’t stop laughing

Genuinely think I’m about to
choke on popcorn

Anyone know the heimlich?


You:
See @Amaya some people
have even less subtlety than
me!!!


Gary:
are we talking about me or
ava and sara??


Amaya:
Honestly both

 

 


 

 

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

legends™
Active now

THURS 9:34pm:

 

Nate changed Gary’s nickname to ‘Gay
Carebear Green’


You:
what


Ava:
HAHAHAHAHA

@Nate when did you hear this
story?????

You:
what story?!?!


Pretty boy:
I DIDN’T BUT I NOW I DESPERATELY
NEED TO KNOW


Gay Carebear Green:
@Ava @Kuasa @Nora @Lily i hope u
all take this moment to remember
just how much dirt i have on each
and everyone of you


You:
@Ava tell me later ;’-D


Ava:
Gotcha ;’-D


Gay Carebear Green:
AVA CATHERINE SHARPE


Ava:
Love youuuuu ;-)

 

 


 

 

Messenger
(Zari Tomaz)

avalance will rise y’all
Active now

FRI 9:48pm:

You:
Tell. Me. Later.

Are they for real


Wally:
honestly it’s lucky she used the
laughing emoji bc if she’d used
the winky one i would’ve melted
into this rug


Gary:
can’t even bring myself to care that
ava’s spilling my embarrassing childhood
stories bc it just means they’re BONDING


Nate:
Tell US the embarrassing childhood
story Gary ;-))))


Lily:
PHONES OFF SARA LOOKS SUSPICIOUS


Nora:
All of us typing away furiously and
grinning like idiots when the movie is
terrible and there’s nothing happening
in the gc she DOES know about?

No wonder she’s suspicious

You guys are so conspicuous


Ray:
We have a lot of pent up emotions about
this okay


Nora:
Clearly (I mean, same)


Nate:
What if like … we all just left one by one
so they were left cuddling on the couch

We could do that right


You:
Okay but now that we have
nora & co on board actually
orchestrating them getting
together will be so much
easier you guys bc y’all are
close enough to ava to like,
interrogate her and we can
do the same w sara and suss
out where they’re both at


Kuasa:
Whoa

This is true like we only ever had
Ava’s side of things to go off


Mick:
We only had Sara’s


Amaya:
So we’re doing this properly?? Like,
not just goofing around, betting on
them for fun, freaking out when they
act all dumb and cute, but actually
trying to get them to date


Lily:
Not just bang but actually date


Nora:
I mean Ava’s like, the biggest virgin
ever so she’s not gonna be having a
one night stand anytime soon


Gary:
i need this to happen


You:
Big mood


Ray:
Okay so we’re gonna come up with a plan
of action on how to do this


Amaya:
WHICH by the way, should mostly include
letting them figure this out for themselves!

But also until then

Phones off kids, the last thing we need is for
one (or both) of them to realise what this is
all about and freak out before anything has
even started


Seen by: Nate, Zari, Gary, Lily, Kuasa, Jax, Mick, Wally, Nora and Ray.

Chapter Text

Sara and Amaya weren’t at lunch when Ava showed up at their regular table on a normal Thursday in early December, though honestly, she didn’t think anything of it. Most of them were involved in a huge plethora of co-curricular activities and had various lunchtimes where they’d have to duck in and out to attend meetings, practices, organise events or catch up on homework. Plus, right now, they were inching closer and closer to midterms and everybody was cycling through their scheduled mental breakdowns. Ava assumed that Sara and Amaya were dealing with one of the above, and just sat down next to Gary and opposite Wally. The conversation flowed easily, switching between college applications, student gossip and drama, speculation over which teachers were sleeping together, and a tentative broaching of plans for something to do this weekend. Ava and Jax were lively arguing for why they should go rock-climbing instead of laser tag (which Nate and Ray were pushing for) when Sara and Amaya appeared at the table, Sara flopping down to the space on Ava’s left and resting her forehead on the table with a loud groan.

“Sara, you okay?” asked Ray immediately, as always the first in the group to voice concern for anyone.

Sara just mumbled a muffled expletive in response before letting out another groan, this one sounding more pained. Everyone’s eyes shot to Amaya, who was shuffling down to sit beside Sara.

“This one just puked her guts out in the nurse’s office,” Amaya announced, moving to rest a comforting hand on Sara’s shoulder.

Jax almost jumped a foot in the air as he jerked away. “I’ve got a date tomorrow night, don’t you dare give me a stomach bug Sara!”

“It’s not a stomach bug,” assured Amaya quickly. “Promise.” She gave Sara’s shoulder a small squeeze before saying “Babe, maybe eat something? Then you can take some more Tylenol.”

“I swear to god I’m gonna kill Anderson,” grumbled Sara, not lifting her head from the table. “If they could just get a hold of my dad, he’d let me go home but no , this sexist, incompetent asshole is convinced that this is just a coming of age struggle. Son of a bitch.”

“Anderson?” said Ava, turning in her seat so she could face Sara a little easier. “You mean the substitute nurse?”

“Yeah, he sucks,” announced Amaya. “Literally the worst medical professional I’ve ever met in my life.”

“Explain?” asked Zari with a raised eyebrow.

“I’m on my period,” said Sara, sitting up and wincing as she did so, “and fucking Anderson decided that despite me throwing up, literally almost crying in pain and not being able to focus on any classes at all, that learning to cope with period pain is just a part of becoming a woman and that I should power through the school day, especially considering they can’t contact my dad to get permission to send me home. Which is because he’s currently at an out of town police conference, so of course you can’t contact him Anderson you nitwit. God, I want to die, it’s like my uterus is on fire.

Ava was surprised at the reaction of all the boys at the table, or rather, the lack of reaction. Gary was the only close male friend she had, and he’d been raised by a wonderful single mother who had taught him the importance of knowing about this kind of thing. Most other guys Ava encountered always pulled disgusted faces, looked totally grossed out and requested a conversation change. But Ray’s eyes just became sympathetic, Nate reached out to give Sara’s hand a comforting squeeze, Wally said “Oh, that’s not fun” and Mick reached over to offer Sara a bar of chocolate.

“Mick, I fucking love you,” muttered Sara, snatching it from his hands.

“Why is it so bad this month?” asked Zari, furrowing her eyebrows. “I swear you’ve never gotten sick before.”

Sara shook her head. “I’ve been skipping for the last four months because of summer and then soccer practices, and then my doctor wants me to change pills so he’s taking me off the one I’ve been on for this month and starting me on the new one in a few weeks. First time getting Satan’s death wave in four months and it’s off the pill equals absolute hell.”

Ava grimaced in sympathy. She was lucky. Having a very open minded doctor for a father meant that he was extremely aware of just how bad period pain could be and had always been comforting and willing to give Ava and her sisters days off school if things were particularly bad.

Sara winced again and dropped the chocolate bar into her lap, resting her elbows on the table as she buried her face in her hands. “I literally just want to go home and sleep and have like, 500 hot water bottles on top of me to ease these goddamn cramps.”

Ava instinctively moved her hand to the small of Sara’s back, rubbing small comforting circles there. Sara shifted her head and sent her a tired, thankful smile.

“Wait, I’ve got these things that might help,” said Gary, grabbing his backpack. He reached in and pulled out three weird, cushioned rectangles that seemed to be made of cotton. “They’re like, heat packs that you stick on your stomach and back and they stop cramps and aches and stuff. You rip the strip off and they heat up for like, 4 to 6 hours.”

“Oh my god, are you serious ?” gasped Sara, snatching them from his hands and examining them closely. Zari and Amaya also grabbed one each from Sara to examine them, impressed.

‘But how do they work?’ said Ray, stealing Zari’s and holding it up to his face. ‘What heats them up? What keeps them warm for so long?’

“I don’t care, as long as they stop my cramps,” announced Sara, peeling the strip off the one she was holding and yanking her up her top to plaster it over her lower stomach. Ava pointedly looked away from the suddenly visible hard lines of her abs.

“Okay, but why do you have these Green?” asked Zari, arching an eyebrow.

Gary flushed.

“Don’t tease him,” said Ava, coming to her friend’s defense. “His mom is one of those awesome women who wants her son to be equally helpful to his female friends should they need it. You have no idea how many times he’s saved my ass because I forgot a tampon and he had one instead.”

“Dude, good idea,” said Nate. “Why don’t we do that?”

“Yeah, why don’t you?” asked Amaya with a smirk. “Three and a half years of friendship and you never carried around sanitary supplies for us? Unbelievable.”

“Because they’re expensive as shit,” interrupted Jax. “Take it from someone whose ex-girlfriend made them buy their stuff every month for the whole year we were dating. My bank account hated me.”

“Yeah, and ours hates us,” said Zari. “Every. Damn. Month. For like, 40 years of our lives.”

“Can y’all like, talk about something else?” said a guy from a little further down the bench, wrinkling his nose. He wasn’t a part of the group and was sitting with another gang of students, but was close enough to overhear their conversation. “Like for real, we’re at lunch. Maybe just, save it for a better time and place.”

Sara gave him such a sizzling death glare that Ava was surprised he didn’t burst into flames.

“I’ll stop talking about it when I can, you know, just choose not to have to deal with it,” she growled. “Fuck off Chad, mind your own business.” Chad seemed appropriately scared by her venomous outburst and quickly turned away.

“Jackass,” muttered Wally, frowning.

“Sara, you sure you’re okay?” asked Ava, noticing how tense Sara’s shoulders were and the way she was incessantly tapping at her thigh with her fingers. “Surely you could just sneak out of school and go home?”

Sara shook her head. “I need to talk to Stein about an extension for that physics project and he’s got staff meetings and other classes until ours at 3. Plus, Amaya is worried I might faint and doesn’t want me to be by myself.”

“Jesus Sara, you should not be at school,” muttered Zari, eyes clouding with concern.

“Yeah, she’s right,” said Ava, gently massaging a tight spot near Sara’s spine. She bit back a smile at the way Sara’s eyelids fluttered contentedly. “You’re not going to soccer practice this afternoon.” (She ignored the voice in her head that asked why she knew Sara’s co-curricular schedule off the back of her hand). Sara opened her mouth to protest but as soon as she straightened her body to argue, she cringed and doubled over the table again, clutching her stomach.

“Yeah, no way,” Amaya agreed with Ava, gently smoothing Sara’s hair.

“Fine,” Sara relented, returning her attention to Mick’s chocolate bar. “And, it doesn’t seem like it but I am okay guys, seriously. It’s sweet that you’re all so worried - it’s just because my hormones are all screwed and I’ve forgotten how gross periods are after four months of not having one. Honestly.”

Nobody looked as though they believed her, but they did take it as a cue to segue into another conversation. Jax immediately relaunched into why they should go rock climbing, while Nate emphatically began listing reasons why laser tagging would be much more fun. Ava listened, unable to stop the amused grin that appeared on her face as the argument got more heated between the two boys.

“Actual idiots,” muttered Sara affectionately and Ava chuckled under her breath.

“Which do you wanna go to?” she asked.

“Rock climbing for sure,” said Sara. “Too many 12 year olds at laser tag. Plus, I’m better with things I can actually see. You?”

“The same. Before, it was me and Jax versus Ray and Nate but I think both me and Ray have bowed out of the debate now.” Ava’s hand still on Sara’s back was cramping up a little, so she gently trailed her fingers up Sara’s spine for a second before retracting her hand back to the table, smirking a little at Sara’s quiet whine of protest and the slight, embarrassed flush on her cheeks that appeared seconds later.

“We’ll get more exercise out of rock climbing!” Jax insisted loudly. “Laser tag will just be us trying to avoid annoying middle schoolers pretending they’re so badass and they’ll try to be better than us and then Mick will punch one of them and we’ll get kicked out and have to go do something instead.”

Zari choked on her mashed potatoes with laughter and Amaya exchanged a smirk with Mick.

“He’s not wrong,” grunted Mick with a grin.

“You just wanna go laser tagging because it’s the closest thing to pretending you’re in Star Wars with lightsabers,” said Wally.

“And you don’t wanna do that?” accused Ray to which Wally sheepishly shrugged.

The debate continued hotly, mainly between the boys. Zari and Amaya pitched in with alternative suggestions occasionally but it appeared to be a matter of pride now over who won, so they were ignored. At some point, Nora and Kuasa joined the group, and Gary was also dragged into the weekend adventure argument. It was then that Nora leaned over to kick Sara’s shin lightly, saying “Hey. My social worker told me yesterday that your dad’s closing in on mine, and … just for the record, I hope he gets him in handcuffs soon.”

Sara’s eyes widened and she paused for a moment before shaking her head apologetically. “I don’t think he’s quite there yet. He mentioned a drug ring, but I think he’s slowly working his way up from the bottom rather than going after your dad straight away - I’m pretty sure he was hoping to pick some people’s brains at this conference he’s at.”

Nora shrugged, looking almost disappointed. “Oh. Well - he’ll get there eventually, my dad’s an arrogant jackhole, he’s bound to slip up at some point. Wish your dad luck from me.”

Sara nodded, smiling slightly. “Yeah, I will. And … thanks, Nora.”

Everyone else was distracted enough in their conversations to not have really noticed the exchange between the two. Ava however, had tuned in and she saw the way Sara began nervously picking at the chocolate wrapper on the table. She nudged her gently.

“Hey.”

Sara looked up with a small smile that didn’t really meet her eyes. “Hey.”

“You feeling any better?”

Sara nodded. “Yeah, Gary’s miracle heat stickers are a blessing. I’ll probably take some Tylenol before class.”

Ava paused, chewing her bottom lip nervously before saying “What you were saying before to Nora. Damien Darhk, her dad. I’ve heard about how dangerous and messed up he is for years from Nora, but I feel like I’ve heard you say his name before too.”

Sara glanced over at her, a wry grimace on her face. “Yeah, I probably have. It’s his supply of product that Laurel got hooked on. He runs the whole operation. Dad’s been hell bent on sending him away since the summer - it’s why he’s been going on so many raids this year, there are a whole load of splinter groups he needs to take down first.” Almost immediately, as though on cue, Sara’s phone buzzed and she leaned over the table to read the new text message. “ Fuck .”

“What?” everyone chorused, their attention snapping over to her instantly.

“The conference has been lengthened to finish around 8 or 9pm,” said Sara, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Dad’s gonna be driving back overnight, won’t get home til maybe 2 or 3.”

“You can’t stay home alone,” said Amaya before anyone else could reply. “I know you say you’re fine but you also know that in case this is something worse than a shitty period, you shouldn’t be by yourself.”

“I would offer my place but you know I have extended family over,” said Zari. “Plus, they’re my dad’s conservative parents who are weird about stuff like periods. It would be one big uncomfortable nightmare.”

“I’m saying no before any of you offer,” said Sara, pointing her finger at Ray, Nate, Wally and Mick. “You guys are the best, honestly, but trust me when I say that it’s easier if I stay at a girl’s house.” She glanced over at Amaya, grimacing. “You’ve got that geography field trip at like, 6am tomorrow, don’t you?”

Amaya nodded. “But if you have nowhere else, I can always -”

"Stay with me," interrupted Ava. Everyone’s eyes flickered to her. "I mean, it’s near enough to yours that if you need anything from there, we could just walk down and get it. Plus, we have a guest bedroom and my dad’s a doctor so if there is anything really wrong with you, you’re under the right roof."  

"You sure?" asked Sara.

"I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t," promised Ava, bumping their knees together under the table. "We can walk back to your place after school, pick up some stuff and then head to mine? I’ll call my parents before class and give them a head’s up but given the number of times Ali and Layla have spontaneous sleepovers with friends, they really have no reason to say no."

Sara’s smile was soft and grateful. "Thanks Ava."

Out of the corner of her eye, Ava saw Zari exchange an undecipherable look with Amaya but ignored it, just returned Sara’s smile and nodded an indication for the previous conversation to continue. By the end of lunch, Sara had been convinced to eat at least half of Amaya’s mashed potatoes and an apple that Ray slid across the table, admitting to feeling better afterwards. Ava was relieved to see some colour return to her face, although she did still wince if she moved too sharply and happily accepted Gary and Wally’s offer of more chocolate. The rest of the day passed fairly normally, the afternoon progressing like any regular Thursday would. The one exception was that Ava suddenly found Sara was a lot more affectionate and touchy than usual. (She was consciously avoiding thinking about how much she didn’t hate it).

Sara sat a lot closer to her than normal in their classes, their arms pressed together tightly. She nudged Ava when something funny was said in class, swatted Ava’s hand away from notes she needed to see, bumped her head against Ava’s shoulder when another student said something stupid, looped her ankle around Ava’s when she was bored. Ava desperately hoped she wasn’t showing how surprised she was at all the little physicalities that Sara was usually a lot more reserved with.

It was in physics - their last class of the day - that Ava noticed Sara scribbling something in the corner of the back page of her notebook, a section reserved for them writing notes to each other as communication in class (mainly because Stein was a big advocate for work environments varying in noise based on what they were studying. Today the classroom was dead quiet.) After a couple of minutes, Sara elbowed Ava gently and pushed the notebook in her direction.

Hey, she’d written, sorry for being all weird and touchy all afternoon, i kinda just realised that you’re probs not used to it. me, amaya and z always get like this when we’re on our periods and we all kind of indulge in being overly affectionate and cuddly bc we feel gross and shitty. sorry i didn’t give u a psa abt it earlier. Also, my dad hasn’t gone outta town like this since before Laurel left and I’m just kinda nervous for some stupid reason so i’m being all fidgety and trying to distract myself. sorry again if i’m being annoying. and tysm for letting me stay with you, it means so so much aves, seriously.

Ava smiled, pulling the notebook over to her side of the bench and beginning to write underneath it.

Hey, I get it, my dad always knows when to buy me like 3 blocks of chocolate without me having to say anything bc I latch onto him like a freakin cuddle monster bc I feel so yuck. It’s fine, given how bad you were at lunch, I think you’re justified. And your dad will be okay - he’s a good cop and I know you’re used to him being unsafe but he’s not on an op this time, he’s just away for the night. I’m sure he’ll be fine. And you don’t need to thank me, that’s what friends are for. You’d do the same for me.

She pushed the notebook back to Sara, attempting to focus on the equations in front of her and not let her eyes flicker over to gauge Sara’s reaction to her message (which, she noticed with a triumphant roar in her chest, was a wide, brilliant smile). Sara sent one more message before they both shoved the notebook underneath their textbooks and buckled down to finish at least the page’s worth of work -

I would do the same, in a heartbeat, and don’t forget it. you’re the best aves <3

When the first thought that came into Ava’s head was that Sara drew her love hearts really cutely, Ava almost threw the notebook across the classroom. Nope. Not happening, not thinking that, that was not a line of thought that was going through her head today.

Physics. Electricity. Equations. Gravity. Momentum.

Not Sara’s ankle still hooked under hers, their shoulders touching, not Sara’s hair brushing against Ava’s bare forearm when she leaned closer to Ava to look at the questions in the textbook they were sharing.

Nope.

Ava let out a quiet sigh. Thank god they had a guest bedroom.

 


 

 

Sara’s painkillers had worn off by the time they reached Ava’s house, and the first thing she did once they were inside was sit on one of the kitchen bar stools and hunch over the bench with a quiet, pained groan.

"Would I be the worst house guest ever if the first thing I did upon entering your very lovely home was to ask for drugs?"

Ava laughed, slinking up to the top shelf of the pantry cabinet and pulling down the medicine box. "No, you wouldn’t," she promised. "The whole reason you’re here is so that there’s someone keeping an eye on you while you’re not feeling great." She grabbed the bottle of Tylenol tablets and filled up a glass of water, placing it and two tablets on the granite countertop in front of Sara.

"You really didn’t have to do this," said Sara softly. "I appreciate it. A lot."

Ava shrugged. "It’s what we do right? You and me. You were there for me after I came out, and I helped you when you were having a tough time with Laurel. I know you’ll be there for me if I need it, so this is fine. Honest."

Sara just offered her another warm smile before moving to chug down the two tablets. Ava suddenly grabbed her wrist, the water overspilling slightly onto the counter.

"Wait, have you eaten since lunch?" asked Ava, furrowing her eyebrows.

Sara shook her head. "No, but it’ll be fine, I take this stuff on an empty stomach all the time."

"Yeah, not in this house you don’t," muttered Ava, snatching the pills into her hand and before Sara could protest, she promptly replaced them with one of Ali’s famous blueberry chocolate chip muffins. "Eat. Then painkillers."

Sara furrowed her eyebrows, a wry smile working its way onto her face. "You’re good at this you know," she said. "Taking care of people."

Ava blushed a little, nervously rubbing the back of her neck. "I dunno. I just - I get it from Dad I guess. I’ve helped him out at his clinic since I was ten."

"Really?" Sara broke a piece of the muffin off and popped it in her mouth, leaning forward in what seemed like genuine curiosity.

"Yeah," said Ava, starting to move out of instinct in the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. "Spencer did too for a while but he had this big thing about not wanting to turn out a carbon copy of Dad so he stopped. Layla faints at the sight of blood and Ali was just never really interested. But something about it was always just so cool to me, to help my dad save people’s lives. Not the way he does when he’s at the hospital obviously. But at his clinic, it’s a lot more intimate I guess. You get to know the patients and staff really well and they were always so neat teaching me about medical stuff and the protocol differences between being there and being at the hospital, and patients loved telling me their life stories and I thought I was so badass sitting in my dad’s office while he wasn’t there." She stopped, as though suddenly realising the tangent she’d gone on and her cheeks coloured again. "Sorry. I only do it over the summer and I forget how much I kind of miss it in the months after school starts."

"No, I think it’s awesome!" insisted Sara, chomping down on another chunk of the muffin. "Seriously. And not just the medical stuff after me and Laurel spent a whole summer binge watching Grey’s Anatomy.”

Ava laughed, biting down the invitation that was on the tip of her tongue for Sara to come binge watch medical shows with Ava sometime (and look, she knew they weren’t always medically accurate, they were a guilty pleasure okay?) Before Ava could think of an alternative reply, Sara had started speaking again.

“It’s so much better than just some regular old coffee or retail job during the summer. You’re actually helping people." She paused, frowning a little. "You’re not going into med though, are you?"

Ava shook her head. "Nope. History and then Law."

"Not following in your dad’s footsteps? How come?"

"I do want to help people," said Ava, stirring her cup of tea. "But … not the way my dad does. I don’t want to just help sick people. I want to help people who deserve good lives but the system won’t let them, or people who do the right thing but get in the wrong situations anyway, or people who deserve happiness and justice and someone to believe in them." She shrugged, caught up momentarily in the memory of the day Nora had shown up at her house crying, babbling something incoherent about her father disappearing and the police showing up with a warrant for his arrest and her mother being taken into custody and her being told to pack a bag because she was going to stay somewhere else for a while. Ava remembered the way Nora bounced from foster home to foster home around Star City for years before her aunt moved back to town and took her in, remembered how useless the system had been to ensure her safety from her father, remembered how much it took a toll on Nora’s studies, on her mental health, on her entire life . “I guess a lot of it is because of what happened to Nora,” she admitted softly, almost forgetting for a second that she was actually talking to Sara. “She didn’t deserve having her entire life turned upside down just because of decisions her dad made, but that’s what happened. I just wanna make sure another little girl actually gets to live the life she deserves without having to deal with the repercussions of adults in their life being negligent, you know?” She tossed the spoon in the sink before looking up, and was immediately stunned and breathless at the way Sara was looking at her - wide smile, eyes soft, full of awe and fondness and reverence and Ava’s heart stuttered for a second.

"You’re … " Sara laughed quietly. "You are really something Ava Sharpe."

There was a feeling in Ava’s chest that she couldn’t tamper down, a burning, blossoming warmth that made her want to simultaneously laugh and cry because she suddenly had a vague, faint inkling of what it was and there was a desperate flash of panic, an overwhelming wish that she was mistaking what this feeling was, that it was anything other than that . She managed to mask the sudden turmoil in her head and just smiled shyly and murmured "Likewise, Sara Lance." There was a moment of silence, of comfortable quiet where the air was still and peaceful and Ava found herself lost in gazing at the seemingly endless depths of blue in Sara’s eyes. The room smelt of Ali’s muffins and Ava’s chai tea and Ava wondered if it was possible to pause a single moment in time and save every little detail of it forever.

"Hey girls, you’re home!"

The spell was broken by Robert entering the room, smiling when he saw the two of them and pressing a kiss to the top of Ava’s head as he passed her. Ava glanced away from Sara, feeling the heat in her cheeks.

"Hey Dad. How was your day?"

"Pretty normal," said Robert, making an identical cup of tea to his daughter. "Finished early because things were quiet down at the clinic." He turned from the opposite bench, moving to stand next to Ava on the other side of the island from where Sara was seated. "So I hear you’re having some extra bad time of the month symptoms."

"I told him when I called and said you were coming," said Ava quickly before Sara could reply. "Sorry, I hope that’s okay - I just figured that since the whole reason you’re staying here is because there’s a doctor in the house if you end up feeling really shitty and -"

Robert cleared his throat pointedly. Ava rolled her eyes, repeating with a level of sass that Sara choked in laughter over "Right sorry, if you end up feeling really fucking shitty ." Even Robert laughed, pinching the bridge of his nose as he shook his head.

"Ava," he said warningly but his voice was light.

"Come on Dad, since when have you had an issue with swearing as long as there was good context?" said Ava, folding her arms.

"I don’t," agreed Robert, "but you know your mom does and she’s just upstairs."

"Yeah, and what mom says goes," muttered Ava under her breath.

"Hey."

Ava huffed. "Sorry." She glanced up and saw Sara grinning at her. "Anyway. Right. Yeah, I told him just because I figured maybe he could help? Sorry if I overstepped."

"No, no, it’s fine," said Sara, giving Ava a reassuring smile. "Yeah Mr S - my doctor took me off my original pill because it wasn’t agreeing with me, so my period’s kind of bad but on steroids right now."

Robert grimaced. "I feel for you kid. I remember a time when I was 16 that I had to drive my sister to hospital because she woke up with such bad cramps in the middle of the night. People underestimating how bad they can be is one of my biggest pet peeves as a doctor."

Sara pointed at him and turned her attention to Ava. "Him. I like him."

Ava rolled her eyes. "He has his moments."

"My moments ?" said Robert, gasping in mock scandal. " Ava !" He threw his arm around Ava’s shoulders and pulled her into a playful hug before she shoved him lightly, ducking under his arm to get to the fridge. "Right, so Sara. Tell me what you’re feeling and what you"ve experienced throughout the day, and place it all on a pain scale from 1-10 yeah?”

 

Ava had always admired the type of doctor her father was. He was kind and easy to talk to and patient and understanding in a way that many doctors Ava had met weren’t. He made jokes to lighten the mood, had the perfect balance of concern and reassurance, was informative and knowledgeable without being patronising and condescending. He was so calm in the face of uncertainty and stress, so warm and soothing when patients were anxious or scared, that often, Ava questioned whether she actually did want to follow in his footsteps and join his profession.

(He’d always encouraged whatever line of career she was considering at any given time, but had made a point to remind her that just because she idealised the way he worked, it didn’t mean it was exactly what she would want to do, made her promise to always explore her own passions and the clinic would always be waiting as a backup if she wanted it.)

Now was no exception, and Ava smiled a little at the way he easily coaxed answers out of Sara - truthful ones, no less - about how she was feeling, how much pain she was in, what medication she was currently on, whether she’d overexerted herself in soccer practice recently, her stress levels, how much sleep she was getting, until their conversation had drifted to him making light jokes and Sara laughing loudly, her mostly eaten muffin laying forgotten on the kitchen bench as her eyes crinkled with amusement. Eventually, he brought the conversation back to the fact that Sara was here, glancing between her and Ava as he asked “So how much work do you girls have to do tonight?”

Sara groaned, dropping her head down to the countertop. “So, so much.”

“Midterm study for one,” said Ava, grimacing. “English test on Monday, Classics essay due next Thursday, a few 5% mini assignments due next week as well.”

“Plus that stupid physics assignment,” muttered Sara, rubbing the heels of her palms into her eyes. “God, do they think we don’t sleep or something? How are we supposed to get all this done?”

“You have an extension on that physics assignment,” Ava reminded, giving Sara a stern look. “Don’t freak out about it tonight, you’ve got time.”

“Okay well,” said Robert, folding his arms, “from what I’ve seen of Ava, she’s been out studying non-stop for the past week. Am I correct in guessing Sara, that you’ve been at some of those study sessions too?”

“All of them,” Ava corrected, grinning at Sara’s glare.

“Good,” said Robert, sounding decidedly final as he said “I’m forcing you both to take at least a few hours off tonight.”

“But Dad -” Ava started but Robert cut her off before she could even launch into her argument.

“No buts,” he said firmly. “Sara, you being tense and stressed out over school is not going to help your aggravated nausea and cramps, not at all. You need to relax, at least for a little while. You girls are incredibly intelligent and I’m sure you’ve done more than enough study for your midterms so far considering you have a week before they start. No studying, doctor’s orders.”

“We have a quiz in Bio tomorrow,” Sara weakly tried to pipe up but Robert smiled.

“Judging by the weather reports, the clouds outside and the way the temperature has plummeted these last few days, I think it’s safe to say it’s probably going to snow tonight,” he said, squeezing Sara’s shoulder. “I have a feeling you guys are going to get the day off tomorrow, so, take those painkillers Sara, thank you very much. Ava, grab Nana’s old wheat bag from the bottom drawer and both of you get upstairs and watch a movie or something, okay? If I hear a word of school talk before dinner, I’ll hide your textbooks.”

“Dad,” said Ava, rolling her eyes, but they both did as he said. Sara popped the two pills in her mouth and downed them with a glass of water, while Ava tugged open the bottom drawer of the cupboard beside her and pulled out an old, heavy wheat bag, covered in dark green material with faded apples printed all over it. It was ancient, held together by bandaids and tape, but it had served all the Sharpe children well through injuries, illnesses, period cramps and more. As Ava put it in the microwave with a mug of water, the warm, comforting, autumny smell of cinnamon and nutmeg filled the kitchen and Ava saw a surprised smile flicker onto Sara’s face.

“I’m gonna go look through some emails,” announced Robert. “I’ll see you girls at dinner, okay?”

Ava nodded and Sara thanked him as he left.

“He’s so lovely,” she said softly as soon as they were alone.

“Yeah, I know,” said Ava, curling her hands around her mug of tea. “I’m glad you’re staying here tonight mainly because it meant Dad got a chance to make sure you were okay. I would have worried about you all night if you were home alone.”

Surprise flashed across Sara’s face and she reached across the counter to squeeze Ava’s wrist. “I’m glad I’m here too,” she said in barely a whisper.

Like before, there was a long moment of stillness, of them gazing at each other, of comfort in the dim light of the late winter afternoon that made a soft, fluttering warmth fill Ava’s stomach in a way she wasn’t used to in the slightest. It was only broken by the ding of both their phones receiving messages from the group chat and they both pulled their hands away quickly, glancing down as colour rose to their cheeks. Ava distracted herself by pulling the wheat bag from the microwave and pushing it across the bench to Sara, unable to stop herself from smiling when Sara exhaled with relief as she held it over her stomach.

“What do you wanna watch?” Ava asked, swinging her bag over her shoulder and refilling her mug of tea with some more hot water in preparation to head upstairs.

“I don’t mind,” said Sara with a shrug but Ava gave her a look.

“Come on,” she said, shaking her head. “Everyone’s got a comfort TV show. When I have my period or I’m super sick, I just sit there and binge watch Buffy for an unhealthy length of time until I feel like no level of cramps or headaches can stop me from kicking ass.”

Sara laughed, also gathering her stuff and glancing at Ava with unhidden amusement and affection. “Of course you do,” she smirked. She paused, tapping her phone screen as she fidgeted for a moment before smiling wryly and saying “Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Me and Laurel watched it all the time, even Dad would sit down with us because he thought it was cute and funny.”

Ava smiled too, a warm, soft smile as she nodded towards the hallway and led them down the stairs. “Good,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at Sara. “It’s been on my Netflix list for like, a year and a half. I can’t wait to finally watch it.”

 

It was only as Ava was pushing open her bedroom door that she realised suddenly that Sara had never seen her room before. After Thanksgiving, Sara had seemed to sense that Ava always felt a twinge of discomfort about being in her own home, even more so when she had friends over, and so Sara had intuitively just always suggested study meetups to happen at her house rather than Ava’s, never suggested otherwise unless they stayed after school to work at the library or somewhere similar. Besides, Ava was pretty sure that even if they had spent time together at Ava’s place, Barbara would refuse to allow Ava to have a girl in her room, even if they did claim to be studying and have the door open and despite the fact that Spencer had always been allowed to have girls in his room, and Ali and Layla were allowed guys in their rooms if they insisted they were just friends (which for Layla, was bullshit most of the time).

But Sara was staying the night, and though she was staying in the guest room, there was no way Ava was gonna make her sit downstairs in front of the rest of her family while she was feeling nauseous and exhausted and in pain. So tonight, Barbara would just have to suck up her internalised homophobia and deal. Ava did stick to their house rule however, and left her door open, just closed it as much as she could without shutting it entirely.

“Whoa,” Sara said in a soft breath, pausing in the middle of the room and letting her eyes flicker around, taking it all in.

“I know everything is really plain,” said Ava, nervously fiddling with her jacket zipper. “It’s super boring compared to yours -”

“It’s so nice,” interrupted Sara, shaking her head. “It’s … ” A small smile crossed her face and she glanced over her shoulder to look at Ava. “It’s so you.

 

Ava did like her room. It was calm and peaceful and uncluttered and organised and she made a point to keep it neat but always fill it with enough memories and favourite things that this one place in her chaotic, sometimes unwelcoming house, felt like a sanctuary, felt safe. The room was spacious, painted an off white, bordering on cream colour, and Ava had purposefully made her entire colour scheme one of calming whites, light greys and pastel blues so that she always felt like she could breathe when she was in here. Her room was located at the end of the hallway, looked out at the side of the house, so you could partially see the street and the pavement below but Ava’s view was mostly just trees, their small concrete basketball court in front of the garage and a flash of the back garden. The windows through which all this was visible were huge, directly opposite the doorway and covered by wide, wooden Venetian blinds. The head of Ava’s bed was pressed against the window, and to the left was a desk, neatly organised, everything in its proper place, a calendar and monthly planner pinned to the wall above it. Beside the desk was an old, vintage looking dressing table, adorned with delicate looking jewellery, a few make up products neatly arranged, and a large, square mirror hung on the wall above. To the right of the bed were two wide doors that led to a walk in wardrobe (which Layla would never forgive Ava for having) as well as a tall, painted white bookshelf (that as well as holding an impressive collection of books, also displayed a few photographs and numerous basketball trophies) and a wall covered in polaroid pictures. Two tall pot plants were sat on opposite ends of the room - one by Ava’s desk and the other beside the bookshelf, while a succulent and a cactus sat on the windowsill, bookending Ava’s first edition set of the Harry Potter books.

It was very her , Ava had to agree. It was her safe haven. So she was kind of glad that Sara liked it because there was this part of her that desperately wanted Sara to feel safe here too, as safe as Ava felt in Sara’s room everytime she came over.

She felt overwhelming relief when Sara’s shoulders relaxed as she stepped further into the room. Sara dropped her bag to the floor in front of Ava’s bed and walked over to the bookshelf, a small smile crossing her face as she inspected the (admittedly impressive) collection of academic awards and basketball trophies on display.

“I would kill to see you play a game,” she said, carefully straightening a middle school player of the season award.

“Come over sometime in the summer and you can,” said Ava before she could stop herself.

Sara glanced over her shoulder, a surprised but pleased grin on her face. “Yeah?”

Ava shrugged, trying to hide the slight flush to her cheeks and busying herself with pulling her laptop out of her bag, tossing it onto the bed before crossing the room to unload her textbooks onto her desk. “Yeah,” she said, offering Sara a small smile in return. “If Spencer comes home this year, me, him, Dad and Ali will be out there most days. Spence and I always gave Dad and Ali a pretty good run for their money during two on two games.”

“I’ll put it on my calendar when I get home,” Sara joked with a wink before flopping down onto the bed, wincing as soon as she did.“Question for you Doctor Sharpe Junior: what’s the point of painkillers if they don’t even help?”

Ava rolled her eyes, picking up Sara’s legs so she could sit down too, opening her laptop screen in front of them and moving to find Netflix in her bookmarks.

“It hasn’t even been 10 minutes Sara,” she chided with exasperated fondness. “You have to give them time to work.”

Instead of a response, Sara just groaned again and pushed herself upwards into a sitting position to lean against Ava’s pillows and headboard against the windowsill. She didn’t interrupt as Ava searched through Netflix for the show they were after, instead turning a little to admire her copies of Harry Potter and tracing the particularly worn spine of the third book.

“Guessing this one’s your favourite?”

Ava glanced behind her, laughing softly when she saw what Sara was referring to. “Yeah, always has been. I love all of them for different reasons but when I read Prisoner of Azkaban for the first time, I just -”

“Couldn’t put it down?” finished Sara. Her eyes were full of warmth and softness and Ava was breathless for a second at the overwhelming intimacy of her gaze, of the familiarity in her eyes at Ava’s words. “Don’t worry, I get it. I was the same.”

Sara dragged her thumb along the top of all seven books before shifting to face the laptop again, shuffling closer to Ava. Ava stopped herself from sucking in a sharp breath when Sara leaned into her, instead just pushed her laptop a little further away with her foot so it was far enough away from them that they weren’t too huddled, struggling to see the screen.

“You okay in those clothes?” Ava asked. “You want something comfier? Now that you’ve had some painkillers, we could drive down to yours to pick up some stuff.”

Sara shook her head, her smile warm and grateful as she leaned a little further into Ava. “No, I’m good. Gym tights and a hoodie are always a good bet for comfiness.”

(They were also a good bet for Sara looking both adorable and stupidly attractive with her muscular legs and well defined calves and Ava had to actually bite her lip to stop herself from absentmindedly saying as such.)

“Just let me know if you’re cold or anything,” she said instead and Sara chuckled, eyes sparkling with fondness.

“Like I said before,” she said, squeezing Ava’s knee, “you’re really good at taking care of people. I’m okay Aves - Tylenol’s kicking in and this miracle of a heat pack is doing wonders and I get to just chill with you and watch my favourite TV show without thinking about schoolwork for a few hours. I’m more than okay.”

Ava’s stomach flipped at the softness in Sara’s expression, at the firm, truthfulness in her voice as she spoke and she had to actively look away, distract herself by pressing play on the first episode.

 

She really hoped Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a good show, because she desperately needed a distraction.

 


 

 

They made it through to the first Halloween episode by the time Ali knocked on Ava’s door to tell them dinner was ready. Ava had to admit, Sara was right. The show was brilliant, the perfect level of clever, fun and hilarious, laced with enough scattered seriosity that it was quickly becoming Ava’s favourite tv series.

Ali smiled brightly when she saw Sara, immediately chatting up a storm about school gossip, asking how soccer training was going, about how she was thinking of trying out for the team next year because she wanted to try a new sport, and Sara indulged her without blinking, picked up any thread of conversation Ali offered and responded with her own questions. She asked about Ali’s subjects, about archery club, about whether she was enjoying hanging out with Roy and Thea and Curtis and their friends.

Once downstairs, Robert immediately asked what they’d been up to when he saw them (grinning when Ava promised him that they hadn’t been studying and had just been watching TV), before inquiring whether Sara felt better and telling him to keep checking in with him over the night if she didn’t. For all that Barbara Sharpe was a sharp edged, conservative, unflinching woman who had an arsenal of narrowed eye looks and disapproving glares and tight grimaces that could make even the bravest of men squirm in their seats, Ava knew her mother had been raised to be a Good Southern Hostess. So despite the unfolding of the incident at Thanksgiving, Barbara didn’t even bat an eyelid when she saw Sara, just offered her a curt smile and asked how much lasagna she wanted.

Sara was evidently feeling better because she was as charming as ever, easily engaging in discussion with Ava’s family more than Ava usually did over dinner herself. She joked around with Ali, asked genuinely interested questions to Robert about his work (that had Ali, Ava and Layla all groaning as he immediately asked Sara if she’d heard the joke about the heart surgeon and the cactus that all three of them had heard on an endless loop their entire lives). She even managed to talk to Layla without any contempt from the latter, bringing up things that Laurel had clearly told her about Layla’s year group that made Layla laugh a little and dive into further explanations of each story.

 

Unlike the last time Sara was here, dinner thankfully passed without incident.

Ava and Layla were just clearing plates when Barbara stood, moved to the kitchen bench and pulled a stack of envelopes from under a larger stack of bills and letters from the hospital for Robert.

“These came in the mail for you this morning Ava,” she said. “I think they were sent to the high school and they posted them over.”

Ava furrowed her eyebrows, leaned over across the bench to take them and examine what they were, see whether they were an administrative letter from SCHS or a book delivery she’d ordered online a couple weeks ago or something sent to the wrong address. It was only when she saw the stamp in the top left hand corner of the first envelope that she realised, and for one, overwhelming, petrifying second, she actually thought she was going to throw up right there in the middle of the kitchen. Her heart leapt into her throat and her hand curled around the side of the kitchen bench, hanging on for dear life as she placed the envelopes down on the counter and shuffled through them, catching sight of similar stamps on each one.

 

Harvard University. Yale University. Columbia. Rutgers. Princeton. NYU. Stanford.

Brown University.

 

Oh God.

“Ava?” asked Barbara, her voice on the edge of its usual hardness and a different, careful, knowing tone that told Ava that Barbara had in fact seen what these envelopes were.

“Hey Ali,” said Ava, fighting to keep her voice steady and not absolutely terrified for what these letters might say. “Can you do dishes tonight and I’ll do them tomorrow instead?”

Ali opened her mouth to complain but Ava shot her a look , a pleading, desperate look (that she knew Sara caught sight of given the sudden concern the flashed across her face) and Ali conceded, nodded with a quiet huff and got to her feet to take Ava’s spot by the sink.

“Can Sara and I be excused?” Ava asked her parents, clutching the envelopes so tightly in her hand she was sure she was wrinkling the letters inside them. She was surprised when Barbara spoke before Robert, and was even more surprised when her answer was “Yes.”

“Are you okay?” asked Robert, frowning worriedly.

“Fine,” said Ava, offering him a winning smile that she had used on him enough times before that she knew it bought him over. “I just think it’s time we actually did some study.”

Robert seemed to accept that given the conversation they’d had earlier in the afternoon and nodded. As Ava dragged Sara to the doorway, Barbara called out “Remember, door open please Ava!”

“I know ,” Ava replied, trying hard not to put any animosity into it because Barbara never reminded Ali or Layla of that; everyone knew it was a house rule for the Sharpe children, and Ava knew why her mother was reminding her , knew Barbara wouldn’t be making that comment if Gary was the one hanging out with her instead of Sara.

But that wasn’t important right now.

 

The walk back to Ava’s room was quick, and Ava knew Sara had noticed she was walking faster than usual, that something wasn’t quite right. It was confirmed when Ava pointedly shut her bedroom door behind them, tossed the envelopes onto the bed and started pacing anxiously beside her bed.

“Aves?” said Sara slowly, hovering hesitantly by the door. “What’re you -”

“They’re my early acceptances. For college.” The words tumbled from Ava’s lips in a rushed, terrified breath and she wrung her hands together tightly, squeezing her eyes shut as she tried to suck in deep, calming breaths but they just got caught in her lungs and a wave of panic swept through her. But suddenly, Sara was stepping in her path to stop her pacing, was taking both of her hands and squeezing tightly enough for the touch to ground Ava momentarily.

“Hey,” Sara said, both soft and stern at the same time. “Ava.”

Ava managed to force her eyes open, focus her gaze on Sara as she exhaled shakily. “What …. what if …” She swallowed. “I can’t open them. God, I don’t -”

Sara stopped her by squeezing her hands harder, her voice gentle when she spoke but firm enough that it left no room for argument. “Ava, listen to me. I know you’re nervous and I can see you’re panicking, but that’s not going to help, okay? Breathe.” It was a soft command but it was so comforting and familiar that Ava managed to listen, succeeded in sucking in a sharp, shallow breath and holding it long enough for her lungs to figure out how to work again, for her brain to stop mindlessly freaking out and actually remind her of the facts.

That she was an A+ student.

She was on the Honour roll.

She was on track to being their class valedictorian.

She had letters of recommendation and an outstanding personal essay and records of volunteering and extracurricular participation and she was a model student -

She would almost definitely have acceptances from some of these colleges. It was just … there was only one college she wanted the yes from, and if she opened it and it wasn’t there -

“Brown,” she said in a quiet, shaking voice, snapping her eyes shut. “The letter from Brown is there and … and it’s been my dream school since I was 14.”

She felt Sara’s thumbs trace careful, soothing lines across her knuckles as Sara squeezed Ava’s hands again comfortingly.

“Do you want to start with that one?” she asked gently. Panic shot up Ava’s spine and Sara must have felt her tense because she immediately started rubbing soft circles on the back of Ava’s palm, her voice soft as she said “Okay, that’s okay. We’ll work our way to it. How about we just watch another episode, yeah? And you can open them when you feel up to it.”

“Yeah,” Ava breathed, barely audible and she let her eyes flicker open. Sara’s expression was warm and open, concerned, but when she saw Ava open her eyes, she smiled and tugged her over to the bed. She let go of Ava’s hands to grab her laptop, this time lying down on her stomach and placing the computer on the pillows in front of them and shuffling closer when Ava tentatively mirrored her position. Ava entered her password, Sara reached up to press play on the next episode and they settled into a comfortable, still silence.

They were lying inches apart, Sara leaned in so close that Ava could smell her coconut shampoo. The college acceptances lay on Sara’s other side, far enough that Ava couldn’t see them and she was kind of glad they were out of sight. She wasn’t expecting to have to deal with the fear of opening those letters today, and was so stupidly grateful that Sara was here to help her not spiral into an absolute disaster because this - her studies, her grades, getting into the one college she’d been dreaming of since freshman year - was all she had at this point in her life after giving up basketball and she was terrified of it slipping through her fingers. But Sara seemed to understand just how much this meant, just how scared Ava really was because she let one arm overlap Ava’s so she could gently rest her hand on Ava’s forearm in a gentle, comforting gesture that made Ava’s petrified, pounding heart slow just a little.

They got through one episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine before Ava ducked her head down and whispered “Can you pass me the letters?”

Sara did so without speaking, carefully placing them in front of Ava and moving to pause the episode about to start playing before them.

“Start with one of the shitty ones,” said Sara softly, before bumping her shoulder against Ava’s and shooting her a joking smirk. “You know. Like Harvard.”

Ava choked out a laugh, instinctively rolling her eyes. But she did move to grab the Harvard envelope first, ripping it open with shaking hands, taking a minute to pause before flipping the letter open.

 

Dear Miss Sharpe,

We are delighted to offer you -

 

“Oh thank God,” Ava whispered, her eyes not skimming past the first two lines, just catching words like ‘congratulations’ and ‘fall semester’ and ‘should you wish to accept’ and feeling pure relief seep through her entire body.

Sara beamed at her, looped her arm through Ava’s and squeezed tightly, carefully picking out the envelope from Yale and handing it to Ava with a small, motivating smile.

It was like a strange, hazy dream. The colours of Ava’s room seemed to melt into each other, everything was a fuzzy hum of nervousness and anticipation and the low whirring sound of the heater by Ava’s door and the rustling of paper between them and Ava’s still slightly uneven breathing but Sara was warm and gentle and kind beside her and provided exactly the right amount of jokes and sarcastic comments and reassurances that Ava needed to work her way through the stack of letters.

She got enthusiastic acceptances from Yale, NYU, Rutgers and Stanford, Stanford and NYU even offering her partial scholarships and Rutgers, to Ava’s astonishment, offered her a full ride for a History major. Columbia and Princeton had her high on their waitlist, which given her other acceptances, Ava couldn’t even bring herself to be very disappointed over.

With each envelope she opened, Sara gave Ava’s arm an encouraging squeeze, gently rubbed her thumb over the flash of skin visible on Ava’s wrist where her sweatshirt sleeve had been pulled down.

Finally, only Brown was left.

Silence hung heavy between them for several moments. Ava was pretty sure if Sara hadn’t been lying beside her, literally prepared in every possible way to calm her down from any outcome, she would be having a full on panic attack on her bedroom floor over how terrified she was.

“Can you open it?” she asked eventually, unable to even look at the envelope.

“Only if you’re sure,” said Sara, her voice quiet.

“Yeah,” murmured Ava, swallowing. “It’s okay.” She closed her eyes, felt Sara’s weight shift a little as she moved her arm to hold the envelope properly. The sound of paper ripping was the only noise in the room for a few seconds, and Ava held her breath, clenching her teeth together to tamp down the nausea she was feeling. Sara didn’t speak as she unfolded the letter and for a second, Ava was sure it was a rejection because Sara was so quiet for so long that there was no way it could’ve been good news if she was this hesitant, and Ava readied herself for the crippling disappointment when -

Dear Miss Sharpe ,” Sara read, her voice steady and her warmth suddenly leaning back against Ava. “ We are very pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into Brown University to start in the coming fall semester this August.

“Are you serious?” Ava gasped, her head snapping over to look at Sara so fast that she was shocked she didn’t give herself whiplash. Sara’s expression was still remarkably neutral and controlled but her eyes were sparkling as she continued down the letter, a slow smile spreading across her face as she read further.

Furthermore, we are delighted to offer you a scholarship to partially cover your tuition fees for any History courses you will be studying while at our school, although please note that this scholarship will not cover papers from other disciplines if you wish to take them. Please follow these next instructions should you wish to accept these offers.

“Oh my God,” Ava croaked, her voice dry and her face hot and her entire body thrumming with disbelief and excitement and relief. “Oh my God. Holy … holy shit , I got in!”

“You didn't just get in Aves!” said Sara, shoving Ava gently with an affectionate laugh. “You got offered four different fucking scholarships, two of which are for Ivy League universities! This is incredible!”

Ava couldn’t speak, just shook her head and took the letter from Sara’s hands. She tried reading it but her eyes couldn’t focus on the words, so just let it drop in front of her and a soft, incredulous laugh slipped from her lips.

“I got into Brown,” she breathed, wondering if saying it aloud would allow the words to actually sink in.

“Come on,” said Sara, sitting up suddenly and tangling her fingers in Ava’s to pull her up off the bed too.

“Where are we going?” asked Ava, arching an eyebrow but unable to wipe the wide beam off her face.

Sara grinned. “Where do you think? To tell your freakin family, you weirdo!”

 


 

 

Between the terror of opening the letters and then the elated, excited celebration of actually knowing that she’d succeeded, Ava forgot for far longer than she should have the reason that Sara was actually at her house in the first place. She was so caught up in her father’s excitement when she confessed why she’d shot upstairs so quickly, was so surprised by Barbara’s sudden smile and the - was that pride? - glint in her eye when Ava revealed the scholarships she’d received on top of her acceptances. As Layla shrugged and said “‘S kinda cool I guess” and Ali scoffed and went “Yeah, you’re just jealous because you’re stuck studying here”, Ava rolled her eyes and exchanged a grin with Sara, who still wore an expression of so much affection and pride that Ava was a little overwhelmed.

Ali cheekily suggested popping open the champagne in the fridge, to which Robert snorted and said “Ha, nice try muffin.” but Ava couldn’t care less because she was going to Brown and literally nothing else in the world mattered at that moment.

(She knew that technically, she should look over the other schools a bit more, should do some more research, especially given the full scholarship Rutgers had offered. But she’d been researching Brown in depth for three years now and she knew without a doubt that she was going to accept them, regardless of what other opportunities were on offer.)

 

It was almost 9pm by the time she and Sara finally made their way back up to Ava’s room, and Ava was still floating on the joy of the past hour that she closed her door without thinking, couldn’t even bring herself to care about the ‘Sharpe open door policy’. She rubbed her hand over her face as she laughed softly, gazing at her own reflection in the mirror and wondering when the last time she’d seen herself this happy was.

“Hey Aves?”

Ava met Sara’s gaze in the mirror, still unable to stop smiling. “Yeah?”

“I hate to be a buzzkill,” said Sara, grimacing, “but any chance you have more painkillers?”

Ava’s throat went dry and she whirled round, a sudden rush of concern and anxiety flooding through her body. “ Fuck , I totally forget,” she said, immediately yanking open a drawer of her dressing table and pulling out a strip of tablets. “I’m so sorry Sara, you should’ve said something.”

“It’s fine,” Sara insisted. “I’m fine. Honestly, I would’ve told you if I wasn’t. They only just started wearing off now.”

Ava gave her a weary look, making her way over to the bed to sit beside Sara and hand her the pills and a glass of water from the bedside table. “How bad?”

“It’s not -”

“Sara.”

Sara sighed. “I dunno, maybe like a 7 or 8 out of 10 I guess.”

Sara , you should’ve -”

“It was fine , and you were so happy and excited and I wasn’t gonna take that away from you.” Sara gave her an indignant, defiant stare. “I’m telling you now, okay?”

Ava shook her head with a sigh, reaching out to rub a gentle hand over the base of Sara’s back and Sara’s eyes flickered shut, letting out a quiet breath of relief and her entire body seemed to relax at Ava’s touch.

“C’mon,” said Ava, nodding back to where her laptop was sitting on top of her pillows. “Let’s watch a few more episodes until those tablets kick in. You’ve got me hooked on this dumb cop show now.”

Sara smiled, and Ava could see the silent thank you in it even behind the exhaustion and slight amusement. They rearranged themselves to sit the way they had before dinner, sitting against the headboard with the laptop before them. Sara moved to sit as though she was going to put at least some distance between them, but Ava reached out and curled her fingers around Sara’s wrist, tugging her closer and giving her a look when Sara seemed hesitant.

“What, you’re the cuddle monster all day and suddenly you’re all ‘middle school dance with a ruler between partners’?” teased Ava and Sara snorted with laughter before caving, scooting across the bed to sit closer to Ava, the way they had been all evening previously.

They powered through three episodes before Ava knew enough about the characters now to suddenly notice similarities between Sara and Jake Peralta of all people. They were up to the Thanksgiving episode, it was around 10 o clock, and Sara’s head was resting on Ava’s shoulder, their legs tangled together and arms pressed tightly against each other. They were clearly growing sleepy but Ava knew that they were both too stubborn to give up on an episode they’d already started, even if they were barely a minute in. They’d just gotten through the cold open, where the whole squad was teasing Boyle for his Thanksgiving mannerisms by playing ‘Boyle Bingo, Thanksgiving Edition’, when Ava had the sudden image of Sara doing something similar with their friends and she couldn’t stop herself from laughing out loud.

“What?” murmured Sara, shuffling so she could look up at Ava.

“I was just thinking that this is a very you thing to do,” said Ava with a soft chuckle. “The bingo thing. I can see you doing that with Ray.”

Sara snorted into her shoulder. “Holy shit we should do that.” She paused, and Ava looked down to see a fond smile cross Sara’s face. “Laurel always used to say that I was just like Jake. We used to make a tally of all the Jake things I’d done, and all the Jake things that I would do.”

Ava grinned, poked Sara gently in the side as she said “We should start one too.”

They fell quiet again, just chuckling their way through the episode with the occasional soft, sleepy commentary. It was around a quarter of the way through, during Amy’s orchestrated Thanksgiving dinner, when Jake was teasing Amy about the font and spacing of her speech, that Sara let out a proper laugh and leaned into Ava with an affectionate smirk as she said “So you’re definitely an Amy.”

Ava opened her mouth to argue but at the look Sara gave her, closed it again and couldn’t help herself from smiling wryly. Sara wasn't wrong, not even slightly - Ava had always been the organised friend, the one carrying colour coordinated binders around and stressing about following the rules, so it was a pretty accurate assessment. But as Sara settled back against her side, Ava had to force herself not to think about how cute Jake and Amy were, how clear it was that the writers were setting them up to be the couple you rooted for, how their teasing and flirtatious bickering was founded in a soft, respectful rivalry between two partners that worked together seamlessly and were equally good friends.

Because clearly the fact that she and Sara were like Jake and Amy was only due to their personalities, rather than being about the way they interacted with each other. There was so much lingering sexual tension between the two characters, and so many romantic undertones, and Ava could absolutely not think about that right now, not when she could acutely feel Sara's leg resting against hers, the bare skin of her arm burning in a way that was not entirely unpleasant where it touched her own. (She might even like it, but that felt like a bit too much to admit right now, not when it made her stomach lurch with something that might be fear, not when Sara was clearly just seeking affection because she felt like crap. Not when Ava couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this physically affectionate with anyone that wasn’t her family, couldn’t remember ever feeling this safe and comfortable with anyone. She couldn’t think about any of it. Not right now. Maybe not ever.)

 


 

Ava was sure she’d stayed awake through the episode, but when she blinked to open her eyes and reached over to check her phone, she realised with a start that the episode they’d actually been watching had ended around 15 minutes ago, and both she and Sara had managed to fall asleep through almost an entire episode afterwards. Ava tried to shuffle upwards but Sara was curled into her, fingers curled around Ava’s sweater and her breath soft and sleepy against Ava’s shoulder.

“Sara,” Ava murmured, poking her gently in the side, hesitant to wake her or to break the comfortable bubble they’d created. “Sara, we need to go to bed.”

Sara groaned, burrowing further into Ava’s shoulder. “I’m in bed,” she mumbled quietly, words muffled. Ava couldn’t help her soft snort of incredulous laughter because, yeah, Sara wasn’t wrong, and honestly, what was shocking her the most was that neither of her parents had come in and said anything, neither of them had told her off for having her door shut or for being on her bed with a girl, cuddling in a way neither Barbara or Robert would be used to Ava doing with anyone. Yet somehow, they’d been left alone and Ava was pretty sure the rest of her house had retired to their own rooms too.

Sara seemed to finally pry herself into consciousness and she pulled away slightly, blinking up at Ava and brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face.

“As much as I’m very aware that I literally have one of the comfiest mattresses in Star City,” said Ava with a soft, joking smile, “you should probably go to the guest room.” Her voice was tinged with something hesitant, vulnerable, and it made Sara’s eyebrows tilt downward into a slight frown, remorse flashing across her expression and she nodded slightly, understanding replacing the doubt in her eyes

“Sorry, I shouldn’t’ve - “

“Sara,” Ava interrupted yet again, halting Sara’s inevitably long and completely unnecessary apology. She curled her fingers around Sara’s wrist, giving it a soft squeeze to ensure Sara understood that it wasn’t about her , that more than anyone, this was about Ava’s mom and about how absolutely nuts she would go if she found out Sara had spent the night in Ava’s room. Sara seemed to get that though, caught on to what Ava wasn’t saying quickly and she followed Ava in suit to slide off the bed, gathering her stuff to relocate to the guest bedroom down the hall.

“Aves?” she said, her voice quiet and slightly groggy with exhaustion. “Thank you so much for tonight. You have no idea how much I needed this.”

Ava felt all her breath leave her lungs in a rush at the warmth in Sara’s eyes, and all she could manage for a second was a brief nod before her brain caught up and kick started again.

“Anytime Sara,” she said with a small smile. “Thank you too. For … for tonight. For being there with the letters and just … you know.”

Sara’s eyes got brighter, if that were even possible, and she swung her backpack over her shoulder, pushed her disheveled hair away from her face and beamed at Ava, looking far too radiant for someone who had been half asleep for the better part of an hour.

“Anytime Aves,” she echoed, voice soft. “See you in the morning.”

 


 

Ava had a routine. Everyday, apart from Tuesdays and Sundays, her alarm would go off at 5:55am regardless of what time she’d fallen asleep the night before. Almost always, - apart from sick days, feeling particularly groggy, or if she really had only gotten one or two hours sleep - Ava would drag herself out of bed, would pull on some workout gear while half asleep, trudge to the bathroom to wash her face and then be out the door for a morning run (that at this time of the year, would be cold enough to wake her up).

Ava didn’t expect Sara to be much of a morning person, so assumed that she would be able to maintain her regular run schedule, and was just emerging from the bathroom to hurry down the stairs at 6:06am when the guest bedroom door opened, shut, and Sara stepped into the hallway. She was still wearing her clothes from last night - the well fitting jet black gym tights and the huge, worn pastel pink hoodie. Her hair was tousled from sleep and the large bags under her eyes had lessened just slightly from what Ava hoped had been a good night’s rest.

“Hey,” Ava said in surprise, taking her headphones out of her ears. “What’re you doing up? I thought you scoffed at those of us who got up at the, and I quote ‘asscrack of dawn’.”

Sara glanced over at her with a wry, still somewhat sleepy grin, eyes flickering over Ava’s body as she took in the thin workout gear. “What’re you doing?” she asked.

Ava blinked, gesturing to her outfit a little confusedly. “Uh …. Going for a run? I don’t exactly wander around the house in these shoes and this stupidly expensive sports bra for the hell of it.”

Sara grinned widely, and Ava was momentarily so distracted by the colour that had returned to her cheeks and the sparkle of light in the corner of her eyes (God, it was too early for this), that she almost missed Sara cockily ask “You are, are you? Going for a run?”

Ava huffed with frustration, crossing her arms. “What is it Lance? You wanna come with me?”

Sara laughed out loud, crossing the gap between her and Ava and tugging, dragging Ava towards the window and nodding at the gap in the curtains with an infectious grin on her face, her whole body clearly buzzing with excitement. Ava furrowed her eyebrows, feeling both slight annoyance and bewilderment at Sara’s apparent energy so early in the morning.

“Sara, what’re you even … oh.

 

The ground was covered with a thick layer of snow, undisturbed by the world. As much as Ava was usually a summer person, she was a sucker for snow. She loved the way the world seemed to calm, if only just for a moment, when the first snow started to fall - everything blanketed in white, everything peaceful and quiet, almost fragile, even if it was just for the first few hours. But she usually liked to admire it from afar, from the warmth and comfort of the living room window, curled up on the couch in front of the fire with a hot chocolate and stupid fluffy socks. Of course she would inevitably end up tugged outside for the annual first snowfall snowball fight once Ali woke up, but truthfully, Ava could’ve spent hours just gazing at the snow from the safety of the house without ever stepping foot outside. But Sara didn’t give her a chance, instead pulling her away from the window enough that she could slip in front of Ava and look her in the eyes.

“Come outside with me?” she said, brimming with excitement as her hand slid into Ava’s and squeezed tightly.

Ava hesitated for a moment. She knew how cold it would be. The kind of cold that no matter how many layers you wore, it still seemed to sink down to your bones and wrap a low chill around your entire body. As soon as they took one step, their clothes would be soaked. As soon as they started running around, the snow would become gross, muddy sludge and Ava grimaced, eyes flickering down to her thin, workout clothes, to her exposed abdomen only slightly covered by her black, zip up hoodie. “Sara, look at what we’re wearing. We’d freeze.”

Sara rolled her eyes. “Go put on a sweatshirt or something then - I’m fine, I’ll steal sweats from you after or something. Please ?”

Ava opened her mouth to continue to protest, to say something about clothing and warmth and being sensible, but before she could, Sara sent her a soft, beseeching look with something else behind it, something more fragile, a vulnerability that Ava was certain she wasn’t meant to have seen. Sara bit her lip, looking away, and Ava realised that as much as she was protesting, her mind was already made up.

“Come on Aves,” Sara murmured quietly, smile slipping into something softer. “It’ll be fun.” Ava felt her resolve crumble. How was she supposed to say no to the way Sara was looking at her?

She sighed overdramatically. “Okay, fine. ” She pinched the bridge of her nose, mentally preparing herself to lose pretty much all feeling in her extremities over the next hour. When she looked back up, she huffed a little indignantly at the surprised look on Sara’s face at her agreement. She grinned, prodding Sara in the ribs, “Stop looking so shocked, I’m capable of actually being reckless sometimes.” At Sara’s scoff, Ava slapped her arm lightly and sent her a half hearted glare. “Shut up! I’m gonna go change, but you have to go wake Ali, she’ll kill us if we go outside in the snow without telling her first.”

Sara grinned brightly. “First snowfall with the Sharpe family? This is gonna be a blast.”

 


 

 

Instagram
(saraalance)


You uploaded 1 new story:

It’s not first snowfall without a
snowball fight bitchessssss

@avacsharpe
@aliJsharpeXX
@laaylasharpexx

#wewon

FRIDAY; 25°

 

Friday 9 December at 8:49am:

amayajiwe replied to your story:

Cute!!

Are you feeling better? XX


so, so much xx

did they cancel ur geo
field trip bc of the snow?


Yup

No busses are going anywhere
in this weather


WAIT

AVA GOT HER EARLY COLLEGE
ACCEPTANCES

DID U GET YOURS


I haven’t opened them yet
I’m so scared


i’ll come over later? open
them with you??

you, me and jax can have
our first snowfall hot choc
tradition like always xx


Sounds good, come over
whenever <3

 


 

Instagram


aliJsharpeXX posted 1 new photo:

when @avacsharpe is a traitor and betrays the sharpe clan to take us down in the first snowball fight of the year. it's fine, it's chill, just u wait until @spencepsharpe is back bc we’ll get u big sis, just saying #firstsnowfall

Tagged: avacsharpe, saraalance, laaylasharpexx

Liked by: saraalance, theaqxeen, lilssstein, ztomaz, cvrtishxlt, noradarhk, and 112 others.
Comments:
avacsharpe: It’s called evenly numbered teams???? What were we gonna do, have every single one of us against Sara????
saraalance: um excuse you @avacsharpe i still coulda kicked all ur asses by myself
avacsharpe: Ha, that’s funny. And sweet. And so wrong. @saraalance
saraalance: i demand a rematch, you vs me, i will take u down @avacsharpe
aliJsharpeXX: @saraalance you have no idea what you just got yourself into omgggg

Friday 9 December.

 

avacsharpe posted 1 new photo:

Things to freak out over at this point in the year: midterms, the fact that we’re halfway through senior year, midterms, college, midterms, turning 18 in less than a month, the infinite number of tests/assignments due after the break, midterms.
Things to press pause on the freak out for: the first snowball fight of the year, & binge watching Brooklyn Nine Nine after @saraalance gets you just a little bit obsessed #whoops #balance #itsthelittlethings

Tagged: aliJsharpexx, saraalance, laaylasharpexx

Liked by: saraalance, ztomaz, amayajiwe, noradarhk, gxryggreeen and 174 others.
Comments:
saraalance: surely a b99 marathon over the break
saraalance: (i still demand a snowball fight rematch)

Friday 9 December.

 


 

Messenger
(Nora Darhk)

avalance will rise y’all
Active now

FRI 10:08am:

You:
Who here follows Ava’s little
sister Ali on instagram

Because

Sent 1 photo to the chat.


Zari:
DON’T EVEN FUCKING GET ME
STARTED I HAVE BEEN TEXTING
AMAYA ABT THIS ALL FUCKIN
MORNING


Nate:
I don’t follow Ali and I think I
just had a brief moment of heart
failure from seeing that photo for
the first time

The way they’re SMILING at each
other wow I’m fine


Wally:
OKAY  BUT @NORA U LEFT OUT
THEIR FLIRTING IN THE COMMENTS


Gary:
oh no

there was flirting in the comments?

am i abt to be hospitalised from this


Wally:
Sent 1 picture to the chat.


Ray:
They’re so cute wow


Amaya:
Okay but Ava just posted this on
Instagram

Sent 1 photo to the chat.


You:
‘#itsthelittlethings’ ??

Is she for real

When the fuck did she
become this romantic


Lily:
Guys they binge watched b99
together this is too much


Kuasa:
Okay so basically nobody ever
offer their house as a place to
stay if either of them ever need
it because clearly they just need
to have more romantic sleepovers
to progress things along


You:
None of you follow Layla right?

Ava’s older sister?


Gary:
i do but my instagram app is fucked
rn so I cant look at it


Lily:
Nah I never liked her


Zari:
Nope why?


You:
Her story

They’re making hot chocolate

Like rn she just uploaded it

Also, they changed into dry
clothes and um …. not to like
ruin anybody’s life or anything
but the hoodie Sara changed
into? I know that hoodie

That’s AVA’S hoodie yall


Wally:
shut the fuck up


Zari:
I need to figure out a way to
remember how to breathe


Jax:
this can’t be REAL


You:
Sara’s birthday is this month
right?? I dont even wanna think
about what Ava’s gonna get her


Gary:
SHUT UP NORA YOU’RE RUINING
MY LIFE I CAN’T HANDLE THIS


Zari:
Mood


Nate:
Every time you think it just can’t
get any damn cuter :’)


Amaya:
At this rate, we won’t even NEED
to do anything to set them up, they’re
doing just fine on their own


You:
I still reckon divide and conquer
at some point to see where each
of them are at


Zari:
Not today tho

Today we are all just gonna bask in
the fact that sara lance and ava sharpe
just had a sleepover and binge watched
brooklyn nine nine together and then
had snowball fight and are now making
hot chocolates w family members

You know what, none of that even sounds
remotely real and here we are

They’re going to ruin me

 

 

Chapter Text

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

Ava Sharpe
Active now

SAT 9:57am:

 

hey

so uh

i know we said we’d do
history today

but i kinda need a raincheck
i’m so sorry i know we wanted
to finish that second section


It’s okay, we can do it later this
week if that works better

Is everything okay?


i don’t know

i can’t talk right now


Sara

Are you okay?


no

can i maybe call you later?


Yeah, of course

Is this about Laurel?


Seen: Saturday, 10:06am

 



It wasn’t because she was scared, or at least, that was what she was telling herself, silently and desperately to stop the rising panic crawling in her lungs and the building nausea every time the reality of the situation sunk in. (Pretending that she hadn’t felt her entire body go cold when her dad had sat her down and quietly repeated what he’d been told over the phone earlier in the morning, in a hoarse voice thick with unshed tears and overwhelming anxiety, whispered “Sara, baby, listen … Laurel isn’t doing so good. We need to go see her.”)

The terror, the cold sweat, the aching in her chest had all faded over by the time they were on the road heading out of the city, and was being replaced by a slow, muted anger bubbling from the pit of Sara’s stomach. An anger that had become a burning in her chest as they arrived, as they walked through the awful, dull corridors, as the doctors quietly talked to Quentin as though Sara wasn’t even in the room, words like unstable and hospitalised and relapse thrown between them so casually that it made Sara feel sick.

And now.

Standing here with Laurel trying to make excuses, shrugging off the seriousness of it all, trying pick fights and argue to mask her clear shakiness and fear. And yet every time she tried to lie that she was doing okay, for the first time in their lives, Sara couldn’t feel any concern or sympathy for her sister, just felt her anger rising, prickling just under the surface of her skin, because what did Laurel think they were gonna do - ignore it ? Pretend this was just a regular visit? Just drive back to Star city thinking it was okay, everything was fine? Leave her here and go back to their lives as if they didn’t care? She didn’t even look minutely okay - she was just as thin as she had been when they’d first dropped her off, her hair limp and lifeless, skin sallow and pale, cheeks gaunt, lips chapped -

Apparently they’d just released her from the hospital ward this morning, but in Sara’s opinion, she didn’t look nearly healthy enough to be on her feet. Yet here she was, insisting that everyone was overreacting and that she was fine, that they didn’t need to come all this way in the snow on the second day of Sara’s winter break, that she just needed to sleep it off.

Sara fumed. Maybe she shouldn’t’ve been so upset about it. Because technically, it was Laurel’s problem, it was Laurel’s mistake … so why did she feel so goddamn responsible?

 

She faintly heard her dad having a gentle argument with Laurel in the background, going back and forth between “Why didn’t you tell us you were struggling?” and “I’m not struggling, it’s fine, I know this looks bad, but it’s going well!”

She groaned, closing her eyes and letting her head fall back against the wall with a resounding thud, prompting Laurel to snap something at her about how “if this is so much of an inconvenience for you Sara, you should’ve just stayed at home!” which Sara ignored. Who cared. Clearly not Laurel, if this afternoon was anything to go by.

“They told me it was the same stuff as before!” said Quentin and there was a touch of anger and frustration in his voice that wasn’t there a minute ago. “Darhk’s stuff. Where did you even get it Laurel? Are you still talking to a dealer or something?”

“Can you not be a cop right now Dad?” hissed Laurel through gritted teeth. “Can you just be my father instead?”

“I’d love to, but I wouldn’t be your father if I didn’t ask where the hell you’re getting this stuff from Laurel!”

Sara only kept her eyes closed for a moment - the longer she didn’t look, the more Laurel’s voice began to twist into their mother’s, and the more she was reminded of time spent in Laurel’s room when they were younger, head buried in her side, Laurel’s headphones tucked into her ears in a futile attempt to block out their parents arguing in the room below. And just like then, closing her eyes didn’t work.

“Can you please just think about someone other than yourself for one fucking second?”

She meant for the words to come out harsher, more insistent, but instead they fell flat - the exhausted sound of her voice creating a silence that neither her father nor Laurel attempted to fill, so she did instead.

“It always has to be about you, doesn’t it?”

It wasn’t that she didn’t see the flicker of hurt that passed across Laurel’s expression as she turned to face her, and it wasn’t as if she didn’t know that she was pushing too hard. But Laurel wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t let them help her, and if the only way to get her to talk was to push her buttons, then so be it. But just like when they were kids and their tempers flared up, the hurt on Laurel’s face faded into something less kind, less caring (and Sara hated that it somehow made her feel less guilty about the thoughts she could no longer control). Laurel’s words were much harsher than before as she snapped “Well yeah, it is about me. Because this was just my problem, until you stuck your nose where it didn’t belong and dragged us all into this mess.”

Sara whirled around, anger flashing in her eyes. “You know what?” she spat out, curling her hands into tight fists. “I was doing good, Laurel. I know this whole fucking disaster is about you but I was good. I was happy and I was doing well at school, and soccer is gonna start soon, and for the first time since this whole mess began things were going well.” Sara felt something ugly inside her twist, the part of her that had been tensed since the start of the year finally snapping as she added with quiet, shaking fury “It’s literally one week until my eighteenth birthday, and this is what you do? I thought you were better than this. You were supposed to be better than this.”

It took all of her willpower not to turn around and storm off, to hold her challenging glare, but then Laurel huffed, looking away as she murmured condescendingly “I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” and Sara could feel the way her heart rate picked up, the frothing, bubbling anger rising to the surface and the words came rushing out of her mouth before she could stop them, coated with fury and outrage and a flash of vulnerable hurt that Sara wished she could hide.

“All I understand is that you said you were getting better for me. Is this for me too?”

“Sara, stop,” she faintly heard her father murmur, but the rage was rushing through her body, she could see the spark of defiance in her sister’s eyes as Laurel stepped closer and snapped back at her, words dripping with a spite that Sara was far too blinded to notice was disguising humiliated exhaustion behind it. Because Laurel was lashing out too, and Sara was livid, and she could feel her nails dig into her palms when Laurel scoffed at her father’s words, her voice childishly goading, clearly trying to provoke another reaction.

“Yeah, Sara, maybe you should stop it.”

“Both of you stop it,” Quentin pleaded, much gentler than either of them saw coming. He stepped between them, looking to Laurel as he finished “Laurel, baby, please. We just want you to get better so you can come home. I miss my daughter.”

If Sara could think rationally, maybe she would have managed to hear his words for what they were, but instead she felt herself suck in a deep breath as he spoke, because there it was. There was the low, flickering insecurity that she’d had her entire life, there was the anxiety that she hadn’t been able to suppress since everything that had happened over the summer, the fear that she wasn’t enough for her father, that she was his second favourite, that even with Laurel in rehab, no amount of success Sara ever achieved would allow her to sit at the same tier as her sister. Quentin didn’t need to say ‘If only Sara could take your place’ or ‘why was it you, not Sara’  for her to hear it anyway. Sara’s fists clenched tighter, enough that her nails broke skin and she wanted to scream, shaking with an anger more intense than she’d ever felt before as she thought am I not your daughter too?

She bit the inside of her lip, pushing past her dad as her last thread of self control frayed. “You know what?” she snapped. “No, we don’t want you home. Don’t even fucking bother Laurel, just get better and fuck off to Stanford where you belong. Your reputation in Star City is ruined anyway - all my friends know exactly where you are.”

She saw Laurel’s jaw drop, saw the way she looked as if the ground had been pulled from under her feet, and Sara felt a sickening sense of satisfaction creep through her, which only grew when Laurel choked out a horrified gasp, pushing Sara back roughly by her shoulders.

“How could you?” she demanded, voice strangled and broken. “I asked for one thing and you promised -”

“Are you fucking kidding me Laurel?” Sara shouted, an incredulous spike of uncontrollable rage erupting within her, the volume of her words increasing. She ignored the way her dad reached out to hold her back, ignored the shocked look on Laurel’s face. “You expected me to live with the burden of this secret for the entire goddamn year and never talk to anyone about it? To lie to all the people I love the most and pretend that everything was fine even though I was falling apart, to act as if it didn’t matter at all? You think you’re the only person your addiction is affecting?”

“It’s not the same -” Laurel began but the fierceness from her voice was gone, her argument already sounded weaker. But Sara was still fuming, Sara suddenly had six months worth of pain and confusion and heartache and anger and anxiety that had all come to a head and for all that she’d talked to Ava, for all that she’d been able to voice her uncertainties to her friends, there was a part of her that needed Laurel to know , needed Quentin to know, needed them both to understand that she still wasn’t okay, that this wasn’t okay.

“You know what Dad’s been doing at work?” Sara demanded, gesturing blindly towards Quentin and she heard the way his breath hitched.

“Sara, no,” he tried to say but Sara ploughed past him, hardened her gaze as she glared at Laurel with so much conviction and unflinching honesty that she saw Laurel hesitate and step back a little.

“Dad’s been trying to take down Damien Darhk,” Sara hissed and she heard the contempt and selfish fury in her own voice because as much as she knew this was her dad’s job, there was a part of her that was livid at him for taking on such a feat, for putting himself in such a dangerous position when right now, if he were to - God forbid - get killed on a Darhk raid, Sara would be left alone with nobody in the world at her side.

“Dad, what the hell?” said Laurel, her eyes wide as they flickered to Quentin. “Getting yourself killed trying to take down the drug kingpin who’s stuff I got hooked on isn’t going to make me better, that’s just going to leave me and Sara without a father!”

Sara knew, rationally, that she should be glad that Laurel saw the truth in it, saw it from her perspective, but instead it just made her madder.

“No,” she snapped in a growl, “it’ll leave me without a father because I’m still out there, going to school, trying to live a normal life. You’re the one holed up in here like the fucking mess you are, and I’m obsessing over all the ways I could have stopped this from happening, Dad’s out there putting his life on the line to take down the guy behind all this, and you’re not even trying to get better.” Sara took a step back, pushing her hair out of her face. “I never thought of you as selfish Laur,” she spat bitterly, “but here we are.”

That was when she left.

She knew she’d taken it too far, knew as soon as the fire left Laurel’s voice that the argument was gone, that Laurel felt guilty enough that they could just talk like normal people without the need for false reassurances and empty promises. But Sara was Sara and she hadn’t been able to stop, knew that the next expression on Laurel’s face would be her facade crumbling and Sara couldn’t deal with that, couldn’t be the reason that her strong, beautiful, kind, brilliant sister broke down.

She could hear her dad calling after her as she stormed out of the room, but Sara couldn’t bring herself to care, because she’d spent half of the goddamn year caring about Laurel, and she’d had enough. And Quentin was trying his hardest to fix this, to hold this family together through the chaos, but Sara knew that if he had the choice, he would trade her for Laurel in a heartbeat, because who needed two fucked up daughters when you could just keep the perfect one in the first place, right? Sara stumbled slightly at the thought, reaching out to brace herself against the wall. She didn’t know where she was, and all the grey, overly lit corridors looked the same, and she had no idea how she was going to find her way out of this later, but right now - as she sagged down to the floor and leant her back on the wall, burying her head in her knees - she couldn’t bring herself to care.

Because what was the point anyway? It was caring that got her here.

Caring about Laurel, about her family, about Laurel’s fucking reputation had nearly torn her apart at the start of the year, and now, just when she’d finally managed to piece herself back together and work her way to a place she was happy, caring about Laurel had dragged her back down again.

 

She didn’t know how much time had passed before she heard her father crouch down next to her, placing a careful hand on her shoulder as he murmured her name, but she couldn’t bring herself to look up, couldn’t bear to see the disappointment she knew would be in his eyes if he saw the way her hands were still shaking or the faint wet patch her tears had left on her jeans. He smoothed down her hair with a gentleness that was simply too much and Sara could feel the tears welling up in her eyes yet again, because his hands were kind and comforting in a way she didn’t deserve, not after what she’d said to Laurel.

“Sara, please go talk to her,” he said softly.

Sara shuddered, finally looking up but keeping her eyes firmly shut. “I can’t.”

It wasn’t fair on him, her acting in the selfish, immature way she used to when she was 14, she thought faintly, but pushed it away and let the familiar weight of anger take its place. She’d told Laurel things she’d promised she wouldn’t, and she’d screamed at her and lost control of herself and she probably didn’t deserve her forgiveness.

She didn’t even want her forgiveness, not right now.

(The worst part was, half the things Sara had said were at least partially true.)

“For me, Sara?” Quentin pleaded in a quiet voice, and Sara choked down another sob, forcing away the part of her that just wanted to do as he said, just wanted him to be proud of her. Sara sucked in a deep, shaky breath and pushed herself up to her feet before turning and walking out of the facility, holding her breath until she realised that her father was following her to the car rather than pushing her further to talk to Laurel.

No goodbyes then, Sara thought, and she wasn’t sure whether she was relieved or even more upset.

 

(The journey home was silent, and Sara felt almost guilty that she was glad she didn’t have to face her father’s harsh words or the disappointed looks she knew she deserved. And yet, the silence was almost worse, because she could only hear her deafening thoughts echoing in her mind, broken only by waves of bitterness every time her father looked her way, because it wasn’t fair that Laurel was the one in rehab, the one who had just relapsed, and yet Sara was still the disappointment.)

 

It was as they were heading closer to Star City - the city lights and the buzz of an urban centre becoming slowly closer in the distance - that the perpetual breeze filtering through the millimeter gap in Sara’s window (that’d been there for years, still hadn’t been fixed) turned icy and goosebumps erupted on her arms. She shivered, glancing over her shoulder to grab her jacket from the backseat only to realise she’d left it on Laurel’s bed, discarded haphazardly as they’d stepped inside for the first time. The reminder of it just had Sara tumbling back down the rabbit hole of her thoughts, of her anger and resentment and broken, overwhelming confusion and regret. It was too much all over again and she purposefully reached across to turn up the heating inside the car as a way to distract herself, to avoid losing it in front of her dad when they still had at least 25 minutes of the journey left.

Sara didn’t know what to do. What to think, what to feel, how to even move forward from something as heartbreaking and emotionally destructive as the argument she and Laurel had had. She just wanted someone to tell her that she wasn’t wrong , for someone to look at her and not have disappointment in their eyes the way Quentin did, for someone to squeeze her hand and give her a tight, comforting hug and murmur “It won’t be like this forever” and make jokes to lighten the mood and distract Sara with conversations and homework and -

 

Ava.

She needed Ava.

 

The realisation hit Sara hard and her eyes snapped shut. Before she knew what she was doing, her hand was pulling her phone out of her back pocket, but when she went to unlock it and open her messages, her fingers hesitated and an ugly, vicious thought entered her mind.

She doesn’t care, why would she care? Why would anyone care? If Laurel of all people doesn’t, why would someone who’s hated you for longer than they ever liked you?

Sara swallowed, clutched her phone tightly. Rationally, she knew it wasn’t true. Somewhere in her mind, she was aware that this was her fight with Laurel playing on her anxieties, her insecurities, the toxic parts of her own mind trying to alienate her and send her further into a spiral of loneliness. But that awareness was so faint right now, overshadowed by Sara’s exhaustion and unease, that she found herself dropping her phone into her lap and returning to gaze out the window at the rapidly approaching city, trying to think of anything but the way Laurel had looked at her before she’d stormed out of the room.

She didn’t need Ava, she tried to tell herself firmly. She didn’t. She didn’t.

 

She didn’t.

 



Sara Lance

iMessage
(Ava Sharpe)
Saturday


7:08pm:
Hey

7:08pm:
You wanna talk?  


7:08pm:
No pressure ofc, I’m here
if you need though XX

 

7:14pm
we’re about twenty mins
out of star city now


7:14pm:
do we have hw for monday?

 

7:15pm
That avoidance was by far the
least subtle thing I’ve ever seen


7:16pm:
yeah well my head’s not
really screwed on straight
i guess


7:16pm:
the classic sara lance wit
and genius may be slightly
lacking tonight

 

7:17pm
Are you okay?

 

7:20pm
Sara?

 

7:25pm
what are you doing rn?

 

7:25pm
Want me to come over?

 

7:26pm
not if you’re busy


7:26pm
I’m not


7:26pm:
I promise


7:27:
we’re still driving


7:27pm:
we’ll be home in about
10 minutes


7:27:
Okay


7:28pm:
I’ll see you there

 

Read: Saturday.

 


 

Ava pulled up outside the Lance’s house just as Quentin finished backing into the drive. (Predictably, Layla had made a massive fuss about her using the car, only relenting when Ava claimed that it was an emergency with a friend, to which Robert had used the ‘parent’s authority card’ and forced Layla to hand over the keys. Ava was pretty sure she would be getting the silent treatment from her sister for the next week, but she didn’t really care anyway.)

She was so unsure of what to expect. Sara had barely said anything over text, the one indication for what had been going on being her lack of response when Ava inquired about whether it was something to do with Laurel. Fear on Sara’s behalf clamped down suffocatingly in Ava’s chest and she hoped, begged silently and desperately to the God she’d been raised to believe in that Laurel was okay. That she wasn’t -

No way. Sara and Quentin wouldn’t be coming back within the day if something really bad, truly serious had happened. But it had to be something bad enough that Sara was shaken. She’d openly admitted that she wasn’t okay, actively asked for help when Ava had sent her follow up text just twenty minutes ago. It was so, so unlike her that Ava was more than a little apprehensive as she turned off the engine, pulled her keys from the ignition and hesitantly stepped out of the car to walk down the drive. It took longer than she expected for Sara to climb out of the police cruiser, shivering slightly as the icy December air hit her bare arms, causing goosebumps to break out across her skin. (It had only snowed a couple of times since the night Sara had stayed at Ava’s house, the last being several days ago now, but the temperature was still hovering low enough that Ava was stunned with Sara’s lack of a jacket.)

When Sara finally turned around, Ava’s breath left her in a rush. She took in Sara’s dishevelled appearance with an ache in her chest. Sara’s eyes were clearly red and puffy even from a few metres away, hair tangled as if she’d been frantically running her hands through it, something Ava somehow knew Sara did when she was unsure or nervous. Before Ava could speak - not that she had any clue where to start - Quentin took a step closer to Sara, squeezing her shoulder gently and murmuring something about going inside before he left them both standing outside the house. There was a long pause in which Ava took a hesitant step forward, her instincts telling her to be closer to Sara, to comfort her, to ask what was wrong or offer to take her somewhere to get her mind off things, but she forced herself to wait, to pause, because Sara looked more on edge and more vulnerable than Ava had ever seen her before, even that night in Queen’s Park.

Sara shivered, wrapped her arms around herself tightly as she offered Ava a broken smile that didn’t even come close to meeting her eyes, whispering a choked, unsteady “Hey” that came out hoarse, as though she was inches away from tears. Ava didn’t remember moving forward, but Sara didn’t bolt as she did. In fact, as soon as Ava was close enough to reach out and brush her fingers gently against Sara’s arms, Sara just staggered forwards, as though she needed to be closer too, needed the reassurance. She trembled visibly as Ava gently squeezed just above her elbows.

“Sara?” Ava asked softly and Sara crumbled, lurched forward with so much force and desperation that Ava would have stumbled back had she not been ready for it. There’d been a flash of complex, overpowering emotion in Sara’s eyes that Ava didn’t have a chance to process before Sara had hidden her face from view, buried in Ava’s shoulder as she her entire body shook with clearly uncontrollable sobs. Ava had seen guilt, anger, vulnerability, and her mind raced with questions and anxieties over what had happened today, what had been so bad that Sara was this broken. She felt helpless without that information, not knowing what to say or how to comfort Sara, so just pulled her closer murmured “It’s okay, I’m here, you’re okay.” Ava wasn’t sure which of Sara’s tremors were from the cold and which were from how much she was crying, and when she went to rub a hand up and down Sara’s arm to warm her up, she found Sara’s skin was freezing.

“Hey,” she said quietly, straightening up a bit so she could lean back and look down at Sara. “It’s like the fucking Antarctic out here, let’s go inside, yeah?”

Sara nodded, roughly wiped her tears with the heel of her palm and Ava could see the way the muscles of her neck tightened as she stepped away, clearly trying not to panic. Instinctively, Ava reached out to grab Sara’s hand as a silent gesture of you’re okay, you’re not alone. Sara’s eyes flickered up to hers, full of gratitude, before her breath evened out a little and she stepped forward to drag them both towards the door. Once inside, Sara visibly relaxed from the warmth but Ava could see the way her shoulders tensed as she looked around the house, jaw clenching as her eyes caught sight of family photos on every wall, every mantlepiece. She was still shaking a little, her arms were still covered in goosebumps, so Ava tugged off her Dad’s old college basketball hoodie and nudged Sara, handing it to her. On any normal day, Sara would have shaken her head, insisted she was fine or pointed out that she had a plethora of her own hoodies upstairs. But today, Sara just nodded mutely, pulled the garment on and seemed to curl into the lingering warmth of Ava’s body on it, before shoving her hands in its pockets and sniffing. They both stood there for several moments, Sara leaned back against the door and Ava hovering in front of her, close enough to touch but far enough to not be in Sara’s personal bubble. It was only once they heard the door of Quentin’s study downstairs bang shut that Sara exhaled and began to pull Ava’s upstairs.

She moved sluggishly, like she didn’t have the energy for the steps she was taking, and as soon as they reached her bedroom, Sara sank onto the edge of her bed and let her head hang, her hair spilling out of its loosely bundled bun to hide her face from view.

“We don’t have to do the gross talk about your feelings thing you know,” said Ava as she sat beside Sara, nudging her a little. “We could ignore our emotions with minutely healthy coping mechanisms like study, or watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or going out somewhere as a distraction, or rounding up some of the others and play a practical joke on Gary that’ll make everyone’s day.”

Sara laughed, a cracked, hoarse sound but it at least sounded somewhat genuine.

“I would love to do all of those things,” she said in barely a whisper. “But I just … I can’t.”

Ava nodded, reached out to squeeze Sara’s shoulder in a way that just said I get it , before Sara sighed, pushed her hair off her face and shuffled backwards onto the bed to lie down on her back. Ava copied her, letting her hand rest between them on the covers so that Sara could take it if she needed to. It felt just like that night at Ava’s house before Thanksgiving, out on the patio beneath the stars when Sara had talked Ava down from the heartbreak that was her aunt’s disapproval. Ava hoped desperately that this wasn’t another awful, unbearable family situation, even though logically she knew that hope was unfounded given all the things that added up to this being about Laurel.

Sara sucked in a sharp breath, pulled her hands up into the sleeves of Ava’s hoodie and kept her eyes focused on the ceiling. “Laurel relapsed,” she said in a small voice.

Oh.

Oh no.

Ava wanted to say something, wanted to say exactly what Sara needed to hear but she was so shocked, so horrified and astonished that she didn’t know what that was. Almost thankfully, Sara filled the silence, kept talking with words that just spilled out of her mouth uncontrollably.

“Me and Dad, we … we went to see her and God, I don’t know the … the doctors said it wasn’t actually that bad, like, she’d didn’t overdose or anything, but she’d gotten her hands on product somehow and they caught her and she was so out of it when they found her that she was hospitalised and … fuck , she just kept saying that she was fine. Like it wasn’t a big deal, like it didn’t even matter. And it just made me so angry and I know it’s not my place to tell her how to feel with all of this because I know it’s not happening to me but I just lost it Aves, I couldn’t stop myself from just yelling everything that’s made me mad and upset about this whole thing since the summer and she was so on edge too that suddenly we were just fighting and screaming and each other and - ”

Her words had been growing thicker with oncoming tears with every sentence and suddenly, they caught in her throat and she stopped abruptly. Ava rolled onto her side and reached out for Sara’s hand slowly, giving her the chance to pull away if she wanted to. But she didn’t, so Ava pulled the hoodie sleeve up enough that she could curl their fingers together, giving Sara’s hand a gentle squeeze. Again, she wanted to say something but she didn’t know what, didn’t know what would help rather than hurt, so just stayed quiet, waiting for Sara to speak again.

Sara seemed to understand Ava’s internal struggle and just clutched Ava’s hand tightly, still pointedly avoiding Ava’s gaze, before she sucked in several shaky breaths to try and dispel her tears. “I was mad at her for not thinking about us - me and Dad,” she said finally. “I told her that I’d told you - all of you, all my friends - about where she actually was, and she …” Sara shuddered, grip on Ava’s hand tightening, “she was so mad, Aves. I’ve never seen her that angry, not at me. And it scared me, I didn’t want to see her looking at me like that, I would’ve rather seen anything else, would’ve rather seen her hurt and crying than angry at me so … so I just kept going. Kept trying to hurt her.”

“You weren’t wrong Sara,” Ava finally said softly. “You weren’t wrong to tell us. You could never have managed this whole year on your own, it was tearing you apart.”

“I shouldn’t have said it like that though,” croaked Sara, her free hand drifting to her face to rub her eyes. “It wasn’t just me venting all the things I needed to get out, Ava. I … I said things I knew would hurt Laurel. I wanted her to feel like shit about it. I -”

“That doesn’t make you a bad person,” interrupted Ava, pushing herself up onto one arm so she could look Sara clearly in the eyes. “Do you regret wanting to hurt her? Not what you said, but the intention of wanting her to feel pain because of the things you said. Do you regret it?”

Surprise flashed across Sara’s face and Ava saw the momentary defiance, the contemplation of maintaining her fury and her grudge. But it passed as soon as it came, mellowing into resignation and exhaustion, and Sara’s eyes flickered shut as she whispered “Yeah.”

Ava didn’t continue straight away, let the meaning of what she’d asked and what Sara’s answer meant sink in before she repeated again “You’re not a bad person for saying what you did Sara.”

Sara didn’t reply, her breath stuttering and grip on Ava’s hand as tight as ever, almost painful, but Ava didn’t mention it, just ran her thumb over Sara’s knuckles with a feather light touch, hoping the action said the things Ava still wasn’t sure how to voice in the right way.

“I don’t care what Laurel said to you Sara,” she said eventually. “She never should’ve asked you to carry the burden of keeping her secret alone.”

“I know,” Sara said, but the response seemed automatic, flat somehow, and her words were still hesitant and disbelieving.

“Do you?” said Ava, arching an eyebrow.

Sara snorted humourlessly, eyes flickering to Ava momentarily before darting back up to the ceiling. “Am I that easy to read?” she asked wryly.

“Maybe I’m just learning your tells,” said Ava with a small smile.

Sara chuckled with slight surprise, before the barely there grin faded and she swallowed with a long, trembling sigh. “I’m … working on it,” she admitted in a murmur. “On knowing that me telling you guys wasn’t betraying her trust. It was me doing what I needed to do. I’m … I’ll get there.”

Ava nodded. She bit her lip for a second, wondering whether Sara was still up for talking about this. She seemed so tired and defeated, and now that she’d told Ava the main reason for all this, Ava couldn’t help but suspect Sara was going to push her away and ask to change the subject, do something else. Ava let her eyes trace the few faint cracks in the ceiling as she tried to decide whether to prompt Sara or not.

“At the time I thought she was as mad as I was,” mumbled Sara, fiddling with the cuffs of her sleeves. “But I think … do you remember when I talked to her on the phone when Dad was on a raid?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“She … she said that night that she didn’t want to see me when we visited because she was embarrassed. That she was humiliated for being in this situation and didn’t want me to see her like that.”

“You think her arguing with you today was her trying to mask her humiliation?” asked Ava, feeling an ache in her chest not for Sara, but for Laurel this time.

“At least a little bit, yeah,” whispered Sara. “I was too angry to see that earlier, but I could see it in her eyes. I could see how much she was hurting, how much she wanted to break down. I think she was pretending to be fine because I was there, because she didn’t want me to see her at her lowest.”

“I think you’re right,” said Ava slowly, “but Sara - even if that’s true, that doesn’t cancel out the way you were feeling, or how much you needed her to hear the things you said.”

“It wasn’t just her,” said Sara, a surprising anger present in her voice all of a sudden, and something Ava couldn’t recognise flashed in her eyes. “Laurel and I were fighting and I would’ve stopped, I know I would’ve stopped before it got worse because I would’ve been able to see when Laurel cracked, when she wasn’t mad anymore but … but Dad said something and it just got to me and I couldn’t stop myself.”

Ava didn’t know whether Sara wanted to repeat Quentin’s words, but the “What did he say?” slipped out before she could convince herself to stay silent. Sara didn’t seem to mind though, just huffed with some lingering fury but mostly sadness, sniffing before she murmured “He said he wanted Laurel to come home because he missed his daughter. And I know he didn’t mean anything by it, I know he wasn’t trying to imply that I wasn’t his daughter but like … God Ava, I’ve spent my whole life trying to be as good as Laurel. And I never hated her for it, never, because she never made me feel bad for not being as perfect as her, she never made me feel like I wasn’t enough. And Mom and Dad didn’t do it intentionally, but I always knew she was their favourite because she was less trouble, she was easier to handle, she was everything they wanted in a daughter, even after they split up. And I know this is so wrong, it’s so, so wrong in so many ways, but part of me was excited for Laurel being at rehab to give me a chance to be the perfect daughter but somehow, even now , Laurel’s still the favourite and Dad doesn’t even realise that and it makes me so, so mad and his words just got tangled up in my head and it was all too much and I just kept saying stuff to Laurel because I was angry at Dad and she was the one I was already yelling at and he kept trying to break up our fight and he and Laurel were fighting too and kept reminding me of when he and Mom used to fight and I just -”

“Hey, Sara, breathe,” said Ava quickly, sitting up and pulling Sara up with her, running the tips of her fingers up and down Sara’s arm while placing her other hand on her knee, keeping her voice low and soft. She had heard the growing restlessness in Sara’s voice, heard her inching towards panic and knew she needed to stop this train of thoughts before Sara fell into a black hole she couldn’t crawl out of. Sara seemed to instinctively lean into Ava’s touch and Ava tried not to jump when she curled her hand around the one Ava had on her knee, squeezing tightly.

“Honestly?” whispered Sara, her voice a lot steadier than it had been moments ago. “I’m still mad at her. At both of them. I know I should be worried … I am worried, of course I’m worried. I’m just…” Sara shrugged half heartedly, bringing one hand up to wipe fresh tears off her face, her voice shaky as she quietly said “I don’t know how to feel.”

“No one can tell you how to feel, Sara,” Ava murmured gently, “but every single feeling you have is valid. You don’t have to be okay all the time.”

Sara snorted again, and when Ava raised a questioning eyebrow she murmured “I’d kinda like to be okay some of the time though.”

You are , Ava thought about saying, because she could remember all the moments over the past few months that Sara had been okay, had smiled so brightly that no one would ever suspect something as tragic as Laurel’s addiction was even happening behind closed doors. And Ava didn’t know how she felt about how clearly she could recall the sparkle in Sara’s eyes and the wide unrestrained happiness from those increasingly frequent moments over the last few weeks, but Ava knew those smiles had meant Sara was okay. She had been. But she wasn’t right now and reminding Sara of this didn’t feel right, so she let the conversation lapse into silence for a moment before asking quietly “Tell me about her?”

Sara opened her mouth, voice catching hesitantly in her throat as vulnerability flickered across her expression, and Ava shook her head, squeezing Sara’s hand yet again. “I don’t mean … not like that. I mean the her before all of this. What’s her favourite colour?”

“Blue,” Sara answered immediately, almost instinctively, pausing before she added, “until I decided blue was my favourite colour, and she didn’t want me to copy her so she changed it to yellow for like, six years.”

Ava chuckled as she pictured a small Laurel insisting vehemently that she had to have a different favourite colour to her little sister. Ava’s grin widened when she saw a small, fragile smile creep across Sara’s lips. It was barely there, but it was a start, so Ava prompted again. “Favourite season?”

“Spring. She was a big fan of new life and all that sappy shit.”

Ava laughed, and Sara’s smile - although still small - became firmer somehow, more deliberate. “Favourite animal?” Ava continued, shuffling back again to lie down and rolling back onto her side.

Sara’s grin softened as followed in suit, rolled over to mirror Ava’s position, lying on her side with her head resting on the pillow, still keeping a firm grip on Ava’s hand. Her voice was far too quiet as she murmured, lost in thought, “A canary.” Ava almost frowned, was seconds away from asking what was clearly weighted behind the answer but Sara beat her to it.

“I was 5 or 6,” she said, “and Dad bought these two canaries because we were both sorta allergic to cats and he was out too often and we were too young for us to have a dog. He got a black canary for Laurel and a white one for me, which is ironic really; she was always the good one, the pure one out of the two of us, not me, so really she should’ve gotten the white one. But yeah, those canaries became her favourite animals. I don’t know if they still are, but that’s what she told me when we were kids.”

Something about the story flagged something familiar in Ava’s memory, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was for a while. She racked her brains, let her eyes flicker around the room searchingly as a trigger, until she caught sight of the pinboard hanging above Sara’s desk. It was covered in reminders, post-it notes, polaroids, inspirational quotes, school notices and the like, but among all of them was an old, slightly faded child’s drawing in coloured pencils of two birds tangled together, their wings just overlapping. It was messy and far from perfect, but there was an odd kind of charm to it that Ava liked, an innocence that didn’t quite make sense but was loveable all the same. Ava’s gaze returned to Sara and she made sure to meet Sara’s eye before tilting her head in the direction of the desk.

“It took me a second,” she said, “but that drawing you have on your pinboard. It’s of you and Laurel’s two canaries, right?”

Surprise flashed across Sara’s face and she seemed momentarily stunned that Ava had even noticed the picture, let alone remembered it well enough to piece together what it was.

“Yeah,” said Sara quietly, shuffling onto her back so she could glance over fondly at it before turning back to face Ava. “Laurel drew it when we were younger. It’s one of my favourite things because it reminds me of her before things got bad. She used to have it pinned up in her bedroom and I found it when I went in to tidy it up soon after school started this year. I missed her so much and it was such a stupid little drawing but having it in my room and being able to sit here and see it made me feel like she wasn’t so far away, somehow.”

Her voice took on a wistful tone as she spoke, heavy with regret, and Ava bit her lip agin, wanting to intervene but still not wanting to overstep.

“You haven’t lost her you know,” Ava said softly. “I know you said you fought and I know it’s bad but she’s smart. She’ll be able to piece together your side of things, even if not right away. She still loves you. She’ll forgive you.”

Sara swallowed thickly, looking away for a moment, and Ava was briefly worried she’d gotten the wrong message. But Sara’s eyes quickly found hers again, filled with fear and honesty as she said, “I’m not sure I want her to forgive me right now.” She took a deep breath, as if trying to get her thoughts in order. “I shouldn’t’ve lost it and yelled at her like I did,” she admitted hoarsely, “but … the worst part is that I still meant a lot of what I said. I don’t think I’d take much of it back, even if I could.”

“You’re the best judge of that Sara,” promised Ava, “not me. And I know you’re smart and logical enough to figure that out for yourself over however long you need. You deserve to give yourself the time to work through this. But whatever happens, you can tell us - me, Amaya, Zari, and everyone else, we care about what’s going on in your life, and you should talk about it. Don’t let what happened with Laurel convince you to close yourself off.”

Sara shuffled a little closer, her fingers tightening around Ava’s. “Thank you,” she said in a small voice. “I needed this. I … I was so glad you texted. I wanted to talk to you so badly but I was scared you were busy or wouldn’t wanna hear any of it.”

“I always want to hear anything and everything you want to talk to me about,” said Ava before she could stop herself, and she felt her cheeks grow hot until a small, grateful smile spread across Sara’s face.

“Okay,” said Sara, voice warmer and softer than it had been through the entire conversation so far. “I’ll take you up on that then.”

To that, Ava just nodded, offered Sara a smile, before they lapsed into their familiar, safe, comfortable quiet that made the world outside of their little bubble just a little less scary and the enormity of all the things happening around them feel only slightly more manageable.

 

(Later, Sara curled up beside Ava as they watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a tub of chocolate caramel swirl ice cream sitting between them on Sara’s bed and a blanket thrown over both their legs. Ava relaxed at the warmth of the room, at the easiness of being this close to Sara, of the surprising intimacy between them that Ava had never experienced with anyone before. It was then - with Sara’s weight pressing into her side and the fun, familiar and safe sound of the Brooklyn Nine Nine theme song blaring through the laptop speakers, with the vague hum of cars racing by on the street outside and the look of Sara still curled up in Ava’s hoodie - it was then that Ava finally let her mind drift to what she’d been consciously avoiding thinking about for at least a few weeks now. She allowed the thought to appear at the forefront of her mind, hesitantly opened herself up to it, sucked in a sharp breath as the reality of it sunk down on her.

So.

Maybe … just maybe, she had feelings for Sara Lance.)

Chapter Text

Messenger
(Ava Sharpe)

we’re all getting old
Active now

SUN 9:34pm:

 

Zari removed Sara Lance from the chat.

 

Zari:
SO

we’re all pieces of shit and
literally have been so busy
that this is the most last min
thing ever bUT

SARA’S BDAY WHAT’RE WE
DOING Y’ALL


Amaya:
Holy shit I’ve been so so
distracted that I almost
completely forgot

It’s her 18th we should do
something big

Well, as big as we can in a
week’s notice


Nate:
Hey we are more than capable
of pulling something truly
spectacular off in that time frame

How about a big surprise party?? I
can bring one of my mom’s famous
cakes!!!

 

Ray:
@Nate YES

We could invite heaps of people
from around Star City too :D All
her friends from over the years

 

Zari:
Very very keen for Mama
Heywood cake tbh

Ok so when / where etc?

 

You:
Guys wait

Has Sara talked to any of you
about yesterday??

 

Amaya:
What do you mean?

What happened yesterday??



You:
Shit

Okay

I don’t know if I can say what
exactly bc it’s not mine to tell

 

Zari:
Well that sounds ominous

Is everything okay?

 

You:
I’m sure she’ll say something when
she’s ready but something happened
with Laurel

Sara’s not coping very well


Mick:
How bad?


You:
Not like, worst of the worst bad

Laurel’s safe and stuff, physically
she’s fine and still in rehab

But what happened wasn’t good


Gary:
Shit


Ray:
Oh no


You:
I think Sara’s birthday is gonna be
super rough this year

The holidays haven’t been fun
anyway w the whole ‘spirit of
family’ stuff while Laurel’s away

But this will almost definitely be
even harder and idk how Sara would
feel about a massive surprise party rn

 

Zari:
Shit

Okay

 

Amaya:
Okay everyone hold off for now,
me & Z will talk to Sara and see
what we should do XXX


Seen by: everyone.

 


 

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

Amaya, Zari
Active now

SUN 9:57pm:

Zari:
@Sara

So

Your 18th

Ava mentioned things aren’t hot rn
so instead of organising some big
elaborate shabang we wanted to ask
what you’d be cool with

 

You:
fuck

i’m sorry guys

i know my birthday is usually
the big holiday celebration that
we all hold out for all term

I just

Idk I just don’t think I’m up to
that this year i’m really sorry


Amaya:
Babe stop apologising

It’s your birthday

We’ll cater to whatever you feel
up to honestly

 

Zari:
We don’t even have to do anything
if you don’t want to

 

You:
can we maybe do something
super quiet at mine

oh wait it’s christmas

everyone will be busy w their
families lmao just kidding

dw

 

Zari:
Nope shush it’s fine

We can sort it out

I don’t celebrate Christmas anyway
and neither does Gary so us two are
free at least

 

Amaya:
Plus if we just do something after
lunch then most people should be
able to come at least for a bit, it’s
not like anyone does anything on
Christmas afternoon anyway


Zari:
Except nap until dinner when you
have to put on fake smiles for the
family members you dont like and
make awkward conversations with
cousins you only see once a year


You:
wow z, for someone who doesn’t
celebrate christmas, you really have
a pretty good grasp on how much
it can suck


Amaya:
How about board games? Like we used to
do back when we first became friends?

Super chill, heaps of food

Just so you and your Dad aren’t
alone all day either XX

 

You:
yeah

that’d be really nice actually

only if it’s not super inconvenient
for everyone else though

 

Zari:
They will come under fear of
death :-))))


Amaya:
And because they WANT to,
right @Zari ?


Zari:
Oh yeah that too

 

You:
okay

thank you guys


Zari:
Hey

You can talk to us, you know
that right?


You:
yeah i know

I want to

I just can’t even think abt
it rn it’s just so much


Amaya:
We’re here when you need us


Zari:
Yeah, anytime

Although I’m putting a limit on like,
3am bc i need my beauty sleep


You:
I’m going to call you at exactly
3:33am ;-)))


Zari:
I’m going to throw you the biggest
18th birthday party of our grade


You:
You’re the actual worst


Zari:
I’m just following ur example captain

 

Sara removed Zari from the group.

Amaya added Zari to the group.

Zari removed Sara from the group.

Amaya added Sara to the group.

Sara created a plan in the group.

Sara named the plan  “call Z at 3:33am”.

Zari created a plan in the group.

Zari named the plan “Throw sara a giant obnoxious 18th”.

 


Amaya:
Oh my god

Why am I friends with you both


You:
love u ;’D ;’D


Zari:
Xoxoxoxoxox


Amaya:
Ugh

 

Seen by: Sara, Zari

 




Messenger
(Zari Tomaz)

avalance will rise y’all
Active now

SUN 10:38pm:

You:
Okay so like

I know we’re all worried abt
Sara and what’s going on w
Laurel so let’s all acknowledge
that we’re not terrible people
and we’re not forgetting that

But now that me and Amaya have
talked to Sara and we’ve got this
whole chill birthday afternoon thing
planned

Can we PLEASE just talk abt it

Bc guys


Wally:
SHE TALKED TO AVA FIRST SHE TALKED
TO AVA FIRST SHE TALKED TO AVA FIRST
SHE TALKED TO AVA FIRST

A G A I N


You:
Yeah that


Amaya:
Breathe Wally


Nate:
Literally nobody else knows about what
actually happened w Laurel right?

She didn’t talk to anyone?


Ray:
Nope!!!!

Ava is the only person she talked to
to wow I’m so not fine


Nora:
They know each other so well now

The trust each other sm

I’m

Fine


Lily:
LMAO I’M NOT


You:
Mood @Lily asldgkjagk


Gary:
WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN

WHEN DID THEY GET THIS CLOSE

WHEN DID THEY TRUST EACH OTHER
SO FCKN IMPLICITLY


You:
Don’t even look at me I can’t


Amaya:
@Gary @Nora @Lily @Kuasa will
Ava be able to come to Sara’s
bday board game thing???


Nora:
Shit idk her mom is Hardcore Christian™
so they do the whole Christmas church
thing every year but also idek when
that is it might be 24th night or 25th
evening so who knows

I spent a couple Christmases w them
when we were kids but that was years
ago so idk


Gary:
She’ll be there @Amaya

I 100% guarantee she’ll find a way


Lily
I love them

I would take many bullets in order
to see this relationship happen


You:
Ain’t that a mood


Seen by: everyone.

 


 

Sara was 100% prepared for her birthday to suck. It was inevitable. Unavoidable. Just lying in waiting, ready to descend upon her in an overwhelming blanket of grief and loneliness and disappointment. Because every single birthday for as long as Sara could remember, Laurel had come to wake her up, bursting into her room and climbing into her bed, prodding her affectionately in the side until she sat up then pressing a card and gift into her hands with an excited grin on her face. But this year, no one barged through the door before the sun had even risen, and although Sara could already hear her father making breakfast in the kitchen, Laurel’s absence was painfully obvious as Sara rolled over in the empty bed.

She’d been dreading this day all week; in all honesty, she’d been dreading it since before her argument with Laurel - since the moment they’d dropped her off at the facility and she’d known Laurel wouldn’t be allowed to come home for holidays. It had hurt a little too much then, let alone now. Sara shuddered as her phone buzzed, pressing her face further into her pillow, closing her eyes tightly as she tried to ignore the familiar ache that had settled in her chest.

Laurel should’ve been here.

But instead, she was further away than she’d ever been, angry, upset, and probably more disappointed in Sara than she could even imagine. Sara swallowed thickly, blinking away the burning sensation in her eyes and pushing herself upright, swinging her legs over the side of her bed and reaching for her phone.



Messenger
(Sara Lance)

legends™
Active now

SUN 8:41am:

 

Nate changed the name of the chat to
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARA <3”


Haircut:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY


Pretty boy:
HAPPY 18TH CAP


Animal whisperer:
@Sara you’re definitely not awake
yet but HAPPY BIRTHDAY we love you!
<3 <3 <3


Z:
Ur lame i hope ur birthday sucks XXX


stein jr:
Hb Sara!!! Can’t wait to see u later


Ray:
Also happy christmas guys!!! (to
everyone who celebrates ofc,
happy holidays @Zari @Gary ) :D


Seen by: Zari, Amaya, Nate, Mick, Lily.

 




Amaya Jiwe

iMessage
Sunday


9:01am:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU WONDERFUL
SOUL <3 <3 <3


9:01am:
Of course I’m going to do the big
sappy post on fb later but I wanted
to text you too


9:01am:
I love you so much and you’re one
of the greatest people that has ever
come into my life! I’m so grateful for
you and all our years of friendship and
I hope you know that I am here for you
and will stand by you til the end of days
no matter what XXXX


9:02am:
Have a great morning and I will see you
sooooooon

 


 

Ray Palmer

Text Message
Sunday


9:08am:
HAPPY 18TH BIRTHDAY!


9:08am:
Thank you for being one of
the best people I’ve ever met
(literally like ever) and for an
amazing 3 and a half years of
adventures and only somewhat
bad decisions ;’D


9:08am:
Can’t wait to celebrate with you
this afternoon <3

 


 

Zari Tomaz

Text Message
Sunday


9:14am:
Hey birthday girl


9:14am:
So you know me, and you know
I’m not gonna do all that revolting
sappy public displays of friendship
via fb and instagram bc ew


9:14am:
But between you and me


9:15am:
You’re one of my best friends


9:15am:
I can’t imagine the last two years
of my life if you hadn’t been in it


9:15am:
You adopting me into your gang of
weirdos and insane misfits was one
of the best things that have ever
happened to me and I can never
thank you enough


9:16am:
You’re an amazing person Sara and
an inspiration to literally every person
who knows you


9:16am:
Like, don’t get me wrong, you’re
infuriating and stubborn and a pain in
my ass half the time but I love u for it


9:16am:
You deserve every bit of happiness the
world has for you and I hope you get it


9:16am:
So happy 18th fucking birthday, I hope
the Christmas/morning/awkward family
part of it doesn’t suck too much and just
remember you’ve got your other, arguably
crazier family coming over real soon XX


9:17am:
And sappiness over just a psa if u dont
give me my spare pair of soccer socks
back before the break ends I’m going to
break into ur house and steal them


9:17:
(Love you)

 


 

Ava Sharpe

iMessage
Sunday


9:23am:
Hey you


9:23am:
Today’s special for some reason
right? I can’t really remember
why, any ideas?


9:24am:
Oh wait it’s Christmas


9:24am:
There we go


9:24am:
Jk jk, Merry Christmas but also


9:24am:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY <3


9:24am:
Okay so firstly if you’d told me
a year ago that I would be sending
you this message I literally would
have crafted the meanest message
possible just to spite you bc there
was no fucking way


9:24am:
But back then I never could have
imagined we would even be friends


9:24am:
Let alone be as close as we are now


9:24am:
So clearly me a year ago knew nothing


9:25am:
Okay so anyway. I know today isn’t
gonna be 100% great and it’s not gonna
be in any way easy


9:25am:
But I hope you have enough moments
today to remember this day for how
special it is


9:25am:
Because it’s your 18th birthday and
you’re so, so deserving of every little
ounce of love you get not just today but
everyday


9:25am:
Because honestly Sara? I can’t believe I
spent so long ‘hating’ you because you’re
one of the fiercest, smartest, most caring
and incredible people I’ve ever met and
you’ve made my life so much fuller and
more wonderful since we became friends


9:26am:
I can’t imagine not spending every minute
of school with you this year, can’t even
fathom that there was a time when I actually
didn’t like you and the legends because you’re
all such amazing people and I have you to thank
for all of it


9:26am:
I think part of me realised that night I showed
up at yours last October that everything was
going to change between us but I never could
have imagined things would change this much


9:27am:
I’m just rambling now tbh but God, Sara
thank you so much. For that night you were
there for me when you didn’t even have to
be last year, for every single time you’ve
made me feel like the world wasn’t ending
and everything was gonna be okay, for the
laughs and the spontaneous adventures and
indulging my over-intense study habits and
helping me deal with my awful family and
opening up your friendship group to mine
and just


9:28am:
Everything


9:28am:
So happy birthday


9:28am:
I’ll give you a less intense fb/insta
post later but here you go


9:29am:
I’ll see you later today <3 XX


9:47am:
holy shit


9:47am:
ava


9:47am:
it’s too fucking EARLY for
me to be crying already


9:47am:
thank u for everything you’ve
done for me this year too, god,
i never would have been able to
deal with all of this without you


9:48am:
becoming friends with you has
been one of the best parts of
this year so far and i’m so
endlessly grateful aves


9:48am:
i can’t wait to see you later


9:48am:
i love you so so much XXX

 




Messenger

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARA <3
Active now

SUN 9:54am:


You:
i love every single one of
you weirdos to the moon &
back holy shit


You:
i honestly can’t even say
how much you guys mean
to me, all of you


You:
so excited to see you all
this afternoon <3

 




Her dad was trying his hardest, Sara could see that. He had tried so, so hard with the decorations and the Christmas/birthday morning waffles and the stack of their favourite Christmas movies waiting by the TV and a decent sized collection of presents under the tree. But it still wasn't enough to fill the awkward silences between them, and every time one of them paused to let Laurel speak or move or open a gift Sara felt herself freeze, a cold hand wrapping around her heart pulling her back to reality, reminding her that Laurel wasn't here, Laurel hated her right now, Laurel was endlessly disappointed in her, and Laurel might avoid her for the rest of her life after the horrible, unforgivable things she’d said last week.

Her dad shivered beside her on the couch in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with the cold, and then pushed himself to his feet and moved towards the kitchen (moved away from her , the ugly, vicious voice in Sara’s mind whispered and it took everything she had to shake the thought away).

Sara swallowed thickly. It wasn't her birthday without Laurel, and it didn't feel like Christmas either. It was just … nothing. Just another day she and her dad were just trying to make it through, pretending everything was okay, pretending there wasn't a Laurel shaped hole in both of their hearts, a hole that - at least for her - might be there to stay.

Sara swallowed again, trying but failing to force those thoughts from her mind as she untangled her legs from her blanket and pulled them up, resting her chin on her knees and closing her eyes, listening to the sound of Hugh Grant’s voice from Love Actually fade into the background as she wished desperately that the 25th of December would just end as soon as possible.



Laurel had been on her mind all morning, but Sara was in absolutely no way prepared to have to talk to her, today of all days. So when Quentin tentatively sat down on the couch beside her nearing midday, attempted to pass her the phone and softly murmured “It’s Laurel”, Sara shrank back, panic crawling up her throat, an icy chill settling in her chest as a wave of guilt washed over her and made her forget all of the words she knew.

Because she’d screamed at Laurel, lashed out at her, and then after it all, she had simply walked away without apologising. She hadn’t wanted to apologise, and still didn’t. She wasn't wrong - after everything she and Ava had talked about, Sara knew she wasn’t wrong , had just taken it too far and Sara wasn’t prepared for Laurel to expect an apology. And if Laurel couldn't accept that, then Sara didn't know what she could do to repair this.

She sucked in a shaky breath and her eyes flickered up to finally catch Quentin’'s eye, clenching one hand into a fist at her side so hard her nails almost broke the skin that had barely healed from the same action the previous week. She tried her hardest to ignore the disappointed look her that father had given her (even unknowingly) far too many times before.

“Sara, please.”

It shouldn't've cut into her like it did. It shouldn't've hurt . But he was almost pleading, and she couldn't let him down, not like she seemed to have let everyone else in her family down, not today when he’d tried so hard to make things normal . So sighed heavily and hesitantly forced one arm to move, gripping the phone he was offering so hard her knuckles turned white as she brought it to her ear. Quentin smiled, pushing himself to his feet and giving her shoulder a silent, grateful squeeze before disappearing towards the kitchen.

Sara swallowed, squeezing her eyes shut tightly and trying to calm her already uneasy breathing before trying to say her sister's name, hoping the word would sound less vulnerable and unsure than it did in her head, because she desperately didn't want Laurel to realise just how torn up she was over what had happened the weekend before (she didn’t know whether it was her pride, or whether she wanted to save herself the heartache, or protect Laurel from the reality of how much she was hurting). But when she opened her mouth, Sara couldn't force her voice to just work , and instead she was forced to clamp one hand firmly over her mouth to prevent a choked sob from escaping. She shuddered, grateful that Laurel couldn't see just how much of a mess she truly was.

“Hey, you,” Laurel said in barely a whisper from the other end of the line, voice soft in a way Sara neither wanted nor deserved. “Happy birthday.”

It's almost too much, hearing her speak and knowing that there was this chasm between them, a deep divide that neither of them knew how to cross, or even where to begin to try. Sara knew her strangled thanks sounded half hearted, and yet another wave of panic washed over her as she heard Laurel give a broken sigh, and for a terrifying moment, Sara thought Laurel was considering asking, considering talking about their fight the weekend before, and Sara felt her blood run cold. But for whatever reason, Laurel didn't. She just waited, waited long enough for Sara to breathe before she gently said “So what’re you doing today?”

Sara was well aware of the hesitance and reluctance dripping from her voice as she spoke, part of her wished she could just pretend to be okay because Laurel was clearly trying just for the sake of today.

“The … um … the others are coming over later,” Sara replied before her silence grew too long.

“Board game tournament?” asked Laurel with sad but fond nostalgia.

“Yeah,” said Sara.

“You better kick Jax’s ass in Monopoly.”

“Yeah,” Sara said again, this time accompanied by a weak chuckle. “That’s uh … that’s the plan.” She paused, an uncomfortable uncertainty picking at her when Laurel seemed just as unsure of what to say. “We’re gonna go to the Queens’ place for dinner,” she added eventually just as something to fill the unbearable quiet. For a second, the awful urge to make Laurel hurt reared its ugly head and Sara had a fierce desire to mention that Tommy was gonna be at dinner tonight, home for the holidays. But it was gone almost as quickly as it came and Sara bit her lip, staying quiet. Laurel had broken up with Tommy at the beginning of the summer because she didn’t think a long distance relationship going into college was fair on either of them, despite the fact that they both clearly had very real and very strong feelings for each other. As much as Sara was still somewhat angry with Laurel, she knew her sister was in a very fragile state of mind and mentioning Tommy was definitely not a good idea.

“That’ll be nice,” said Laurel, about the dinner with the Queens’, and Sara could hear her wistful longing. There was a hitch of breath over the line, a pointed silence that translated to clear hesitation, before Laurel whispered “Can you apologise to Thea from me?”

Sara snapped her eyes shut, exhaling shakily as guilt gnawed at her. She knew Laurel, knew that for all her confidence and determination and resilience, Laurel could so easily be taken apart by the right people saying the right things. And Sara knew that every single thing she’d said to Laurel last week would inevitably be eating away at her, that her sister would be sitting alone in her room, musing over Sara’s accusations, overthinking everything, including unhealthily ruminating on how she’d used Thea (and Roy) over the summer to get product - Thea who was basically like another sister to her. Sara knew that as much as she was angry at Laurel, Laurel would also be sitting there quickly convincing herself of all the ways she’d torn their family apart.

“You have nothing to apologise for Laurel,” Sara said before she could stop herself, even though she knew it wasn’t exactly true.

Laurel scoffed bitterly. “I do Sara,” she breathed hoarsely in barely a whisper. “You know I do.”

Sara shook her head, cleared the lump in her throat. “Laurel -”

“No,” interrupted Laurel, sounding firmer and more sure than she had in the phone call so far. “Not today. It’s Christmas, it’s your 18th birthday .” Sara could hear the way her voice was shaking as she quietly said “I’ll … I’ll let you and Dad go do something else. Something fun.”

Sara wanted to argue, wanted to tell her to stay, to keep talking, but she didn’t know what to say. She was almost scared because the words went dry in her throat, she didn’t know what she would say even if she and Laurel did keep talking, so she just whispered “Okay.”

“Happy birthday Sara,” Laurel said softly. Another pause, one far more weighted and heavy than before, and then, “I … I love you kiddo.”

Sara swallowed thickly, forcing down another sob, unsure whether the guilt she felt was too much or still not enough. She dragged the moment out as long as she could, trying to get her thoughts in order, not wanting to let Laurel go just yet, but eventually the silence became too much and she forced herself to suck in another shaky breath, replying “I love you too" before hanging up, dropping the phone on the couch and wiping her hand across her face to ward off her tears.



It was such a relief when Zari turned up, flashing a gentle, un Zari-like smile as she toed off her shoes and left them at the door before nudging her back towards the couch, pressing a small, neatly wrapped box into her hands as they sat down. She was almost twenty minutes early - early enough that Sara had only just started to get nervous about her friends coming over today, and seeing her for the mess she was. She didn't know if it was intentional, but she was grateful anyway.

As if she could hear her thoughts, Zari glanced apologetically at the clock, tapping her fingers against her leg. “Sorry. I know I'm really early, my family were driving me crazy and I hoped you wouldn't mind if I just came and helped … I dunno, set up or whatever.”

Sara smiled, tucking her feet under her. “Of course, Z,” she said quietly. “I … I kinda needed a distraction, it's been a long morning.”

Zari frowned, nudging her shoulder lightly as she asked in a quiet voice “Why didn't you say something? You know I wasn't doing anything Sara, I would’ve come over.”

Sara took several quiet, shaky breaths before Zari's fingers found her own, slipping into her grip and giving her hand a soft squeeze. She shrugged, looking away. “I dunno, I just … I didn't want to bother anyone. It’s Christmas, you know.”

Zari gave her a long, indecipherable look, before she said with a grin “I mean, Christmas doesn’t mean anything to me, so …” Sara laughed a little weakly with a smile that didn’t meet her eyes, so Zari squeezed her hand and said, softer this time, “I'm not good at this... emotions thing. And I know me and you don’t tend to do this, but this is important, so … look. I get it. I really do.” She bit her lip, thinking for a moment, before adding, more firmly “You are not bothering anyone by needing their support. I don't know where you got that idea from, but I can take a pretty good guess. And I think it's something you really struggle with, and I'm not saying I'm any better, but … you know what I said this morning?”

She waited for Sara to nod before continuing in a quiet voice, thumb brushing gently across Sara's knuckles, “I meant every single word of it. And you know what? There is not one single person in our friendship group who wouldn't drop everything to help you if you asked. So you don't have to pretend to be okay when you're not, even if it's your birthday or Christmas or whatever. We're all gonna be here anyway, because we care about you.” She shrugged, nudging Sara and ducking her head down, almost embarrassed. “You already had the disclaimer that I'm bad at this, and I dunno where I was going with that - “

“Z,” Sara interrupted softly, letting go of her hand to pull her into a lopsided, awkward hug as she tried to hide the tears in her eyes. “Thank you. I know I haven't always been upfront with you guys about what's going on, but it means the world to me that you're still here.”

“We always will be,” Zari replied immediately, a small smile crossing her face as she returned the hug. “Now how about I kick your ass at Mario Kart and we pretend we don't have emotions until the others turn up?”

Sara laughed, pulling herself up to go turn on the screen, nudging Zari’s shoulder hard enough as she got up that she wobbled, balanced precariously on the edge of the sofa for a moment before toppling to the floor, legs tangled in Sara's blanket. Sara smirked, tossing her a remote and joining her on the floor, determined to remain right there until the others arrived.

 

Somewhere in her mind, Sara had logically known that as soon as her friends showed up in the afternoon, she wouldn’t be as on edge, would immediately feel calmer and happier and everything would suddenly feel like her birthday . But the overhanging weight of Laurel’s absence had been so suffocating all morning that that logical reassurance had somehow been muffled until Zari’s arrival. Though the ache in her chest - the lingering anxiety and insecurity - still flickered as a low reminder while she and Zari were playing video games, all it took was a knock on the door and Amaya and Jax grinning at her with brightly wrapped presents and wide smiles for the uneasy feeling in Sara’s stomach to dissipate and for excitement to set in instead. Kuasa had given them a ride and hurried in moments later, giving Sara a hug as she stepped inside. Gary, Nora and Lily arrived ten minutes later and Sara jumped almost a foot in the air as they all let off party poppers the minute the door swung open. But her heart rate soon went back to normal and she laughed, tugging them inside and noting how the day already felt more special, more like Christmas, more like her 18th birthday.

Almost everyone else managed to dramatically make their appearance within the hour since Zari’s arrival, filling the house with laughter and bickering and teasing and noise and presents and food and apparently Jax had even made a playlist that lightened the somber mood in the Lance house almost immediately. Sara’s eyes flickered over to the kitchen doorway for a moment - somewhere between Nate being embarrassingly beaten by Amaya at Scrabble, and Jax and Zari almost getting into a violent brawl over Mario Kart - and she saw her father, gazing at them all with a soft, amused smile on his face. One that for the first time all day, actually looked real and genuine, actually met his eyes and made the lines in his face disappear a little, made him look as young as he had before all the mess with Laurel had began.

It was then that Sara let the comfort settle in her chest, let almost all of the lingering hesitance and sadness fade. Because it was gonna be okay, she could see that now with all the people around her, with the way they made her happy, made her dad laugh too, made the world seem less grey and bleak and despondent.

But even so, even as she found herself laughing and playing games and snatching Jax’s phone to queue as many uninterrupted Beyonce songs as possible, it was hard not to miss Ava and Ray, both of whom were coming a little later. Ray and his mom were at his grandparents’ house because they went to the Christmas Eve church service at Ray’s mom’s childhood church every year. Sara had told him that it wasn’t a big deal if he needed to stay with his family, but he’d insisted that he would find a way to come, even if it was later in the afternoon. (Sara also knew that he was desperate to have time away from his stepfather, who wasn’t necessarily a bad guy, but Ray just really didn’t like him, so she was happy to give him an excuse to leave). Ava meanwhile, had had church this morning with her family, because Barbara Sharpe had very strict and rigid rules of how Christmas was to be spent. Honestly, it was a miracle she’d let Ava come at all, so Sara couldn't complain, (not that she didn't miss Ava's presence by her side, someone steady, calm, and collected, which she could really use right now in the middle of this craziness, as much as she did love her friends’ insanity).

Before she could think about what that meant, Sara felt someone give her shoulder a squeeze from behind, and turned to see Ray grinning at her as he handed her a neatly wrapped box and wished her happy birthday, but Sara barely had time to thank him before a smaller, warmer hand slipped into her own, giving it a light squeeze as she was tugged into a hug.

“Happy Birthday, Sara,” Ava said quietly, a soft smile on her face as she pulled away, keeping Sara's hand gripped lightly in her own. She'd probably have to stop later and think about why Ava’s presence made it so much easier to breathe, as though she hadn’t even realised it was hard to do so before, the way Ava made her feel so much more comfortable … so much more safe. But that wasn't a train of thought Sara could follow right now (was something that had nagged vaguely in the back her mind for a couple of weeks now and she didn’t have the space of mind to actually stop and dwell on it) so she instead just pulled Ava over to where the others were sat and tugged her down to sit on the floor next to the stack of games, grinning brightly and wondering how she’d ever thought that her birthday could be bad when she had people like this around her.

 


 

With so many of them here, they’d organised it that people were usually split into duos or trios for games, could tag team in and out, so that everyone got a chance to play and teams could vary over the course of the afternoon. During the second round of Cluedo, Ava found both her and Sara tag teamed out of the game, and Sara dragged them both to the kitchen so Ava could help her top up the dangerous dwindling snack supply. Sara laughed loudly when Ava sighed and interrupted her struggling to reach the top shelf of the pantry, bumped her out of the way and reached up to grab the packet of nacho chips.

“Thanks,” Sara said with a small grin.

“I don’t know how you survive when you’re not surrounded by tall people,” joked Ava, ducking away from Sara’s attempted slap.

“I’ll have you know that short people are extremely resourceful,” said Sara with a half hearted glare, before it melted into a soft smirk. “But I’ll keep you around, just in case.”

Ava rolled her eyes. “Good to know that’s the sole reason you appreciate my friendship.”

“That, and you not noticing when I’m copying off you in Calculus.”

Ava stared at her, jaw open. “You do not !”

Sara burst out laughing at the expression on Ava’s face, reaching out to squeeze Ava’s hand comfortingly. “Oh my god Aves, your face ! Of course I don’t copy off you in Calc.”

Ava let out a quiet huff of relief, before Sara added “I just get Jax to do my homework for me instead.”

“Please be joking,” groaned Ava.

“I’ll let you stew in musing discomfort,” Sara shot back with a wink, moving to the opposite bench to empty the chips into a bowl and darting to the fridge to find the cream cheese dip. She returned to the bench, and was licking cream cheese off her fingers when Ava slid a large, rectangular, crimson velvet case across the marble countertop towards her. Sara’s eyebrows furrowed. “What’s this?”

“Your birthday present,” said Ava in a no duh voice.

“Um, no it’s not,” said Sara, turning to face Ava and crossing her arms over her chest. “You already gave me a gift.”

“That was your Christmas present.”

“I thought I made it clear that if anybody was going to get me a present, to only get one thing.”

“And since when have we done exactly what we tell each other to, huh?” Ava arched a challenging eyebrow, smirking when Sara scowled, scrubbing her eyes.

“Aves, I can’t accept this -”

“I mean, you kinda have to because it was specially made so even if you return it, it can’t exactly be sold to anyone else.” Ava shrugged, trying to pretend that nerves weren’t fluttering incessantly in her stomach, that she didn’t have goosebumps on the back of her neck as she desperately hoped Sara liked the gift, that it wasn’t an overstep of boundaries, that Ava hadn’t misread how close they had become.

“Specially made?” Sara echoed. She returned her attention to the box, fingers lighting touching it. She swallowed. “Shit Ava, what did you do -” She’d flipped it open as she spoke, and her words trailed off as soon as she caught sight of the necklace sitting safely in the cushioned fabric inside. Her eyes widened, throat going dry.

Carefully propped inside the velvet case, the chain of the necklace was delicately tucked away so that the pendant was on display. The pendant, which was two small birds, one white and one black, their wings slightly overlapping.

Sara’s breath hitched. “Are they…?”

“Yeah,” said Ava, anxiously playing with the edges of her sleeves. “I um … I was thinking that it must be rough not having her here, especially today and especially around the holidays. And I know that you wanna remember all the good things about her and the good stuff you shared together but with everything that’s going on, that’s kind of hard to do. So uh … I thought maybe this would be a good reminder.”

Sara didn’t say anything, and Ava stepped forward hesitantly, placing an uncertain hand to Sara’s elbow.

“Sara, if I overstepped I’m so sorry -”

“No!” said Sara immediately, shaking her head vehemently. “God, no Aves you didn’t overstep.” Her voice was thick with unshed tears and she reverently touched the black canary with her thumb. “I just can’t believe you would do this for me.”

Ava squeezed Sara’s arm gently. “After everything you’ve done for me in the last year, it shouldn’t be that hard to believe.”

Before Sara could say anything, the back door swung open and Quentin walked in. Ava instinctively took a step back from Sara, busying herself with trying to neatly arrange the vegetable platter sitting on the bench in front of her.

“Hey girls!” said Quentin, flashing them both a smile. He noticed Sara’s gaze focused on something and glanced over his daughter’s shoulder to try and see what. Ava found something very interesting on her shoes to stare at.

Quentin cleared his throat, saying in a very quiet voice “Are those canaries?”

“Yeah,” said Sara softly. “Aves gave it to me.”

Ava really, really wanted to disappear as she felt Quentin’s eyes flicker to her. She didn’t have to see the expression on his face to know that he was trying to figure out how much she knew about Laurel, when his daughter’s worst enemy had become the person she confided in, wondering just how close the two of them were.

“It’s beautiful Ava,” he said eventually, and Ava looked up only when he placed a gentle hand in her shoulder. He didn’t linger, just offered her a smile that had far too much gratitude and fondness than Ava could stomach thinking about before pressing a kiss to the side of Sara’s head and disappearing down the hallway.

Ava was distracted enough by Quentin leaving that she didn't notice Sara carefully removing the necklace from the box until she turned to face her, small smile still gracing her lips. “Can you …?”

Ava blinked for a moment, confused, before she realised what Sara was asking and nodded, taking the necklace from her hands and moving to stand behind her, hoping Sara hadn't noticed the way heat seemed to creep up her cheeks.

“Of course,” she murmured, using one hand to gently brush Sara's hair round one side of her neck, trying her hardest to ignore how smooth and warm Sara's skin felt underneath her fingers. That that crush - the stupid, inconvenient, almost definitely unreciprocated crush - was not going to be something Ava thought about today. Today was way too special to Sara for that. After clasping the necklace, Ava gave Sara's shoulder a light squeeze and took a step back, taking a moment to try to gather her thoughts into some sort of order. But before she had a chance she felt Sara's hand slip around her wrist, thumb brushing against her pulse point and making Ava's stomach flutter in a way that was becoming far too familiar.

But before she had a chance to process that feeling, Sara had picked up the bag of chips on the counter with one hand, gesturing to Ava to grab the other food, clearly with no intention of letting go of Ava for the time being. (It wasn’t like she minded. The closer they became the more affection Sara seemed to show, and by now Ava was used to the way Sara would nudge her gently and prod her in the ribs when teasing her, or slip a hand into her own when she needed some comfort.)

But she was certain other people must've noticed the way Sara pulled her back into the room by her wrist, and the way she leaned against her once they'd both sat back down on the floor to watch the game play out, still holding tightly onto Ava while the hand brushed gently, almost reverently against the necklace. It shouldn't've made her feel self conscious, because this was Sara and their friends, not homophobic relatives or anyone with any cause to judge them. Even so, she still had to force herself not to pull away when she saw the look Jax exchanged with Amaya, a small, secretive smile crossing his face as he tried to pretend he wasn't watching them. There was just something so new and unfamiliar about this, a little too raw and vulnerable, that made her want to hide. Because even if she was okay with this newfound affection when they were alone, lying side by side on Sara's bedroom floor or curled up on the couch, she still hadn't decided how she felt about it away from the safety of either of their bedrooms, and...it was stupid.

But still.

Before she could follow that train of thought, Ava felt Sara squeeze her wrist lightly, drawing her attention, her other hand still wrapped around the pendant. Her voice was too quiet for anyone to overhear as she said softly “I can never say it enough, but thank you, Ava. From the bottom of my heart.”

Ava ducked her head down, trying he hardest not to get lost in Sara's eyes, which were shining with sincerity and affection. “I'm just glad you like it.”

It had been difficult, finding somewhere that would make this necklace in a week. But after everything that had happened between Sara and Laurel the weekend before, and how shaky and unsure Sara had seemed after she got back from visiting her sister, this had just seemed... right. The idea had come to her on the walk home, and after everything Sara had told her, it seemed like she needed something like this, something to hold onto when times got rough, something to help her remember just how much her relationship with Laurel meant to them both even when things seemed to be falling apart.

Sara’s fingers barely moved from the necklace all evening (not that Ava was watching her), and the small, gentle smile that had appeared when she first laid eyes on the pendant had remained firmly fixed on Sara's face. It shouldn't've made Ava's stomach do flips every time she caught sight of it, and it was Sara's birthday, and she was still struggling with Laurel's relapse, so Ava didn’t even want to think about what that feeling meant, what it was becoming, especially not today.

Not right now.

Not even as Sara pulled her into a tight hug before she left, arms snaking around Ava's back as she held her close and rested her chin against her shoulder, almost on her tiptoes to do so. Not when Sara pulled back slightly, honest eyes finding Ava's, searching her face for something Ava couldn't even begin to understand, and certainly not when Sara leaned forward until Ava felt her lips almost brush against her ear as Sara murmured a soft, almost inaudible “Thank you", too quiet for anyone else to overhear.

Yeah, not today.

 


 

By the time Sara and Quentin finally got back from the Queens’ house, Sara’s birthday had been and gone and it was now the soft, quiet hum of early morning of the 26th of December.

Dinner had been nice. Sara had forgotten how much she actually missed Oliver, Tommy and Thea until they saw each other, until they immediately fell back into their patterns and routines and habits established from knowing each other almost their entire lives. They spent most of the evening reminiscing, laughing until their stomachs hurt, teasing each other and bickering and daring each other to do increasingly unnerving things until they all agreed to stop to avoid getting in trouble with their parents. Again, Laurel’s absence was painfully obvious, but Sara was surprised to find that for the first time since the fight the previous week, it didn’t hurt to talk about Laurel, about the memories of things they’d done and shared as kids, and Sara wasn’t sure if it was because of Ava’s necklace as a reminder or if it was because of being around Oliver and Tommy and Thea. But whatever it was, she was grateful. Because finally , she’d felt like maybe she could move on from her anger.

By the time she got home, Sara was exhausted, could barely drag herself up the stairs much to Quentin’s amusement. He helped haul her up the last couple of stairs to the second floor before his grin mellowed into a fond smile, voice soft as he said “I remember having to carry both you and Laurel to bed every Christmas because you’d fall asleep downstairs every year without fail.”

Sara paused, glancing hesitantly at him. She wasn’t sure whether it was quite relief that she felt when she realised there wasn’t any sadness in his eyes, just gentle, reminiscent nostalgia, but she smiled back and yawned sleepily.

“Just keeping up the tradition,” she joked, stepping over to him and giving him a tight hug as she murmured “Thank you for today Dad.”

Quentin sighed into her hair, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “I’m sorry it wasn’t everything it could’ve been.”

Sara shook her head. “No, it was. I … I wish she was here but … other than that it was perfect. I swear.”

Quentin pulled away, eyeing her carefully, looking for any hint that she might be sparing his feelings or putting on a brave face.

“Full disclosure,” promised Sara. That he couldn’t argue with, so he just smoothed her hair, gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze as he said “Goodnight baby. Happy birthday.” before ducking into his own bedroom and leaving Sara to wander exhaustedly into her room and flop down on the bed as soon as she was close enough. Somewhat instinctively, her fingers automatically moved to lightly and reverently trace the outline of the necklace, and Sara committed its shape to memory before dropping her hand back to her side. It was beautiful - more than beautiful.

It was stunning.

So stunning that Sara didn’t even know how to begin to process the fact that Ava had carefully listened to everything she had said about Laurel, and somehow understood the thoughts that she hadn't even been able to express. That Ava had gone out of her way to get this made - a reminder of everything she'd had with Laurel when she was younger, every special moment and memory, something for her to hold onto when things were falling apart, something she could look at and know Ava was right, that things would be okay between her and Laurel eventually.

And yet somehow, it simultaneously managed to be a reminder that Ava would listen to anything she ever wanted to tell her, whenever, and wherever she wanted. A reminder that Ava would hear what she was saying, and then hear all the things she didn’t know how to say.

A reminder that Ava cared .

Sara sucked in a sharp breath as the feelings she'd been pushing away all day - all month - made a sudden reappearance, her fingers tightening over the pendant, the wings of both canaries digging into her palm. She closed her eyes for a moment, taking a long, deep breath before exhaling and staring up at ceiling, trying desperately to scroll through the memories of the day rather than focus on the thoughts about Ava that were swirling around her mind. But exhausted as she was she couldn't push them away, as if her body refused to let her sleep until she'd at least acknowledged how she felt. She threw her arm over her eyes, breath shaky as she realised with a low, terrified jolt in her stomach that this feeling wasn’t entirely unfamiliar. Though it had been absent for a while, Sara clearly remembered the last time she’d had this nervous jump in her stomach, a fluttering in her chest, a smile that she couldn’t wipe from her face.

Nyssa.

And look at how well that had ended.

Sara shuddered, rubbing her eyes roughly. This wasn't even slightly fair on Ava, because Sara knew she always ended up messing things like this up, and Ava was too pure, too good, too special … Sara swallowed thickly, ignoring how much that thought physically hurt as she pushed it away.

She was pretty sure she could pinpoint the exact moment these thoughts settled in her mind to stay, refusing to be discarded any longer. Today, in the afternoon, while Ava had tagged in for Sara in Monopoly, and Sara had been curled on the couch between Lily and Ray, watching with wry amusement as Ava proceeded to completely flip the tables of the game and somehow gain a steady lead and simultaneously deplete Jax’s bank account to the point that he was lying on his back, swearing profusely and groaning “Oh my god , how do you keep kicking my ass with something else every single fucking move?”

It’d been that comment that had Sara suddenly flashing back to her phone call with Laurel that morning, to Laurel’s joking remark that Sara had to beat Jax at Monopoly, and Sara had felt the entire world slow around her and she couldn’t do anything but stare at Ava, at Ava who was laughing so brightly that the corners of her eyes crinkled and her nose wrinkled and faint dimples appeared in her cheeks, which were lightly flushed from the warmth of the room. Her eyes were so blue, so sparkling and Sara didn’t realise she was momentarily breathless until Ray tugged at her arm and asked if she wanted anything from the kitchen, and Sara had had to take a second to screw her head back on straight because everything was just suddenly Ava and nothing else to the point that Sara had literally forgotten to breathe for a few moments.

Sara didn’t know when it had happened, but Ava had somehow become the person she trusted most, the person she wanted by her side when things were rough, the person she needed when her entire world started to crumble. And at the same time, she’d become the person Sara wanted to pull into the snow in her pyjamas, the person she wanted to drag into the sea with a smile on her face, the person she could spend hours curled up with in the safety of her room, watching TV tangled up together under a blanket, her own bare skin brushing against Avas and sending sparks shooting up her arm as their fingers hovered so close they were almost holding hands, but not quite.

The person she wanted to spend time with more than anything.

 

Shit .

 

As Sara lay on her bed, heart hammering in her chest, fingers playing with the delicate pendant around her neck and eyes staring at the familiar cracks in the ceiling as fear and perhaps dread and overwhelming uncertainty began to settle in her stomach, one, clear, unavoidable thought almost illuminated in neon lights in her brain.

Okay so.

Maybe … just maybe, she had feelings for Ava Sharpe.

Chapter Text

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

legends™
Active now

TUES 2:41pm:

 

Kuasa:
@ everyone

What are your plans for new years?


Z:
Omg I was just gonna message
abt that


You:
usually we do something real
chill at someone’s place

last year it was ray’s


Ray:
Sorry guys, my stepdad decided
he wanted to host a big party at
ours this year


Nora:
I would offer my aunt’s place but
it’s a) tiny and b) the whole sort
of problem child foster kid throwing
a NYE party probs wouldn’t be a good
look


Ava:
Yeah my parents are hosting a party
for all their friends too


Kuasa:
So what I’m gathering is that you’re
all free??

Good great

Party at mine


You:
wait for real????


Animal whisperer:
Kuasa’s parents will be at my house
for our big family celebration and
most of the time they’re chill w the
‘kids’ of the family going off and doing
their own thing

Kuasa asked if she could have friends over
for a party at their house

We’re a go


Kuasa:
My sister Mari and a couple of our other
cousins will be there too, hope that’s ok


You:
you know what

what’re the chances your parents
will be chill with this being a lil
bigger than just our friend group?


Kuasa:
How big are you talking?


You:
nothing crazy, no way

just some other friends from
around school that we don’t
get to hang out with much

people like kendra and carter
and constantine and gwen and
helen, maybe jonah? those guys


Pretty boy:
Ooooooh yes that would be fun


Heat wave:
That’d be cool

I haven’t seen Kendra and Carter
in forever


Kid flash:
yessssss omg

if it’s cool w kuasa ofc


Kuasa:
I just asked my folks and they
said as long as it doesn’t get
bigger than like, 30 people and
as long as there’s noone getting
tragic drunk, it’s fine


You:
so alcohol, y/n?


Kuasa:
Yes but again, nothing crazy

Maybe like, one bowl of super
weak punch? And if someone
wants to be Fancy and bring
some champagne for the actual
countdown then my parents
would probs be fine w that too

But seriously if anyone gets
tragic, I’m sending you home in
an uber at your own expense


You:
it’ll be chill, all of us soccer girls
aren’t supposed to be drinking v
much anyway

Z doesn’t drink

ray and amaya are super responsible

nate’s older brother taught him to
have a high tolerance from the
age of 16, right @Nate ;-)

jax is like a fckn sailor, idk how he
does it tbh but he’s fine


Pretty boy:
Don’t remind me


Engineer extraordinaire:
‘das me


You:
@Mick you WILL be responsible

Okay?


Heat wave:
Whatever u say cap


You:
wally’s a lightweight but he also
sobers up in a flash too


Kuasa:
Yeah Gary’s the same

And Ava is boring and responsible
too so all round we seem pretty ok

Okay cool

So

8 o clock, my place, bring snacks

Don’t bring alcohol, I will provide
so I can control how much is in
circulation just to be safe pls

I’ll create the event now


You:
woop woooop this is gonna
be gooood!!!


Seen by: everyone.

 



Ava literally had nothing to wear.

She groaned, tossing the t-shirt she was holding back onto the bed and turning around, shooting a helpless look in Nora’s direction as she ran one hand through her hair. Nora had come over to get ready before they went to Kuasa’s to help set up, but currently seemed far too amused watching Ava to make any attempt to get ready. “I don’t know what to wear,” Ava complained for perhaps the 500th time over the past half hour, flopping down on the edge of the bed with a frustrated sigh.

Nora raised a questioning eyebrow, leaning against the wall. “Since when do you care about what to wear to parties?” she asked with a smirk as though she already knew the answer. Ava looked away, ducking her head down so her hair covered her face, hoping Nora wouldn’t notice the way her cheeks flushed slightly.

After a moment, she shrugged, forcing her voice to remain calm, casual as she replied “I dunno, I just … I wanna look nice.”

Nora eyed her carefully for a long time, not saying anything. When Ava finally found the courage to glance over at her friend, she had a thoughtful expression on her face and her eyes were soft in a way that Ava hadn’t expected. Ava’s breath caught in her throat, because the silent question on Nora’s face was 100% clear - do you wanna look nice for someone? Neither of them spoke for a second, Ava’s heart thumping anxiously in her chest as she waited for Nora to ask out loud. But she never did, instead offering Ava a gentle, teasing smile and crossing the room towards Ava’s wardrobe.

“Well not that, for starters,” she said, snatching the t-shirt off the bed beside Ava and tugging open the wardrobe doors. Ava let out a barely audible sigh of relief when Nora dropped the topic, even though she had definitely known there was more to it than Ava was letting on. Ava wasn’t sure what she would’ve done if it had been someone else helping her get ready - someone like Gary, or Lily, who might’ve pushed the topic, instead of letting it go until a time when she was ready to share the answer.

In all honesty, she hadn’t entirely realised what she was doing until Nora had asked, but when she thought about it, yeah, she wanted to dress up for one person in particular. Because Sara was … well, Sara. She was stunning.

And maybe Ava shouldn’t’ve been letting her life be dictated by this stupid, unattainable crush, and maybe it would backfire later, because Sara was her friend , and probably had no interest in being anything else, but hey. Tonight was New Year’s Eve.

Her crush on Sara was a problem for next year.

 


 

If Sara had any lingering doubts about whether or not she actually had feelings for Ava, they were gone the minute she stepped foot into Kuasa’s house and saw her. She hadn’t really known what to expect, in all honesty. She didn’t have any clear recollections of previous instances in which Ava had been dressed up, full makeup and all, and part of Sara had just assumed that she would stick to something relatively casual (Zari, after all, was wearing Chucks with her dress). But as Sara followed Amaya, Zari, Nate and Jax through Kuasa’s front door, it was only moments after Jax had whistled to admire the size of the house and decorations Kuasa had put up, that Ava rounded the corner.

And Sara was instantly breathless.

Ava was wearing a black dress that looked soft and delicate, cinched in at her waist, hugged her hips, cut off around mid thigh (to show far too much of Ava’s seemingly endless legs for Sara to handle), loosened a little around her top half with a low V cut that revealed a cleavage Sara definitely couldn’t unsee. She knew Ava and Nora had been getting ready together - had received a Snapchat earlier in the evening from Nora, but they’d both just been in sweats then, hadn’t started putting on makeup or choosing outfits. Nora had clearly curled the ends of Ava’s hair and it was out, falling gracefully over one shoulder as she smiled brightly when she caught sight of Sara and the others.

Oh no.

She was beautiful.

Sara swallowed, quickly admonished herself before schooling her thoughts and grinning back, hoping she didn’t appear as flustered as she felt.

“Hey!” said Ava cheerfully, giving her a quick hug before doing the same to Nate, Amaya, Zari and Jax. “You guys look great!”

“Ditto Sharpe,” said Zari, pointing up and down Ava’s figure. “Didn’t even know you owned something that fancy.”

Ava rolled her eyes at her, swatting Zari’s fingers away to distract from the soft flush on her cheeks. “Shut up, Nora picked it. Plus, I have to own like, three nice dresses. It’s kind of a requirement as a member of the Sharpe female line.”

At that, Sara couldn’t help but remember what Ava had said last month before Thanksgiving about only starting to buy dresses when she felt she needed to hide the possibility of being gay. She watched Ava carefully, looking closely for any hint of a false laugh or a tight lipped smile, but there wasn’t one. Ava’s eyes flickered over to her moments later, and after a curious, questioning look, recognition suddenly fell upon her face and her expression softened. She shook her head incrementally, stepping closer to Sara to bump their shoulders together.

“You really think my mom gave the seal of approval on a dress this low cut?” she said jokingly, quiet enough that only Sara could hear. “Don’t worry. This wasn’t one of the ‘attempting to convince my mom I’m straight’ dresses. They were all thrown in the trash a long time ago.”

Sara laughed softly, finding herself relieved that their conversation that night before Thanksgiving had perhaps been a chance for Ava to come to terms with the reality of what she’d tried to hide all those years ago.

“You uh …” Ava cleared her throat, smiling a little shyly. “You look great.”

Sara felt the back of her neck heat up and she grinned to cover up the way her stomach was fluttering incessantly. God , was she 12? She hadn’t felt this flighty and nervous about a crush in years.

“What, this old thing?” she said with a shrug, gesturing to the blood orange, ¾ sleeved playsuit she was wearing.

“You literally got that last week,” said Zari without looking up from her phone.

“It’s an expression ,” muttered Sara, reaching over to shove her friend who easily dodged it.

“It’s nice,” Ava insisted, crossing her arms to keep them warm as Nate slipped out the front door to get something from his car, letting in a gust of cold air.

Sara’s mouth went dry. Oh for fuck’s sake, of course Ava had good arms too. It shouldn’t’ve been a surprise. She’d played basketball her whole life, came from a reasonably sporty family, still went for a run once a day, so of course she’d still be fit (and Sara would be lying if she said that sporty girls weren’t a definite turn on), but Sara hadn’t exactly expected Ava to have proper, toned, well defined biceps that were any gay girl’s absolute nightmare. Sara pressed her lips together to stop herself from making a comment asking why Ava lived solely in Spencer’s massive old t-shirts when she could be showing off arms like that. Instead, she smiled at Ava and adjusted her playsuit a little to give her fidgety hands something to do.

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “You do too. Look great, I mean. That dress is amazing, if you weren’t like, 6 feet tall I would borrow it from you.”

“Yeah, no, you’re just short,” teased Ava, smirking at Sara’s reactionary affronted look. It was then, at the upturn of Ava’s lips and the amused, fond twinkle in her eye and the soft waves of her hair, the way the fabric of her dress sat so perfectly on her skin, that Sara remembered it was New Year’s Eve, and all of a sudden, she had an overwhelming thought of exactly who she wanted to kiss at midnight.

No.

No, no, no, no, no, definitely not.

Ava didn’t even like her like that (and Sara ignored the voice in her head that reminded her that people didn’t have to have feelings attached to New Year’s kisses), and they had barely been friends for a few months, definitely not long enough for Sara to grin casually and blatantly ask “Hey, wanna be my kiss at the countdown?”

Not a chance.

Thankfully, she was saved by Kuasa, who appeared in the doorway to the living room after having heard the chatter from the foyer. She grinned widely when she saw them, waving them further into the house. “Get your asses in here, we still have a shit load of decorating to do, make yourselves useful.”

 


 

Maybe Sara was a little tipsy - just a little - but even stone cold sober it would be hard not to look around at her friends without a stupid grin on her face. Because for so many of them, it’d been kinda tough to get to this point, but they all looked so … happy. Ray was dancing with Nora, and she was standing so close, fingers curled in his shirt as she beamed up at him, eyes sparkling in a way that could never be explained by the alcohol. Next to them, Wally was doubled over with laughter as Nate tried to demonstrate dance moves, whilst Jax tried his hardest to chat up one of Kuasa’s cousins (she was laughing, clearly entertained, but Sara wasn’t entirely sure whether she was laughing with him or at him - he could really use some pointers, and Sara would definitely give them to him when it counted, but tonight didn’t count and … well, this was more fun to watch.)

Sara let her gaze wander, grin widening as she noticed Zari and Amaya curled up on the couch together, Amaya practically lying in Zari’s lap, looking up at her with the biggest heart eyes Sara had ever seen. She laughed incredulously as Zari reached down to brush a stray strand of hair behind Amaya’s ear, whispering something to her that no one else could hear, making Amaya’s eyes visibly light up from across the room.

“They’re so freaking cute,” murmured a voice behind her suddenly, and Sara jumped with a quiet yelp, whirling around and glaring when she saw Ava standing behind her with an amused smirk.

“God, Ava, don’t do that!” hissed Sara, slapping Ava’s arm. She was glad she had an excuse to keep her eyes on Ava’s face rather than drifting down to look at that dress and those arms and those legs and God, she really needed to get a grip as soon as possible before Ava noticed and -

“Sorry,” Ava replied but she was still grinning and Sara huffed at her disgruntledly, sipping her punch. Before she could comment, or find a witty comment to reply with to win back her cred after her less than put-together yelp, Ava nodded towards where Zari was beaming down at Amaya, fingers tracing the softest patterns across Amaya’s bare arms, and Sara choked on her drink at this blatant lack of subtlety between them tonight. Ava took Sara’s cup out of her hand as Sara, even less put-together than before, began coughing embarrassingly loud. Ava laughed, but still reached over to rub Sara’s back as she tried to clear her throat. “You okay?”

Sara nodded, not trusting herself to speak without having another coughing fit. Instead, she reclaimed her drink from Ava with a small smile and took a long gulp to avoid talking. Thankfully, Ava filled the silence, bumping her hip against Sara’s as she said “They’re so adorable.”

Sara swallowed, trying to clear her throat and remember how to breathe (not that it helped, not when Ava was standing right there looking at her like that .)

You’re adorable,” she retorted instantly, realising a second too late that that was definitely not the response she’d intended.

Ava raised a teasing eyebrow, and Sara felt a familiar heat start to creep up her neck, ducking her head down to hide her face. Shit. That wasn’t meant to slip out, not now, not when it was nearly half past 11 and getting a bit too close to New Year’s for comfort, not when Ava’s face was this close, sparkling eyes highlighted by the simple eyeliner and mascara she had put on, that soft smile still gracing her perfectly made up lips, lips that Sara was desperately avoiding thinking about kissing at the end of the countdown.

“You think I’m adorable?” Ava teased, and Sara wanted the ground to swallow her whole.

“No,” she said automatically, stubbornly and it sounded so childish that she wanted to sink into the floor beneath her. Ava gave her a look , a joking, teasing look that if she was anyone else, Sara would’ve said was kind of flirty but she definitely couldn’t go there. She bit her lip, glancing away. “Maybe.”  

A small, (absolutely not) adorable smile crept across Ava’s face and Sara tried her hardest not to think about how perfect it looked on her. “Not that that doesn’t mean you’re not a pain in my ass, Sharpe,” she added quickly, hoping the words didn’t come out as flustered as they sounded in her head.

The grin on Ava’s face remained, and Sara bit the inside of her lip, shifting her weight awkwardly from one foot to the other. Sensing that she was a little uncomfortable, Ava’s smile softened. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” she said, words far too sincere, and for a moment panic flashed through Sara’s mind, wondering whether she’d been caught and Ava was about to call her out on this stupid crush.

But when Sara eventually looked up, Ava’s eyes were fixed on Nora. Nora, who was still gazing up at Ray with a wide smile on her face, leaning into his side, swaying a little tipsily as Ray held his arm firm around her waist, keeping her steady. He looked equally besotted, laughing at something Nora had said and nudging her shoulder gently.

“D’you think he likes her?” Ava asked softly, finally turning her attention back to Sara.

Sara shrugged and couldn’t help the fond smile that flickered across her face as she gazed at Ray. He’d been one of her best friends since the very beginning of high school, and though he was generally a happy, cheerful person and had had a couple of brief relationships over the past few years, the smile that was gracing his face right now was unlike any smile Sara had ever seen him wear. “I’ve never seen him like this,” she said honestly. “What about Nora?”

Ava hummed thoughtfully and Sara saw a rush of emotions cross her face as she took in how happy Nora seemed in that moment, before she mirrored Sara’s shrug. “The same. I’ve never seen her like this. But … I do think I still need to convince her she deserves happiness before she’ll be ready to acknowledge it.”

Sara’s smile became gentler and she brought one hand up to fiddle with her necklace and slipped the other into Ava’s, tangling their fingers together and brushing her thumb gently across Ava’s smooth skin. She ignored the way the contact sent sparks shooting up her arm. “Well,” she said too quietly for anyone to overhear, giving Ava’s hand a light squeeze, “you managed to convince me.”

Ava looked at her for a long moment, an indecipherable expression on her face. “Sara,” she said quietly, eyes shifting to fix on where their hands were joined. She opened and closed her mouth several times, as though she couldn’t figure out what to say, or how to say it. Sara went to tug her hand back but Ava’s grip tightened and pulled her just a little closer. Finally, she spoke, lips upturned in the smallest hint of a smile that was so open and honest that Sara didn’t quite know what to do with herself. “I guess now’s as good a time as any to say thank you,” said Ava, in so close to a whisper that if Sara hadn’t been standing barely an inch away from her, she couldn’t have caught it. “For … you know … everything. Everything you’ve done for me this year, and last year too.”

Sara laughed disbelievingly, cheeks a little hot as she elbowed Ava lightly. “Pretty sure I should be the one thanking you. I’ve kind of been the epitome of a hot mess this year and you managed to not only put up with it but you also …” She stopped, cutting herself off.

“Also?” asked Ava, and it took everything Sara had not to tug her down and kiss her right then and there. She swallowed, forcing herself to meet Ava’s eyes.

“You also kind of helped put me back together at the same time,” she said in a rush. (She’d definitely drunken just a little too much punch).

The look in Ava’s eyes was almost too much, too kind and reverent and overwhelming that Sara wanted to look away, but she couldn’t because God, Ava was so beautiful that she was just completely mesmerised.

“You put yourself back together Sara,” said Ava softly, her grip on Sara’s hand tightening, “not me. I was just there when you needed someone to remind you how.”

Sara wasn’t sure what to say to that, because there was something more than simple affection fluttering in her chest, more than a casual crush, more than attraction, more than the familiar, alcohol tinged feelings of desire and she didn’t know what to do with that so she just squeezed Ava’s hand as tightly as she could before finishing the last of her drink.

Ava allowed the moment of raw honesty pass (to Sara’s relief) and let slip a quiet laugh. “God, if 14 year old me knew that you’d one day become my favourite person in the world, I think she might’ve moved across the country.”

Sara froze, and only then did Ava realise what she’d said, eyes widening in shock. She cleared her throat and there was a moment of silent stillness between them, almost physically crackling tension and apprehension in which they both seemed to weigh up what to say or what to do. Sara could feel the way Ava had stiffened, in the low light of the room could just make out the faint blush on Ava’s cheeks and she felt a rush of incredulous fondness for the flustered girl beside her. Ava bit her lip, looking down to avoid Sara’s eyes and bringing up her free hand that was holding her phone it it to check the time just so she had something to do.

“Your favourite person,” Sara repeated in the barest breath of a whisper, not quite a question, but almost.

Ava’s eyes flickered up at Sara’s words and she shrugged awkwardly, the blush on her cheeks intensifying. She went to lock her phone again, but Sara, emboldened by her not quite sober state, had a sudden flash of mischief overtake her and she found herself disentangling her fingers from Ava’s and snatching Ava’s phone, tapping open her contacts application.

“Hey!” said Ava, moving to grab the phone back but Sara just dodged her half hearted swipe, grinning cheekily. “Sara,” Ava protested, clearly trying to sound annoyed but Sara could hear the smile in her voice and just danced a little further out of Ava’s reach, tapping away at her phone screen. It only took half a minute max before she was handing Ava’s phone back to her with a proud, triumphant smirk on her face. Ava eyed her warily, with a clear, what did you do? look in her eyes as she glanced down. Sara’s contact was staring back up at her, except instead of just reading ‘ Sara Lance ’, the name was now absurdly and irritatingly long, reading ‘ Sara (ur fav human in the world and is better than u) Lance’ .

Ava rolled her eyes with a huff of laughter. “You’re infuriating.”

Sara smirked at her, eyes warm and affectionate even as she faked an affronted gasp. “That’s no way to talk to your favourite person in the world now, is it?”

She wanted to be able to blame this all on the alcohol messing with her mind, but when Ava smiled softly at her Sara felt her heart flutter in her chest, a warm, comfortable feeling spreading out from deep inside and making her toes curl in her shoes, and Sara knew somewhere deep down that even if she had been drinking lemonade all evening instead, she would be just as dumbstruck, just as speechless, falling just as hard. She could stand here forever, music blaring loudly through Kuasa’s family’s ridiculously expensive speakers, the sound of their friends laughing and enjoying themselves and being happy fading away until it was just her, and Ava, and the most softest, sweetest, most affectionate smile she’d ever seen.

Ava cleared her her throat, fiddling nervously with the edge of her dress. “I should … uh … get another drink. Find Lily and Gary.”

“Yeah,” Sara agreed, rubbing the back of her neck awkwardly, shoving her other hand into her pocket, glad that the semi-darkness was hiding the blush she couldn’t keep off her cheeks. “I should go find … Mick. Check he’s not … you know - ”

“Yeah,” Ava echoed unconvincingly, taking a small step back. She swallowed, and Sara wondered if she’d imagined it when Ava gave her a small, awkward wave and disappeared into another room just as someone turned the music up. She closed her eyes for a moment, sucking in a shaky breath.

She really needed to get a handle on this, before it got out of control.

 



It wasn’t until Sara slipped outside to get some fresh air that she realised it’d been a while since she’d last seen Ava, having gotten so caught up in the music and the dancing and the crazy atmosphere inside that she had momentarily slipped from her thoughts. Which she’d thought would be impossible the first time she’d laid eyes on her that evening, blonde hair flowing over her shoulders, wearing that stupidly attractive black dress that showed off her arms and her … nope .

Sara groaned, running one hand over her face and pushing those thoughts as far away as she possibly could, leaning back against the wall and taking several breaths to steady herself before heading back inside and starting to look for Ava. Tomorrow, this would be fine. Tomorrow, she wouldn’t get butterflies in her stomach every time Ava looked at her, and they could go back to texting and sitting next to each other in class and studying together rather than … whatever this was.

 

(At least the countdown had come and gone without her doing anything stupid, like pulling Ava into a kiss and wiping that stupidly attractive smile off her face in a scenario in which she let that irritating crush decide what she did for once, rather than forcing it away. Thankfully, she’d at least seen some sense, and had instead leaned up to kiss Ray when the countdown had reached zero, both of them tipsy and laughing but clearly wishing they were kissing someone else instead. It was better this way, Sara had promised herself, taking a long sip of champagne in an attempt to smother her emotions.

At least this way, she got to keep Ava’s friendship, rather than making her uncomfortable and pushing her away, losing the person she trusted most in the process.

But still.

Ava looked amazing - Ava was amazing - a fact that was rapidly becoming harder and harder to ignore.)

 

Sara eventually found Ava in a hallway near one of the upstairs bedrooms, breath catching in her throat a little because it’d been nearly an hour since she last saw her, yet somehow she looked even more stunning than before, hair still falling in soft waves around her face, cheeks slightly flushed from the heat inside the house or the alcohol or the dancing, or a combination of all three. “Hi,” Sara said quietly, a small smile crossing her lips when Ava looked over to her, hoping her voice sounded less breathless out loud than it did in her head. “Where’ve you been? You okay?”

Ava nodded, leaning back against the wall, tilting her head towards the bedroom at the end of the hallway. “Gary’s reached his sad, I want a boyfriend, sleepy drunk stage, so me and Nora are tag teaming looking after him. I just finished my shift.”

Sara smiled, moving from the middle of the hall until she was standing next to Ava, so close she could almost feel the heat of her body radiating through the air, and she thought for a second that she could feel Ava’s breath catch in her throat, eyes fixed on Sara as Sara asked “Is he okay?” concern leaking into her voice.

Ava shrugged, rolling her eyes with a grimace and leaning back slightly. She seemed to struggle to find a response for a few seconds, distracted by something (if Sara didn’t know better, she’d think Ava was distracted by her but there was no way). Ava cleared her throat quietly, looking away as she said “Yeah, he’s fine. He’s just pining over how John Constantine doesn’t even know he exists, he’ll get over it.”

Sara snorted, raising an eyebrow at the disgusted expression Ava hadn’t even noticed making as she asked teasingly “You don’t like John?”

“You could say that,” Ava muttered under her breath before she could stop herself, before seeming to remember that Sara and John had hooked up the year before, clamping her mouth shut. She flushed slightly, an apologetic look crossing her face. “Sorry,” she said quietly. “I know you guys are … I dunno, friends or whatever.”

Sara laughed softly, taking a step closer, until she the bare skin of their arms was almost touching, so close that Ava could probably smell the alcohol on her breath as she shook her head, replying “We’re not really friends. We … we slept together once.”

Ava wrinkled her nose in clear disgust, and Sara was just the right side of tipsy for her brain to quietly voice that the flash of something in Ava’s eyes could very easily be jealousy. But the rational, reasonable part of Sara quickly smothered down the thought, sternly telling herself not to read into things that weren’t there, instead trying not to smile too brightly at how quiet and soft and defensive and beautiful Ava was right now.

“Yeah,” muttered Ava under her breath, eyes flashing with the same something as before, “I … I know.” She paused, cheeks a little red, and Sara knew it wasn’t entirely from the alcohol because in truth, their sex lives was kind of a previously uncharted conversation topic between them and of course it came up while they were both not completely sober somewhere around 1am on the first of January. Ava seemed to think of something to divert the conversation back to what it had been though, and amusement graced her features and she added “Gary did a full workup of all Constantine’s previous conquests for research.”

Sara snorted loudly, rolling her eyes as she indignantly insisted “Excuse me, if anything, he was the conquest, not me!” and there was the indecipherable emotion again, lasting barely a second before Ava schooled her features and smiled wryly.

She wanted so, so badly to tease Ava, to question why she seemed to hate Constantine, to make her do that adorable thing where she ducked her head down, hair falling in front of her face, trying and failing every time to hide the crimson blush creeping up her cheeks. But at the same time, Sara was well aware that she was still at least a little intoxicated, and the longer she stared at Ava, the further she lost herself to Ava’s sparkling eyes, the soft curve of her lips, the way the light caught on her cheekbones…

Sara sucked in a slow breath, leaning back slightly and trying to clear her head, but Ava was just so … distracting. Especially now that she was aware of how she felt, it was like everything Sara liked about Ava had magnified tenfold, and Sara wasn’t quite sure what to do with that. She swallowed, cautious about crossing a line she wouldn’t be able to undo later - not that she would ever regret it, but Ava … Ava might. “So Gary likes him?” Sara eventually asked, attempting to continue the previous conversation. “Constantine?”

Ava swallowed, blinking a little as if she’d completely lost her train of thought, but then nodded, brushing her hair out of her face. “Yeah. Beats me why, but he’s currently bemoaning how sad it is that Constantine’s never even spoken to him.”

Sara smiled softly, leaning close enough to nudge her shoulder against Ava’s. “Well how about this, I wait until Gary’s actually sober and actually introduce them so he can stop his pining. Everybody wins.”

“You’d probably make Gary’s entire year if you did,” Ava smiled, grinning back, eyes fixed firmly on Sara’s face for a moment before a door opened somewhere and a sudden blast of music from downstairs caused something to shift, both looking away to see whether anyone was coming.

No one was, but even so something shifted between them, the silence becoming thicker, more intense - charged with something neither of them could name - before Sara leant closer, bare arm resting centimeters from Ava’s, too focused on this weird, unexplainable intimacy that she barely noticed herself moving. Ava was right there in front of her, looking more beautiful than she’d ever seen her before, eyes shining as she subconsciously leaned closer, gaze focused on Sara’s lips. Sara sucked in a breath, closing her eyes for a moment. It would be so easy to tilt her head up and lean closer, brushing her lips softly against Ava’s, giving in to what she’d been dying to do all night. But it was late, and she’d had more alcohol than she probably should’ve, and Ava was probably exhausted and tipsy too, so just like before Sara stopped herself, biting her lip rather than leaning up to taste Ava’s.

But … it was still New Year’s Eve, and she had kissed Ray earlier when trying to ignore this new, unhelpful crush she seemed to have developed, and…

Sara reached out to curl her fingers around Ava’s wrist, brushing her thumb over her pulse point, trying her hardest to ignore the way Ava’s heart rate picked up when she squeezed lightly, with just the right amount of  pressure to make sparks fly under her fingers. She’d lost her shoes hours ago, but Sara barely noticed as she leant up onto her toes, hesitating for a moment to look Ava in the eyes before pressing a light kiss against her cheek, lips barely pressing against her skin but lingering for much longer than necessary before she pulled away, sinking back to the ground trailing her fingers down Ava’s arm as she murmured quietly, softer and more gentle than Ava had ever heard her speak, “Happy New Year, Aves.”

Ava’s lips curved upwards into small, bashful smile as Sara pulled away, one hand coming up to her face, fingers brushing softly against her cheek where Sara’s lips had been moments ago, before letting them drop. She reached out for Sara’s hand without breaking eye contact and slid her fingers into her soft, warm grip, tracing a gentle circle across her skin. “Happy New Year, Sara.”

 


 

Messenger
(Nora Darhk)

avalance will rise y’all
Active now

1:27am:

You:

Guys

So uh

Not to alarm anyone or anything

And if any of you mention this
out loud i will personally hunt
you down

But uh

Sara may or may not have just
kissed Ava on the cheek and
wished her a happy new year


Jax:
what


Nate:
You’re fucking with me

There’s no way


Amaya:
What?????


Lily:
I’m

I NEED A SECOND


You:
I’m 100% serious

I just saw it


Gary:
thIS IS TOO MUCH


You:
Gary I’m right beside you
why are you messaging
the gc


Zari:
Holy shit

It’s happening

It’s H a p PENING


Nate:
Lmao that’s not the only
thing happening @Zari
;-) ;-) ;-)


Zari:
What do u mean


Ray:
Oh come on

Don’t think we didn’t all
see you and @Amaya when
the countdown hit zero


Kuasa:
That was some New Year’s
kiss you two ;-)


Lily:
We also all saw you both
disappear for like, an hour
after the fireworks ;-)))))

@Nate you should make a
‘congrats on the sex’ cake


You:
;’D ;’D ;’D


Zari:
You are all the worst

Literally

Awful, awful people


Amaya:
@Zari we are literally doing
exactly this about Sara and
Ava we can’t exactly judge


Zari:
@Amaya stop being logical


You:
Yeah Amaya, stop being
logical and go make out
with Zari instead


Zari:
Goodbye


Zari left the group.


Nate:
;’D ;’D


Amaya added Zari to the group.


Gary:
wait what

what happened between
amaya and zari

what

what did I miss


You:
Oh my god were you literally
pining over Constantine so
long that you missed the
new year’s kisses?


Lily:
Omg gary


Zari:
Surprise @Gary me and Amaya
are dating


Amaya:
Are we??? We didn’t have that
conversation yet


Mick:
Too busy fucking?


Amaya:
MICK


Lily:
I am

Crying


Ray:
This is overwhelming

First Amaya and Zari

Then Sara kisses Ava on the cheek

Are we sure this isn’t an elaborate
and very realistic dream?


Zari:
I sure fucking hope not


Seen by: You, Amaya, Ray, Jax, Nate, Mick, Lily.

 


 

“So,” Sara smirked, poking Zari in the side whilst smirking in Amaya’s direction. “Who am I supposed to give the shovel talk to?”

Zari shifted on the couch, turning around and pressing her face into the crook of Amaya’s neck, tugging the duvet Kuasa had provided up over her ears. Amaya just laughed, pulling Zari closer and pressing a small kiss to the top of her head, whilst Sara looked up and down the couch they had slept on. It was big enough for one person easily, but even with them both lying half on top of each other, legs tangled, arms wrapped around each other, it was a miracle neither of them had fallen off the couch in the night.

She and Lily had also stayed the night at Kuasas, having volunteered to help tidy up in the morning - but, like ordinary, reasonable people - they’d chosen to sleep in the beds that were offered, rather than remain exactly where they were. (Not that it hadn’t been adorable when Zari - Zari, of all people - had quietly protested “I don’t wanna wake her” at 3am, running one hand through a sleeping Amaya’s hair as she lay on the couch, her head once again in Zari’s lap.)

Sara snorted, asking dryly “You do realise Kuasa has beds, right?”

Zari murmured something that sounded suspiciously like “As if you wouldn’t do the same” from under the duvet before Amaya lightly slapped her arm.

Sara smirked at them both. “So are we gonna talk about last night, or…?”

Amaya flushed, sitting up, jostling Zari in the process and causing her to groan. Amaya smiled, running one hand through Zari’s hair as she quietly replied “not now, Sara,” rolling her eyes when Sara’s grin just widened.

“Okay,” she agreed, pushing herself up from the floor and pulling the duvet off Zari, trying to ignore how adorable it was when Zari shivered, curling closer to Amaya. “In that case, get your ass up Z, you’re not even hungover and we’re supposed to be helping Kuasa clean up.”

“You didn’t have to stay,” reminded Kuasa from the kitchen and Zari huffed, burrowing into Amaya’s shoulder as she muttered “Yeah Sara, we didn’t have to stay.” to which even Amaya swatted her affectionately before they both hauled themselves to their feet and moved to shower and find something to eat.

 

Sara was happy for them.

She was.

She just … hadn’t expected how hard it would be to watch Amaya press a quick, gentle kiss to Zari’s cheek and not think about Ava. Not that Ava hadn’t been on her mind all morning - and all of last night - but, now she didn’t have the blanket of alcohol or that stunning black dress or the adrenaline of the party as an excuse. Now all she had was the cold, hard facts of just how quickly she was falling and how much she literally had no idea what to do about it.

With a sigh, Sara tied up her almost dry hair into a ponytail and crossed the kitchen to Kuasa’s pantry to look for something to eat for breakfast. Zari rounded the corner moments later, clearly having just had a shower. She looked more like herself in jeans and a button down flannel, rather than the tight fitted navy dress she’d worn the night before, and Sara offered her a less teasing smile hello as she moved to make herself some toast.

“I’m never gonna hear the end of this, am I?” Zari said, but she glanced at Sara with a wry grin.

“Nope,” said Sara, bumping their hips together. “I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t waiting for it but now that it’s happened, I’m gonna give you both so much shit.”

Zari groaned, snatching the peanut butter from in front of Sara and sending her a withering (yet half hearted) glare. “You decide who you’re gonna give the shovel talk to yet?” she muttered, rolling her eyes.

“Neither of you.”

“Oh really? How’d you decide?”

Sara shrugged. “I know you both and … you could never hurt each other. Not intentionally anyway. No shovel talk necessary.”

Zari paused, gave her a thoughtful look that mellowed into a soft smile. She hummed in agreement, ducking her head down to hide the gentle blush that coloured her cheeks and Sara felt her heart swell at the unbridled happiness literally radiating from her friend. She couldn’t help but chuckle, throwing an arm around Zari’s shoulders and hugging her for the briefest of moments. It really said something about how relaxed and happy Zari was, that she didn’t flinch or tense, just also laughed softly and returned Sara’s hug with a squeeze. They fell quiet for a while, Lily’s ‘chill acoustic’ playlist filtering through Kuasa’s speakers as Zari made her toast and Sara poured oatmeal into a bowl and hunted through the several soft drink bottles in the fridge to find some milk.

“So,” said Sara, shoving the fridge shut. “You guys sleep together?”

Zari choked momentarily on her toast and blushed brighter than Sara ever thought was possible. Sara had to actively stop herself from laughing at the embarrassed and indignant look on Zari’s face.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“We’re not doing this,” said Zari flatly, shaking her head and shovelling toast into her mouth to stop herself from having to say anything. Sara swallowed her spoonful of oatmeal and poked Zari gently in the elbow.

“Hey. I’m not trying to embarrass you.”

“You sure ‘bout that?” mumbled Zari through a mouthful of food, narrowing her eyes.

Yes ,” said Sara pointedly. “Yeah, I’m gonna tease you both endlessly and at some point in the next couple of days, I’m gonna interrogate Amaya too. But Z, you’re one of my best friends and I’m well aware you’ve never dated anyone, or hooked up with anyone. I know the fact that it’s Amaya is different - good different - but … don’t pretend this isn’t a big deal, at least not with me. ”

The tension in Zari’s shoulders relaxed a little and understanding flickered across her face, her eyes softening. “Oh,” she said quietly, shooting Sara an apologetic look. “Right.”

Sara smiled. “So.”

Zari let out a whistling breath that sounded like a shy, half sigh, half laugh. “So.” She bit her lip, eyes darting over to Sara with colour still staining her cheeks. “I … don’t know how exactly to have this ‘girl talk’ conversation.”

Sara chuckled affectionately, shuffling closer to Zari so she could nudge her fondly. “I hate to break it to you but it’s gonna involve some gross, mushy emotions.”

Zari jokingly grimaced, biting another piece off her toast. “Unfortunately, I think I proved to everyone that I actually have those after last night.” Sara snorted, and Zari shrugged, trying to stop the wide smile from growing on her face. “I … I seriously can’t believe this happened Sara. Like … this can’t be real, right?”

“It is,” said Sara. “It’s real and you deserve this so, so much Z.”

A cheeky smirk crossed Zari’s face. “You know what? Remember when we were like, 16 and you said that having sex for the first time would be like, 80 times better with a girl than a guy?”

Sara choked on her oatmeal, spluttering with laughter. “Oh my god, yes , I remember that!”

Zari shrugged again, sliding her plate across the kitchen bench with a glint in her eyes. “I mean, you weren’t wrong.”

Sara arched an eyebrow, trying not to think too hard about the fact that Zari was referring to Amaya because yuck , and instead just teasingly saying “No regrets then?”

Zari shook her head. “Not a single one. No way.”

She’d forgotten about Ava for a second, so caught up in Zari and trying to see where her friend was at with this fresh, new relationship. But suddenly, it all came flooding back and Sara had to look away, stop herself from sucking in a sharp breath because the fatigue from the previous night, the morning grogginess was all gone. And all the feelings she’d tried to blame on the alcohol last night were still here. Still here, still slowly consuming every inch of Sara’s being and she realised with a uneasy, sickly feeling in her stomach that unlike Zari, she did have regrets from last night.

She regretted not kissing Ava at midnight.

 

The countdown had snuck up on all of them. One second Sara was dancing with Lily, Gary, Nate, Jax and Kendra, and the next everyone was chattering and shushing and yelling excitedly about it being five minutes, then two, and suddenly the room was full of people. They’d pushed open the french doors from the living room so they could see the fireworks, Jax had brought out the bottles of champagne, the TV was being turned on so they could watch the ball drop. Sara had tried so hard not to, but her eyes kept darting over to Ava who was on the other side of the room, caught up in conversation with Kuasa and Gary. It had been hours but she still looked so stunning, her makeup was still so flawless, hair was mussed from dancing and had fallen out of its curls from the warmth of the room and Sara just … she wanted to go over so badly , wanted to joke and tease and laugh with Ava, wanted to count down to the new year with her and God, she so, so badly wanted to pull her into a soft kiss when the clock hit midnight.

But she couldn’t.

Because Ava was … Ava was Ava.

So instead, she’d let her eyes sweep around the room, fall on Ray who looked oddly out of place, and walked over to nudge him cheerily. He smiled brightly when he saw her, hugged her to his side and flushed a little when Sara cheekily said “Who you kissing in -” (checked the clock) “- forty seconds?”

Ray rolled his eyes. “You, I’m guessing?”

Sara shrugged. “Only if there’s no one else in line.”

A strange expression crossed Ray’s face and Sara watched his eyes inadvertently flicker to Nora who had made her way to stand by Gary and Ava. “No,” he said quietly. “There’s no one else in line.”

Sara frowned, and even her not quite sober brain could pinpoint that this was something she’d have to remember to talk to Ray about later, because there was definitely something going on here. But now wasn’t the time for that, so she wrapped her arm around Ray’s waist and squeezed.

20, 19, 18 -

Sara couldn’t stop herself from glancing over at Ava again , and something in her chest tightened at seeing her reluctantly accepting the champagne Kuasa was pouring, smiling with a roll of her eyes at Nora and Kuasa bickering, absentmindedly run her fingers through her hair.

15, 14, 13 -

“Sara? You good?”

Sara glanced up at Ray, the back of her neck hot as he called out her distraction. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to have noticed what she was staring at and she nodded, plastering a grin onto her face. “Pucker up Palmer.” (It wasn’t like they hadn’t kissed before over the years, at parties, truth or dare games, hell, Sara was pretty sure they’d kissed in a school play at some point in middle school.)

10, 9, 8 -

It was then that she had caught sight of Zari and Amaya out on the balcony, Amaya behind Zari and her arms around Zari’s shoulders, saying something that had put a soft smile on Zari’s face - softer than anything Sara would ever have expected from Zari.

“Ray,” Sara said, elbowing him in the ribs. “Look. Amaya and Z.”

Ray glanced over where she was pointing and she felt his sudden intake of breath. “No way. You don’t think -?”

Sara shook her head, an incredulous laugh stuck in her throat. “Oh my god, if they are -”

6, 5, 4 -

Sara looked across the room (for the millionth time), heart skipping a beat when she found Ava already looking at her, eyes sparkling as she nodded towards Amaya and Zari, and Sara laughed breathlessly. She wanted to keep looking at Ava, was suddenly drowning in her familiar, intimate gaze, wanted to let it draw her in closer, was almost convinced to go against the logical but increasingly quiet voice in her head and go over there when -

3, 2, 1 -

Ray tugged her arm gently, giving her a soft, amused, questioning look and Sara returned his smile, slinking up onto her tiptoes and pressing her lips to his for the briefest of seconds, before they clinked their champagne flutes together.

“Happy New Year,” said Ray.

“Happy New Year,” echoed Sara.

The world was illuminated in a bright glow of lights, of sparkling gold and twinkling blues, in the sound of glasses clinking together and people laughing, crowing, cheering, music restarted and flared through the speakers.

And then there was Amaya and Zari.

Ray choked on his champagne, gawking over at the balcony and Sara wasn’t much better, her jaw hanging open and eyes wide with astonishment. Because instead of a chaste, not-just-friendly, half-joking, tentative New Year’s kiss, Amaya’s lips were seared to Zari’s, hands gently cradling her face as Zari’s fingers were curled tightly in Amaya’s shirt, both of them apparently not realising that there were literally dozens of people around them. As though they were in a movie, the fireworks exploded in the sky behind them and Sara laughed incredulously. They broke apart, and Sara had never seen a wider smile on either of their faces.

(And if she just so happened to look at Ava one more time, well, she could blame it on the champagne.)

 

“Sara? You even listening to me? You’re the one who wanted this dumb girl talk.”

Sara blinked, suddenly brought back to the reality of her (getting soggy) bowl of oatmeal in her hand, Zari beside her in Kuasa’s kitchen, chilled winter sunlight creeping through the gaps in the curtains as the sound of the shower running down the hall abruptly stopped.

“Sorry,” she said, hoping she hadn’t zoned out for too long. “I uh … I was just trying to see what I remembered from last night.”

Zari arched an eyebrow. “You didn’t drink that much did you? You seemed fine.”

“Yeah, I was fine,” said Sara quickly, shrugging and covering her distraction with a teasing smirk. “A lot happened, ‘s all. Making sure I’ve covered all my bases of major developments, you know? Like Zari Tomaz and Amaya Jiwe making out under the fireworks in front of all of their friends -”

“I hate you,” announced Zari, abandoning her dish on the counter to walk out the room.

“No you don’t,” chortled Sara, grinning.

Zari glared at her. “Shut up Lance. I thought you said we had work to do.”

Sara eyed her amusedly for a second, considering winding her up further before deciding silently to save some of her ammunition for after the winter break. She winked at Zari, slid her bowl along the counter to sit by Zari’s plate and crossed the kitchen to guide Zari upstairs.

“Whatever you say Tomaz.”

 



Facebook
(Sara Lance)


Zari Tomaz is in a relationship with Amaya Jiwe .
January 1st


You, Ava Sharpe, Ray Palmer and 271 others liked this.

View 36 others comments
Gary Green: still not over it <3
Sara Lance: I’M SO HAPPY YOU GUYS honestly there are real tears, i love you both so so so much XXX
Guinevere Grace: Finally!!
Nathaniel Heywood: Still baking that cake, will let y’all know when it’s ready
                Zari Tomaz: don’t u fuckin dare
                Amaya Jiwe: Omg @Nathaniel
Lily Stein: @Nora you owe me 5 bucks (p.s. So happy for you guys eep!)
                Zari Tomaz: wait what
                Nora Darhk: You guys couldn’t have waited, like, 2 more months? Dammit
                Zari Tomaz: WAIT WHAT
                Amaya Jiwe: Why am I not surprised?

 


 

Messenger
(Nora Darhk)

Ray Palmer
Active now

SUN 11:08am:


What happened between
us last night


In the kitchen


Can we please not talk
about it?


Okay


Of course


Thanks


I’m so sorry


It’s okay


SUN, 11:19am:


You didn’t do anything wrong


Seen: Sunday, 11:25am.



 

Messenger
(Sara Lance)

Tommy Merlyn
Active now

SUN 2:04pm:

 

hey loser


how long are you in star
city before u jet back off
to chicago?


Hey short stuff


I’m here til the 3rd


You wanna meet up?


yeah, if you’re not busy?


I kinda just need someone to vent
to who knows me well enough to
get where I’m coming from ‘n all
idk


but if you’ve already got plans
then don’t cancel them for me


Are you kidding? My dad won’t
shut up about wanting me to
move back and join the family
business


You’d be doing me a favour by
giving me something to do other
than listen to him go on about how
I’m ‘wasting my time and talents in
Chicago’


And hey, what’s going on? You ok?


i would give u some sympathetic
spiel but i literally expect nothing
less from your dad tbh


i’ll tell u in person dw


Yeah well


All the more reason to a) fill my days
with things to do, and b) leave town
as soon as I can


And okay, how’s tomorrow? Lunch?


We could do that lil burger joint we all
used to go to after school sometimes?


omg I haven’t been there in
forever yes please


12??


Sounds like a plan


can’t wait xxx


Seen: Sunday, 2:07pm.




For Sara, being around Tommy was like catching her footing at the last minute when she thought she was about to fall. She didn’t know how she kept forgetting how comfortable she was around him, and it was ridiculous because it made sense . They’d spent seventeen years growing up around each other, spending evenings and weekends and vacations, breaks and holidays and Christmases all together, playing pranks, getting into trouble, fighting, laughing, sometimes even convincing each other to do their homework if it was particularly pressing. But Tommy had always been there, and the minute he caught sight of her, broke into a brilliant beam and tugged her into a tight hug, Sara suddenly felt like all her growing, pressing anxieties weren’t quite as bad as her brain was convincing her they were.

Tommy insisted on paying for their food, to which Sara retorted “You’re not taking me on a date Merlyn, you don’t need to be chivalrous.” and Tommy raised an eyebrow and said “I’m sorry, which one of us actually has a job and has money to spend on things like stupidly overpriced kinda gourmet burgers?” and Sara had to huff and relent.

“Why did we even come here as kids if it was so overpriced?” she grumbled with an eye roll. Tommy laughed and threw an arm around her shoulders.

“Because Ollie and Thea don’t know the meaning of living cheaply.”

There was so much history here that any expectation to act or be a certain way, to offer any kind of explanation or fill a lull in conversation all just vanished. It certainly helped that Tommy had spent a little over two years dating Laurel, and had basically become a part of the Lance family before they broke up. There’d been countless movie nights, family dinners, lazy afternoons after school, Sara’s soccer games Tommy had come to watch with Laurel - Sara shook her head with a soft laugh. She didn’t know why she’d been so nervous about today. Tommy was Tommy. She could tell him anything. The fact that he and Laurel had broken up was never going to change that.

 

Tommy let the conversation drift over menial things for a while, let the small talk filter between them. But once their order was called and he sat back down after retrieving it, he nudged Sara’s shoulder gently with his own and slid a bowl of fries and two milkshakes onto the table between them. “Sara, I can feel you freaking out from over here. What’s up?”

Sara sucked in a shaky breath, lifting her milkshake up to take a sip but then placing it back down on the table with a sigh. Tommy flashed her a reassuring smile, and she only hesitated for a moment before running both hands through her hair and saying quietly. “So I kissed Ava.”

Tommy raised an eyebrow. “Ava Sharpe ? The girl in your grade who you never used to shut up about how annoying and uptight and frustrating she was?”

Sara wrinkled her nose, grimacing a little. “I did used to say that, didn’t I?”

Tommy laughed. “Sara, you used to call her Hermione Granger without the interesting parts!”

Sara glared at him, tossing a fry in his direction as she weakly insisted “Look, I was young and naive, okay? It … it turns out she’s not actually that bad.” She let out a soft huff of breath, rubbing her eyes and letting out a frustrated groan. “I’m such an idiot.”

“Hey,” said Tommy, kicking her shin lightly under the table. “Give yourself credit. You’re only like, 60% idiot.”

“Shut up Tommy!”

A small smile crept across his face, and he gave her a cheeky smirk. “So. Back to this kiss.”  Sara saw the expression on his face and suddenly realised what she’d left out of her initial declaration, face immediately reddening as she added rapidly “On the cheek , Tommy, oh my god, I didn’t - Jesus, I didn’t like, kiss Ava, I just … I don’t know, it was New Year’s Eve and I’d had more alcohol than I probably should’ve and I …”

“Kissed her,” Tommy finished unhelpfully, still grinning, giving her an affectionate poke in the arm. Sara sighed, pushing her fries around the basket in front of her, but remaining silent. Tommy, shook his head, leaning forward a little as he said “If I’m completely honest Sara, I don’t really understand your problem. I’ve seen your Instagram posts - you guys seem to have gotten pretty close. You’re friends, she’s not as bad as you thought, she’s smart as hell … I mean, truthfully, I don’t know much about her - I remember her older brother Spencer was this big basketball star, and look, it’s not like she’s unattractive - don’t look at me like that Sara, don’t make me say that she’s hot, okay, I still think of you as a little kid, I can’t stand classifying people your age as attractive.”

“Tommy, you’re literally one year older than me.”

“Not the point, don’t try and change topic. What’s the big deal here? So you kissed Ava on the cheek. I saw on Facebook that she came out last year. So she’s a viable, you know, dating option, or a hookup …?”

Sara groaned, “Tommy, no ! I can’t … it’s not …” She sighed frustratedly, bringing one hand up to tightly grip her necklace whilst the other tapped against the table, finally looking over to meet Tommy’s eyes as she repeated “I can’t . I kissed her Tommy. On the cheek, yeah but …  she’s … she’s my …”

“Your what Sara?” asked Tommy gently.

Sara exhaled shakily, letting the realisation dawn on her with a sickening swoop in her stomach. “She’s my best friend,” she said softly. “And I can’t Tommy, I just … I don’t wanna … I don’t … God, I don’t know .” Her voice cracked on the last word and she shrugged halfheartedly, breaking eye contact as she tore her gaze away. Tommy looked her up and down, and even out of her peripheral vision, Sara saw the moment it clicked, saw the burst of realisation in his eyes, the softness in expression before a teasing smile appeared on his face.

“Do you like her?” he asked with a playful nudge to her side. “Like, do you like like her?”

“How old are we Tommy, 11?” Sara asked dryly, glaring at him before rolling her eyes, trying to ignore the way her heart immediately sped up at the implication. Because … well, yeah. She did. Like like Ava. But Tommy seemed to genuinely expect an answer, raised an expectant eyebrow, so she sucked in a breath, before answering quietly “Yeah. I dunno, I guess. I … I mean …” She shrugged again, chewing her bottom lip nervously.

Tommy smiled, eyes calm, comforting as he nudged her gently and quietly said “You need to say it, Sara.”

He was right. He was usually right, just like Laurel, in that familiar, annoying, older sibling kind of way, but Sara still froze for a second, taking several deep breaths and letting the words repeat on a loop in her mind so she could get used to them. It was several minutes before she opened her mouth to speak, and when she did, her voice was so, uncharacteristically quiet, but she knew Tommy could hear her, knew it didn’t matter how loud she said it, just that she did.

“I have a crush on Ava.”

Tommy smiled, poking her again before reaching for a fry, dunking it in his milkshake and then popping it in his mouth. “There we go, was that so hard?”

“No, Tommy,” Sara groaned frustratedly, leaning back against the leather seat of their booth. “You don’t get it . This isn’t … this isn’t good, it’s not gonna end well.”

For the first time, confusion made its way into Tommy’s eyes and he shuffled a little closer, reaching between them to squeeze her shoulder, giving her the same, encouraging but expectant look as before.

“I just …”  Sara shook her head, swearing under her breath as the words got caught in her throat. Because saying all of this, having this conversation with Tommy was making this whole situation real , was making this crush on Ava a proper, tangible thing that she had to figure out what to do with and all she could feel right now was growing fear and uncertainty. And most of that was because she knew she had a crush on Ava - she’d known since her birthday and maybe even come to terms with it. But at Kuasa’s party, there had been something else there, something more than just faint, easy, teenage attraction, something Sara had maybe only ever felt once before in her life and she was terrified. She ran a slightly shaking hand through her hair before trying for a second time. “I don't wanna hurt her Tommy. But I know I will because, well … I'm … I'm me .”

“Hey,” Tommy said, voice suddenly stern and purposeful in a way it hadn’t been in their conversation so far. “What's that supposed to mean?”

Sara shrugged again, this time helplessly and half heartedly, leaning back and letting her eyes flicker up to the ceiling as she tried her hardest to get some sort of hold on her thoughts. “I don't know. I'm not good at this. Relationships and stuff. Everything with Nyssa kinda threw me for a loop big time - I don’t have to tell you how bad it was, you were there. And me and Ollie were the biggest fucking disaster.”

“Sara, you and Ollie were doomed to begin with,” reminded Tommy, giving her shoulder another squeeze.

“Yeah, but it’s still 2 and 0 to the absolutely terrible outcome of a serious relationship column,” said Sara, hearing the slight desperation in her voice, “and I can't stop thinking about this stupid crush, and I know it's gonna end badly and I care about Ava so much, not just because I have feelings for her but because she means so much to me as a friend and I can’t lose that. I don’t know what I would do if I lost that, Tommy, I never would’ve made it through this year so far without her and it’s so not fair on her for me to have feelings like this, especially when we’re getting so close, and I don’t want to overstep and invade her privacy or confidence or anything because she trusts me as a friend and doesn’t realise I also have these stupid feelings that are gonna fuck everything up and …” She stopped, sucking in a sharp breath and letting it out again, shoulders slouching with defeat as she did. “I just have no idea what I'm supposed to do.”

For a moment, Tommy said nothing, his hand still warm and comforting on Sara’s shoulder, eyes watching her careful as he seemed to mull over the best response to give. Finally, he said, quietly and a little sadly, “No one ever does Sara.”

Sara sniffed, looking over to him a little curiously, and hating the way her voice twisted as she murmured “You and Laurel always seemed to.”  She only realised far too late - after it had fallen from her lips - that she couldn't be more wrong. Because he and Laurel had broken up, Laurel was in rehab, and Sara knew this was hard for him too - as much as he pretended to be okay, as much as he’d pointedly avoided mentioning Laurel in the conversations they’d had over these holidays, she knew that the harsh truth of how he and Laurel had ended was eating away at him even though he didn’t show it.

Part of Sara wondered what it would’ve been like if they’d just broken up - if the only reason things were weird was because Laurel had ended her and Tommy’s perfect, idyllic high school relationship because of college long distance, and all that existed now was the awkward aftermath during birthdays and holiday seasons when they had to see each other. But it was more than that - everything to do with Laurel had an extra element of unpredictability and heartache and as soon as Sara let her sister’s name slip, it was as if a blanket of uncertainty fell over them. For several moments neither of them said a word.

"How is she?" Tommy asked eventually.

Oh.

He didn't know. Of course he didn't know, it’s not like Laurel would’ve told him. And it hadn’t exactly been appropriate for dinnertime conversation on her birthday, so the past week had been and gone with Tommy being in Star City with no idea about Laurel’s relapse.

Sara bit her lip, looking down at the ground, one hand coming up to grip her necklace tightly. “Actually …” she said quietly, her voice hoarse, “she’s not doing great.”

It took a huge amount of effort to glance up at Tommy, and she felt a physical ache in her chest at the way his eyes widened with concern, fear flickering in his expression at her words. Sara sighed, keeping one hand tightly clasped around the necklace as she picked nervously at her burger, keeping her voice low as she began to talk because for all that she’d yelled at Laurel about how her reputation in Star City was ruined, the truth was that most of the city actually genuinely believed she was at Stanford and Sara wasn’t going to go telling them otherwise. She spoke hesitantly, her gaze darting back to the table because Tommy was Tommy and was so close to Laurel that she couldn’t bear to see the look on his face when she revealed what she’d said and done the last time she and Laurel saw each other.

She explained what had happened the week before her birthday, tried so hard not to trip on her words as she recounted word for word what Laurel had said, what Quentin had said, what she’d said, desperately fought back the tears as she reluctantly revealed the horrible, hurtful things she’d thrown back at Laurel’s frustrating, nonchalant attitude towards the situation. Tommy didn't speak until she'd finished, but Sara kept her head down, avoiding his gaze, not willing to look up and see the disappointment lurking in his eyes too. Because as much as Ava had reassured her and justified her actions, Ava didn't know Laurel, not like Tommy did.

It was different telling him. Ava didn't know just how much Laurel had struggled with this addiction, hadn’t seen it first hand the way Tommy had, hadn’t spent endless hours over the summer messaging Sara, them trying to figure out what to do, whether it was right for them to intervene, whether he even had a right to after Laurel had broken up with him. Ava didn't quite know just how much Sara's words would've cut into Laurel, chipping at all of her vulnerabilities until she broke her down, leaving her a mess and storming out of the room.

Tommy did.

Tommy knew all of it, better than anyone else.

Sara let the silence hang heavy in the air once she was finished. Her appetite had vanished and was replaced with an uncomfortable, sickly feeling low in her stomach and she shoved her burger and milkshake away with a quiet sniff, finally letting go of her necklace to fiddle with the strings of her hoodie. She didn’t know how long passed before Tommy spoke, didn’t know if it was 30 seconds or 30 minutes, because all she felt were his eyes watching her carefully and the hum of the diner fade into a low buzz around them and a vague, distant feeling of panic and apprehension flooded through Sara’s veins.

After what seemed like an age, his voice cut through the silence.

"Sara," he said softly. "Listen to me. I know Laurel. And I know you. And … I can see how much you're blaming yourself for this, but Laurel … Jesus, we both know how fierce and stubborn and angry she can be - you’re as bad as each other sometimes.”

Sara let out a weak laugh (resisting the urge to rub her eyes because she’d actually put on mascara today and she didn’t intend to wander around Star City looking like a panda).

“Hey,” said Tommy, reaching across the table and curling one hand around Sara’s. “Look at me.”

Sara did, finally, and she was shocked to find no anger, no disbelief or fury or disappointment or resentment in his eyes. Just soft, kind, warmth and understanding, coupled with a sad resignation that tugged at Sara’s heart.

“You’re as bad as each other,” Tommy repeated, voice still slow and gentle, “and I don't believe for a single moment that she didn't give as good as she got, at least to start with. There’s no way this is all on you. I know this isn’t all on you because I can see how much you’re hurting right now.”

Sara looked away, biting down on her bottom lip as a distraction from the gathering wetness in her eyes. Tommy gently nudged her shoulder.

“Have you talked to her about this since then?” he asked.

“She called on my birthday,” said Sara, clearing her throat when it came out a little choked and strangled. “But … when it started to come up, she said that she didn’t want to do it right now.”

“Of course she did,” muttered Tommy, overwhelming fondness in his voice. “Not since then though?” Sara didn’t respond, fingers tapping anxiously against her leg, but that seemed to be enough of an answer in itself. Tommy sighed. “You know - you’re gonna have to do that at some point.”

Sara couldn’t help but laugh a little. It was so different from talking to Ava - Tommy was blunt, unflinchingly honest, but Sara could hear the gentleness in his words, the concern for both her and Laurel that she almost hadn’t expected would be there.

“Yeah,” she replied, scratching at a fleck of loose paint on the table. “I know.” She sucked in a sharp, stuttering breath. “I just … I can’t. Not right now. Not yet.”

“Okay,” Tommy eventually agreed, pausing for a moment before asking “What about Ava?”

Sara’s head snapped up, panic flashing through her eyes. “What about Ava? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Sara, you know exactly what I mean,” Tommy grinned, and while she was glad the conversation had moved on from Laurel, she still wasn’t sure where this was going, still didn’t know what to do.

Sara sighed. “I’ll - I’ll work something out.”

Tommy swirled his straw around the milkshake thoughtfully, watching Sara with careful eyes. “You didn’t come to talk to me just for me to let you decide on ‘I’ll work something out.’ I know you, you need a game plan, otherwise you’ll spend way too much time in your head about this.”

Sara groaned, rubbing her eyes fiercely. “God, it can’t work like that. This isn’t just me having a crush on anyone , it’s me having a crush on someone that counts. She means so much to me, and I don’t wanna ruin what we have. I can’t make assumptions here, or just throw caution into the wind and take a risk because she’s too important for that.”

“Well then, you know that your game plan can’t include outright just asking her out, can it?” Tommy sounded so calm, so reasonable and logical that it half infuriated Sara, but it eased her worries a little too because maybe …. maybe it wasn’t as dire as she thought.

“No,” she agreed, a little quieter. “No it … it can’t.”

“You guys only became friends recently,” said Tommy. “So you’ve already had this massive shift in the dynamics of your relationship that neither of you have been used to. It might be worth waiting a bit - maybe a few weeks, maybe a month or so - to get used to what you guys have now. Maybe then you’ll be able to read signals a bit better, because it won’t all be so new, you know?”

Sara let out a long, shaking breath. It was a good idea, because yeah, a lot of what was confusing her was how rapidly her relationship with Ava had moved from an antagonistic rivalry to a friendship so close and intimate that Sara wasn’t sure she’d ever had quite like this before. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the niggling thought that she didn’t need time to know just how real these feelings were, but maybe taking Tommy’s advice would be a chance to figure out whether or not Ava could possibly have the same feelings.

It seemed a lot more like inaction than action, and Sara wasn’t quite sure if it was exactly what she needed to screw her head on straight right now, but it would have to do. She wasn’t willing to lose Ava over this.

No way.

 



Nora Darhk

iMessage
(Ava Sharpe)
Monday


8:16am
Hey


8:16am:
What’re you doing today?


8:19am:
Homework at some point


8:19am:
Other than that nothing


8:20am:
Any chance you can bribe
Layla for the car?


8:20am:
What’s wrong?


8:20am:
Why do you immediately assume
something’s wrong?


8:21am:
Nora, come on


8:21am:
How bad?


8:25am:
Bad


8:25am:
Gimme 20 minutes to shower
and change and then i’ll drive
to yours, okay?


8:27am:
Thanks Aves

 


 

As much as Ava always classified her family as insane and ridiculous in every possible way, she was well aware that in the scheme of things, her life had pretty normal. For all their flaws, her parents had worked hard to provide a better than average life for their four children, and Ava’s childhood had been full of laughter and adventure, always having someone to play with, never being bored and never being without anything she needed.

So when she looked back on her life between the ages of 6 up til now, it was easy to see that a lot of the excitement and uncertainty she’d experienced had been shaped by Nora’s life rather than her own. Nora’s life, that had been the furthest thing from smooth and lighthearted.

When they were kids, every time the investigation into Nora’s father began to pick up, every time a foster family decided they were too afraid of Damien tracking them down and no longer wanted to house his daughter, every time Nora slipped up and lashed out of anger or confusion or desperation and was pulled away from a family because they decided she was ‘too much trouble’, Ava always got a phone call. (Or, she just got a teary eyed, stoic Nora on her doorstep asking if they could go somewhere. )

With four kids, there were more than enough bicycles to go round in the Sharpe garage, so every single time Nora needed it, she and Ava had grabbed two and set off down the road in silence. They never really went far - when they were little, it was just circling the neighbourhood several times until they were both tired and flopped down in Ava’s backyard, under the huge tree on the far end of the garden, and eventually Nora would quietly say what had happened this time. As they got older, bike rides got traded in for walks, and when Ava got her license, it usually became one of the rare occasions that she actually got the chance to drive the car. (Oddly enough, Layla never really had a problem with giving up the car keys when Ava provided the excuse “It’s Nora.”) With age, they usually ended up venturing further and further into the city, and the last time they’d done this (just before the end of the last school year), they’d actually wound up in Central City before Nora had explained that she’d had a huge fight with her aunt and was afraid she had screwed things up again. (She hadn’t, of course, because her aunt actually cared about Nora more than the paycheck she received for taking care of her).

So as Ava mindlessly drove through Star City, her fingers tapping against the steering wheel in time to the music filtering through the radio as Nora sat silently in the passenger seat beside her, there was a small lurch of fear in Ava’s stomach that whatever had happened now was something bad to do with Damien Darhk. Because she knew from Sara that the investigation was slowly but surely closing in, and it was taking everything Ava had not to ask before Nora was ready.

“It’s not about my dad,” said Nora softly, a small, barely there smirk on her face as she glanced across at Ava.

“I wasn’t -”

“You were.”

Ava hesitated, before sending Nora a sheepish smile.

“It’s okay,” said Nora, pulling one leg up to the seat and resting her chin on her knee. “It was a safe assumption to make.”

Ava hummed, pressing down on the brake as the traffic light in front of her flickered to red. “Is everything okay with your aunt?”

Nora nodded. “Yeah. We’re fine.”

Ava waited, and when Nora didn’t elaborate, she didn’t push. Because she knew Nora had texted her for a reason, knew she would talk when she was ready, and knew that all she needed from Ava right now was to just be here. The light turned green and Ava shifted her foot to the accelerator. When the song on the radio switched to incoherent modern rap and thumping bass, Nora wrinkled her nose and immediately leaned over to switch the channel.

“How do you know I didn’t wanna listen to that?” said Ava, raising an eyebrow. Nora sent her a dry, unamused look and said “Do you?”, to which Ava just laughed and let Nora go through the frequencies until she settled on an early 2000s pop music station. It filled the car with a low comfort, a blanket of nostalgia and Ava saw Nora relax a little out of the corner of her eye, watched as the tension disappeared slowly from her shoulders, saw her head lean against the window and her eyes soften as she gazed out at the city flying by around them.

“You wanna go somewhere in particular?” Ava asked. Nora glanced over at her, surprised. Usually they never had a set destination. But the thought clearly crossed Nora’s face and she chewed her bottom lip, exhaling softly before she said “Can … can we go out to the Central Bay woods? Is that too far?”

“Nor, we went to Central City last time,” reminded Ava. “The woods are literally a quarter of that distance, it’s fine.”

“I’ll shout you gas.”

“Don’t be stupid, I bet my parents will cover it, you know what they’re like.”

Nora smiled wryly, ducking her head down with a quiet laugh of agreement. Ava smiled too, glancing over her shoulder to switch lanes so they could head to the motorway and out of the city. Once she knew they were going in the right direction, she returned her attention to her friend, eyes flickering across to the passenger’s seat.

“So,” she said, trying not to sound too persistent and pushy. “The woods, huh? It’s that bad?”

The Central Bay woods were where Nora and Ava had first become friends. It’d been a treat for their grade, a celebration for being almost halfway through their first year of school, and they’d gone on a class trip to the woods that overlooked a beautiful lake. It was far enough out of the city that everything was pure and pristine, but close enough that Ava wasn’t lying when she had insisted it wasn’t a big effort to make the trip. Obviously, when they were young, it was too far for them to bike or walk out to, but they’d driven there twice, only on the occasions when Nora really, really needed to get her mind off something.

“Yeah,” said Nora, her voice much quieter than Ava had been expecting. “That bad.”

Ava frowned, concern flaring in her chest and she ignored her stern ‘two hands on the wheel’ rule momentarily to reach across and squeeze Nora’s hand. “Hey,” she said, soft and gentle. “You’re okay.”

Nora swallowed, curled her other hand around Ava’s and clutched it tightly, before shooting Ava a smirk that didn’t quite meet her eyes and said “Two hands on the wheel Sharpe.” Ava laughed, poking her knee before pulling her hand back.

It was a bright, clear, crisp January day and Ava couldn’t help but appreciate it as the tall buildings and dull greys and navy blues of the city began to fade into trees, a far stretching highway before them and just the faint hint of the sea somewhere in the horizon. It was a nice drive, and because it was Nora , the silence wasn’t awkward. In fact, it was kind of nice - they hadn’t spent much time together over the past few months what with their friend group suddenly expanding and their lives being so largely occupied by school and study and college applications. Also, Ava was well aware that she had started spending a lot more time with Sara than anybody else, and she wasn’t going to pretend that she hadn’t noticed that Nora had been spending almost an equal amount of time with Ray too. She also knew that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. They were both finding new friendships in unexpected places, and Ava certainly had picked up on how much happier Nora had been so far this year with Ray’s presence in her life, and she wasn’t going to be bitter about that. Definitely not when Nora was someone who deserved happiness more than possibly anyone else that Ava had ever met.

But that didn’t mean that Ava didn’t miss her. They’d been in each other’s lives for the better part of 11 years, and it was only now - as they cruised down the highway towards the place where their friendship had first began, Nora curled up in the passenger seat with the window cracked open, her eyes snapped shut and a relatively at peace look on her face - that Ava was hit with just how glad she was to have this day to selfishly spend with only each other.

As if Nora was thinking the same thing, without opening her eyes, she softly said “Hey Aves?”

“Hm?”

“I’ve missed you.”

Ava reached out again, squeezed Nora’s knee for a second. “I’ve missed you too.”

 

Nora was out of the car as soon as Ava pulled over in the gravelled lot, moving almost instinctively towards the edge of the large rock overhanging the lake. Everything about the world around them was a haze of dark greens, bright, vivid blue, the gentle, earthy brown of the forest floor, and the sharpe contrast of yellow signs indicating which pathways people should follow. There were several walking trails available to the public, all of which ultimately led to the nicest, most swimmable part of the lake. On their school field trip, Ava remembered that they’d gone on a trail through the woods, but she remembered the way Nora had wistfully looked at the carefully constructed trail along the rocks, where you could weave in and out of the trees but still walk alongside the water the entire trek. It became clear very quickly that Nora liked the freedom of the open space, of not being surrounded by trees, of seeing the soft sparkle of the water at every step.

Ava would’ve been worried about how close to the edge Nora was standing, but she knew her friend well enough by now to know that she a) had perfect balance, and b) wasn’t going to jump into the predictably icy water below. Ava waited, leaning against a nearby tree and watching Nora carefully, watching the way she rolled out the lingering tension in her shoulders, pushed her hair back from her face, hugged her arms around herself tightly as she gazed out at the water for several minutes. It wasn’t until Nora sank down to sit, hugging her knees tightly to her chest, that Ava moved from where she was standing, crossing the space between them and settling down beside Nora with her legs hanging over the edge of the huge rock below them.

The shaky exhale Nora let out rattled past her teeth. “So,” she said in barely a murmur.

“You don’t have to tell me, you know,” said Ava, keeping her gaze out on the lake before them so Nora didn’t feel watched or scrutinised. “You don’t owe me an explanation or anything.”

“I need to talk to someone about it,” said Nora, reaching down to pick up a small stone and toss it into the water. “Someone who knows me and can tell me what the hell I’m supposed to do. And, well … you’re the most boring and sensible person I know, and you know me better that anyone, so I figure you’d have the best advice.”

“Fuck you, I’m not boring,” said Ava, but she rolled her eyes, giving Nora a gentle nudge with her shoulder. “Okay then. ‘Fess up, what’s going on? If it’s not your dad, or your aunt, then -”

“I kissed Ray on New Year’s.”

Ava paused, her eyes finally flickering to Nora and trying to take in the almost unreadable expression on her face. “When?”

Nora sucked in a sharp breath. “I’m not sure exactly. It was after Gary had fallen asleep so … maybe around 2? I went to the kitchen to get some water because I wanted to start sobering up - not that I was drunk really, not anymore, not after taking care of Gary for like, half an hour - and Ray was there making a fucking sandwich for Nate who apparently ‘gets the munchies’ when he’s been drinking.”

Ava snorted with laughter, relieved to see a glimmer of a smile on Nora’s face too.

“We … we were just talking. I wish I could blame the alcohol but I know I wasn’t drunk enough to not know what I was doing, I did know, I … I wanted to do it. I’d wanted to do it at midnight but I was way more tipsy then and I freaked out because I knew he’d been drinking a bit too and I didn’t want to do something like that when neither of us were in our right state of mind and so I -”

“Kissed me instead,” smirked Ava and Nora shoved her lightly.

“Shut up, I saved you from having an awkward New Year’s kiss with Gwen,” she said. She paused, her gaze darting back to the water and she threw another rock into the distance. “I said something really stupid about Gary and he laughed and he just had the biggest smile on his face as he looked at me and I just … I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been that unabashedly happy around someone, you know? I don’t know what came over me, before I knew what I was doing I’d just … stepped forward and kissed him.” She laughed hollowly, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I freaked out as soon as I realised what I’d done. Ran off. He called after me but … I dunno, I guess he knows me well enough to know not to have followed.” She sighed. “We’ve been so close recently and … I don’t know. I don’t know whether I like him or if I’m just grateful for how sweet he’s been or whether I’m just not used to having a friendship like this with a straight guy who’s not Gary and I’m just reading things that aren’t there into what’s happening between us -”

“There are things there Nora,” said Ava softly. “You’re not misreading anything, trust me.”

Nora grimaced. “It’s that obvious?”

“No,” promised Ava, smiling a little. “I just know you really well.” She reached out, gently smoothing out a small kink in Nora’s hair. “You like him.”

Nora shrugged a little helplessly. “I don’t know. I … I think I do but I can’t … I can’t do anything about it. Not right now, not even if he felt the same way. I’m not ready, I’ve got way too much going on with school and God, everything with my dad - I can’t …” She broke off abruptly when her voice cracked, her eyes flickering up to the sky and Ava saw the way she blinked furiously, fiercely trying to avoid the tears welling up in her eyes from spilling over.

“Hey,” Ava said, leaning in closer. “It’s me. You don’t have to hide with me.”

Nora let out a soft, unhumourous laugh and she used the sleeve of her jacket to wipe her eyes. “The thing is,” she said quietly, and Ava was struck by the sudden fear in her voice. “My dad could show up at any moment. I know there’s a restraining order and there’s all this police bureaucracy and systems in place but … it’s not like I’m in witness protection or some shit. My dad has eyes all over this fucking city, if he wanted to come grab me, he could. And I swear to God Ava, I spend every fucking second of some days just … agonising over how scared I am that he’s gonna show up and hurt all the people I love, that me being friends with you is gonna somehow get you in trouble because he knows you and Gary, what if he … I dunno, what if he uses you to try and coerce me to do something? And I … I can’t put Ray in that position. He’s this sweet, lovely guy who only ever sees the best in literally everyone and how can I let someone that good into my life when I have so much shit going on and so much danger around me?” Nora swallowed, letting out a broken huff of air and leaning forward to rest her forehead against her palms. “If I let myself care that much about someone, I can’t even imagine what would happen if my fucked up life messed with that somehow.”

Ava’s heart ached and she sighed, gently running her fingers through Nora’s hair and shuffling closer so that she could curl her other hand around Nora’s arm. It took a few moments for her to get her thoughts in order, to figure out what she wanted to say that would actually get through to Nora without invalidating the very real, very terrifying fear she had of her father finding his way back into her life.

“Listen to me,” Ava said finally, her voice soft but stern. “Your dad is a fucking psychopath, we know this. But I remember him from back when we first met and Nora, babe, as screwed up as he is, I remember that he loved you. And God knows that he deserves to be in jail after all the people he’s hurt but I’d like to believe that he would never hurt you.

“You don’t know that -”

“No, I don’t. But I think for all the lives he’s ruined and the people he’s hurt, he genuinely has the capacity to care for a few things in the world and one of them is you. I know you’re scared. I know that after everything , you can’t stop imagining all the ways that he still has the potential to screw up your life even more. But you can’t make that a reason not to let people in, to let yourself be happy.”

Something that sounded far too much like a sob escaped Nora’s lips and she buried her face in her knees immediately.

“Oh Nora,” whispered Ava. “C’mere.” She wrapped an arm around Nora’s shoulders and pulled gently. Nora hesitated for a second before giving in, sinking into Ava’s arms and hugging her tightly, still tucking her face into the crook of Ava’s neck to hide her expression from view. She wasn’t crying - Nora Darhk very, very rarely cried. But Ava could feel her shaking with the weight of everything clearly on her mind and she tightened her hold on her friend, pressing her lips to the top of Nora’s head.

“I feel so bad,” whispered Nora eventually, curling even closer into Ava. “I texted Ray on Sunday morning asking if we could just not talk about it, that’s how scared I was.”

“What did he say?” asked Ava, squeezing Nora’s shoulder gently.

“He agreed. Of course he fucking agreed, he’s Ray Palmer.” She scoffed bitterly and self deprecatingly, the fingers of her free hand picking at a tear in the knee of her jeans. When she spoke again, the harshness of her voice had lessened and she just sounded heartbreakingly lost. “Aves, I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to hurt him even more.”

“You don’t have an obligation to do anything if you’re not ready for it,” said Ava, pulling back a little so she could tilt Nora’s chin upwards and look her in the eye. “Ray cares about you. A lot. Anyone with eyes can see that. If you can’t deal with whatever this is right now, then don’t. Just make sure he knows that you still care about him, that you’re not trying to screw him over, and he won’t want anything more than that, I’m sure of it.”

Nora nodded, but she didn’t speak for a while. She leaned back into Ava, letting out a soft breath of relief when Ava hugged her tight again. They both fell quiet as they watched the stillness of the lake, the breeze rippling through the trees beside them, the boats in the distance, the birds swooping down to the water before soaring high back into the sky. When Nora finally extracted herself from Ava’s arms with a soft, thankful smile, Ava could see the worry and tension had eased from her face (at least, the worry and tension that was new ; Ava had known Nora most of her life, and had seen the endless burden she carried on her shoulders, the responsibility she felt for her father and his wrongdoings, and Ava wasn’t sure that would go away until the day Damien Darhk finally went to prison).

“So,” Nora said, absentmindedly tugging the cuff of Ava’s windcheater. “We haven’t talked like this in ages. Anything new with you I should know about?”

The first thing that flickered through Ava’s mind was oh yeah, have I mentioned that I now have a crush on Sara and it’s kind of consuming my entire state of being? No? Oh, well that’s a thing. But as soon as she even considered telling Nora, she was struck with the same, constricting feeling in her throat that she remembered from all the times she’d tried to come out over the last few years, her tongue curling to the back of her mouth and her lips suddenly feeling very dry. She wasn’t even sure what she was going to do about her crush on Sara. As much as Ava was sure Nora would be able to give her some pretty solid advice about it, it also meant having to reveal just how close and intimate her relationship with Sara had become over these past months, and Ava wasn’t quite ready to share that with anyone yet. Not even Nora.

Part of her felt guilty, because Nora had clearly trusted her with what had happened with Ray, and Ava felt almost obligated to return the trust with her own romantic uncertainties. But there was something about this that Ava couldn’t put into words - she knew as soon as she said it aloud, admitted how she felt about the person that was rapidly becoming her best friend in the world (which in itself, Ava felt guilty about with Nora sitting right beside her), it would become real and Ava couldn’t face that, couldn’t face having to make a decision about those feelings and what she was going to do with them.

“You don’t have to say anything,” said Nora, startling Ava out of her thoughts. “It goes both ways. If you’re not ready, you don’t owe me an explanation.”

Ava couldn’t stop herself from breathing out in relief and she sent Nora an overwhelmingly grateful smile. She didn’t attempt to fill the silence, let the calm of such a serene spot do that instead, only breaking it to quietly say “Did I tell you my aunt Susan has basically disowned me?”

Nora choked on air and her head whipped around to stare at Ava in shock. “Your mom’s sister aunt Susan? The bitch with the husband who highkey looks like Vernon Dursley? You’re kidding!”

Ava laughed out loud. “Yeah, her.”

Nora whistled, shaking her head with a low laugh. “Jesus Aves, you sure neglected mentioning that. Why?”

“Oh, there was this massive blow up at Thanksgiving -”

Thanksgiving ? That was like, a month and a half ago!”

“Things were crazy , school was nuts and -”

“Um, do I care?”

“Okay, well sorry , I’m telling you now. Anyway, she said this thing at dinner -”

“Oh no way. You don’t get to gloss over this when you waited a month and a half before I got to find out that the bitch from hell who looked like she wanted to exorcise me that time I had Christmas with your family has finally released you from her evil clutches. Full story, thank you very much.” Ava arched her eyebrow at Nora with a smirk, to which Nora just groaned loudly and said “Oh my god, fine , I will buy you waffles on the way home as compensation for the immense trouble and emotional trauma of having to relieve Thanksgiving with your devil aunt. Happy?”

Ava grinned. “Immensely.”

“Shut up and tell me what happened.”

 

 

Chapter Text

As Ava tried to tug open the stiff filing shelf, dust puffed into the air and she stumbled back, coughing and trying to pat it off her tights, squeezing her eyes shut as they immediately began to water.

“Jesus,” she croaked, blindly reaching for her torch in her jacket pocket and managing to flick it on, cracking one eye open. The attic of their house was rarely used, had very quickly become a place to store junk that nobody could be bothered sorting through. It held countless boxes of old clothes, of outdated sporting equipment, had endless photos and books and toys. Even their old television was crammed in the corner, gathering layers of dust, and Ava was pretty sure the last time she remembered it actually being in their living room was when she was around eleven years old. Why they hadn’t just thrown it out was beyond her.

At some point, she figured they would all have to actually make the effort to clean this all up (at some point being a very vague, unhelpful time frame, considering another seven years would probably pass before they ended up doing anything about it).

Finally being able to suck some clean air into her lungs, Ava tugged her t-shirt over her nose and mouth and held the torch up by her head. She waved through some of the dust still floating in front of her, stepping back towards the filing cabinet and curled her hand around the handle, pulling hard. This time it came free, and Ava glanced away in preparation for the second cloud of dust released into the air.

“There we go,” she murmured, leaning in and shining her torch closer towards the rows of alphabetised files. She wasn’t sure where exactly her parents had kept her and her siblings’ old baby photos and embarrassing childhood memories, but she had assumed somewhere in the attic was probably a safe bet. Plus, her dad was ridiculously organised and on top of his life (aka, where Ava had gotten it from), hence why Ava had made a beeline for the four filing cabinets pressed against the far wall of the attic. She’d started with the one furthest away, assuming that being the oldest cabinet, it would probably hold the oldest photos. All the files were organised in alphabetical order, and Ava found her own name almost at the front. She let out a soft huff of triumph as she held her torch between her teeth, pulling the drawer open a little further and pulling out the surprisingly thick file labelled Ava.

She couldn’t see any files with Ali’s name on it anywhere nearby, or Spencer’s, or Layla’s, but she shrugged it off. They were probably in one of the other cabinets. Instead, she just tossed the file onto the top of the cabinet and flicked it open, frowning in the harsh white light of her torch. There weren’t any photos - it was all just paperwork. Letters, something that looked somewhat like a contract, forms that had Ava’s name, her birthdate, her parents’ names. She saw her birthday several times on several different sheets of paper, scribbled in unfamiliar handwriting, on a printed letter - January 6th.

Over and over again.

Ava caught sight of a flash of teal paper slotted towards the back of the file and she pulled it out slowly. It was her birth certificate - not that she’d ever actually seen it before, but she’d seen Ali’s, and Spencer’s when he’d needed it for applications for stuff and always just assumed her parents had hers stored somewhere safe. There was a small stack of other documents paperclipped to it, and Ava furrowed her eyebrows, flipping the certificate horizontally to look at it properly. Squinting to try and read the somewhat worn paper in darkness of the attic, she managed to find her name - Ava Catherine Sharpe - and her parents’ names below - Father: Robert Sharpe , Mother: Barbara Sharpe. Her eyes followed to the next declaration on the page, and she couldn’t stop herself from saying “Wait, what?” aloud, even though there was no one else in the room.

Place of birth: Community Regional Medical Center, Fresno California.

She hadn’t been born in Fresno. She was born in Star City, just like Spencer and Layla and Ali. Star City, born and raised, that was … that’s what she had always said. Why would her birth certificate say she was born in Fresno?

She tugged the certificate away to examine the attached documents. It seemed like a very formal letter, full of words and terms she didn’t understand without context. There was a header that seemed to indicate that it was some kind of an official, government issued document titled ‘Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children’.

“What the hell is this?” muttered Ava, pushing it aside and trying to find something that explained what this absurd additional material to her birth certificate was. It took a considerable amount of shuffling and skim reading for her to find the answer she was looking for, but when her eyes caught sight of the explanation she now so desperately wanted, her mind instantly went blank.

 

Papers of adoption for one Ava Catherine Sharpe .

 

No.

 

No.

 

Ava blinked, stared at the words for far longer than she needed to, as if they were going to rearrange on the page in front of her into something else.

It had to be something else.

It couldn’t be.

Her breath hitched, hands shaking as she carefully pushed the first page aside, her heart thumping painfully against her ribcage with apprehension and disbelief. The second page was worse, because it was a confirmation. It had all her details - date of birth, hospital of birth (which was apparently not Star City General Hospital, but the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno), how much she’d weighed, the date of adoption, the date of adoption application , scheduled post-placement visits -

Ava couldn’t stop the soft whisper of “ no ” falling from her lips and she stumbled a little, vision going blurry and her legs giving way under her. She slid to the floor - dirty, covered in dust, littered in junk and chaotically organised memories - and her torch rolled across the uneven wooden floorboards when her fingers lost their grip on it. It flickered slightly when it disappeared behind one box, leaving Ava in an unsettling darkness that felt as though it became thicker and more stifling with every passing minute. She gasped as the walls of the attic seeming to close in her as she tried desperately and futilely to suck in a frantic breath.

 

No.

God, no, it couldn’t be.

 

She could feel her lungs closing in, chest tightening, and Ava’s hands clenched around the papers in her hands, crumpling their edges as her knuckles began to turn white. The sensible voice in the back of her head - growing fainter by the second - reminded her to breathe, or at least to call someone who would tell her to breathe, not to sit here in this awful, dingy attic by herself, slipping further and further away from clarity. She reached for her phone frantically, needing someone (needing Sara ) to tell her firmly that this wasn’t real, that she was just dreaming and in a minute she would wake up, pushing herself out of bed and reaching desperately for something, anything to hold onto.

She’d left her phone in her room.

Shit, ” Ava cursed under her breath, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes and rubbing, trying anything and everything she could think of to bring herself out of the panic attack she could feel herself slipping into.

 

It couldn’t be true.

 

She didn’t exactly get on with her mom, or Layla, but surely someone else would’ve said something at some point over the last 18 goddamn years if this was real.

Breathe Ava, dammit, you can’t let someone find you up here like this, not now.

The thought of having to explain this to someone downstairs if they saw her in this state was enough to snap her out of it. Ava sucked in one shaky breath, followed by another, and another, until she found herself able to breathe somewhat normally. As soon as she felt the tight pain in her chest ease momentarily, she let slip a bitter laugh, leaning her head back until it hit the wall with a thud. The pain of it was almost welcome, a distraction from the anxiety building tenfold from the base of her stomach.

She’d come up here for photos . Funny childhood photos to laugh about at her 18th birthday party … and instead, she’d ended up with this. She ran one hand through her hair, dropping the documents to the floor and shoving them aside. She didn’t want to look at them, didn’t want to know anymore, wished she could just forget - (as if she could ever forget the words ‘ Adoption order - Ava Catherine Sharpe - female, 9 weeks’; they were seared into her brain.)

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if she’d seen this coming. Because in all honesty, it made perfect sense - she’d never fit in this family, not really, no matter how hard her mom tried to force her to act like Layla or think like Layla or dress like Layla her entire goddamn life. And as much as her dad had tried to include her in sports and games and had tried his absolute hardest with her, things had never quite been the same with her as they had been with Spencer, even after he’d left.

Wait. Shit.

Spencer.

He was four years older than her. Four years. Old enough to remember -

Ava choked back a sob as tears started to collect in her eyes, burning, making it difficult to see, but still not managing to erase the words from the papers that she could still see in the back of her mind. Because there was no way Spencer hadn’t known about this, and even he never said anything. He’d always been so desperate to make a name for himself outside of their family, was always so insistent on being different , on not following Robert’s footsteps. Ava buried her face in her hands with a violent, shuddering sob that she couldn’t suppress this time. What if she had only been his favourite member of this family because she wasn’t a member of this family? What if he’d left because he didn’t want to have to lie to her anymore?

God, it didn’t even matter because he knew. He’d known her entire life - played endless games of basketball with her, cooked dinner together once a week, had movie nights, gone on road trips, family vacations, helped her with her homework, teased her endlessly, been her big brother , her favourite person in the whole fucking world, and this entire time he knew that she was -  

Ava squeezed her eyes shut tightly, not able to even think the words. She shuddered again, digging her nails into her palm and biting her lip hard enough that she could taste blood in her mouth but still couldn’t bring herself to care.

The worst part … the worst part of all of this was that it made more sense than she would ever be able to admit. The strange looks from family members she’d always assumed were about her wearing Spencer’s old basketball shirts and a denim jacket rather than fancy dresses to family events, the way Aunt Susan had seemed to hate her even before she came out, that time she’d heard her aunt whisper sharply “Well this is what happens Barbara, when you take in strays,” and assumed she was still talking about the ‘bad influence’ Nora was, instead of her.

Ava ran two shaky hands through her hair, wiping the tears she hadn’t realised were falling from her cheeks, ignoring the sting from where her nails had broken her skin. With trembling fingers, she shifted her weight to reach forward and grab the torch from behind the box it’d disappeared behind. She felt a lump catch in her throat when she saw the label on the top of the box: Family photos - Ava (1-3 yrs), Spencer (4-6 years), Layla, (2-4 years).

Ava scoffed, resisting the urge to violently kick the box across the room, tear up all the photos inside of it, destroy everything in sight. Imagine if she’d just found what she was looking for first. If she’d never even found these documents. She didn’t expect the wave of resentment and fury that erupted within her at the thought, at how close it could’ve been for her to have just gone on believing this elaborate lie. She wanted to scream.

There were so many questions whirling around in her head. She felt more on edge, more anxious than she had after she’d first come out, even more than after Susan’s comment at Thanksgiving. But the idea of confronting anyone - especially her parents (not her parents, apparently), made her feel overwhelmingly nauseous, and she immediately dismissed the idea. With a shaky exhale, she reached out to pick up the first of the documents in front of her, eyes flicking over the first line again before she looked away. Instead, she walked slowly back to the filing cabinet, pushed it shut with trembling hands and curled her hands around the whole file that had had her name on it, shoving it roughly inside her jacket in case she ran into someone on the way back to her room.

She’d read them later.

 

Maybe.

 


 

It felt impossible.

It was her birthday, and she should’ve been excited, should’ve been already half running down the stairs, letting Ali dote on her, having an excuse for Layla to be nice to her all day, to make the most of her dad’s famous birthday waffles, the bunting Barbara had bought for Spencer’s third birthday and had recycled for every birthday, every year since. And it would inevitably be worse this year, because it was her 18th and Ava remembered so clearly how exuberant Layla’s 18th had been last year and it was definitely going to be the same now. The idea of getting up, of going downstairs and talking to her… not family, pretending to be okay, laughing and opening gifts like she belonged here -

As if they hadn’t been lying to her for 18 years of her life.

It’d barely been a few days since she’d found those papers in the attic, and even though she’d noticed Sara sending concerned glances in her direction at school when she thought Ava wasn’t looking, Ava still hadn’t been able to bring herself to say anything. Because just like with every other secret she’d lied to herself about over the years, in the back of her mind was a suggestion, the stupid idea that maybe, if she didn’t say it out loud, it wouldn’t be true. That said, right now she was really regretting not mentioning this when Sara had gently nudged her shoulder and asked if she was okay, or if she wanted to talk, because she had no idea how she was supposed to do this alone, pretending everything was fine.

Ava rolled over in bed, picking up her phone to look at the time. Countless notifications flashed up at her and Ava slammed it back down onto her dressing table, a sick feeling settling in her stomach. She couldn’t deal with birthday wishes right now. She would’ve paid so, so much money to just skip it this year, it was too soon, too much, too overwhelming.

She bit her lip and let her head drop back to the pillow with a thump. However much she thought, every time she paused and racked her brains as hard as she could, it just didn’t make sense why her parents would keep this from her for so long. As much as she and her mother had had a difficult relationship, she and Robert had always been honest about important family things. Ava had heard plenty of stories about kids who’d known they were adopted most of their lives, and ended up having better relationships with their parents because of it.

But instead, Robert and Barbara Sharpe had lied.

And now … now, Ava was expected to just go along with it, because the idea of confronting them about it today, of all days, sent shivers down her spine, made a wave of panic wash over her and it was suddenly impossible to breathe, impossible to think, impossible to do anything except lie in bed, eyes fixed on the ceiling as she thought about all the ways this could go wrong. Could get even worse.

Because she was 18 now. Legally, she was an adult. And she didn’t know why they’d adopted her in the first place, and yeah, Barbara had never seemed to like her much, or Layla, and even though her dad - not her dad - had always seemed to love her, maybe he was just trying the best he could for a daughter that wasn’t his, and she had misinterpreted things, because she just desperately needed someone to love her.

God, that was miserable.

 

And then there was Ali.

 

Ava bit back a sob, unable to help the way thick tears started to roll down her cheeks as her thoughts ran away from her. She burrowed her face in her pillow, curling her fingers in her sheets and trying not to think about the birthdays that Ali had come racing into her room, jumped on the bed, urged her to come downstairs because she was more excited than Ava. Ali, who Ava had called ‘Ali-bear’ when they were little because Robert had gotten a tiny, teddy bear onesie for Ali as a newborn and Ava had adored it more than anything in the world. Ali, who’d never hesitated to defend Ava from Barbara’s sharp criticisms, even when Robert had stayed quiet. Ali, who’d cut ties with her best friends this year because they were making snide comments about Ava’s sexuality. Because Ali was her little sister. The little sister who’d stood by her when she’d come out, who’d nearly started a fight with Susan on her behalf at Thanksgiving, the little sister who always came into her room and flopped down dramatically onto the bed to complain about her day, the little sister who looked up to her endlessly, the little sister who she loved more than anything, who was snarky and bubbly and unflinching and beautiful and wonderful and -

Apparently not even her little sister. Not really. And Ali clearly wasn’t even aware of that herself, and when she found out … Ava trembled, pressing a hand to her mouth to muffle the cry she couldn’t bite back this time, and as if on cue, she heard a knock on the door.

“Ava?” Ali asked, pushing the door open, brimming with obvious excitement as she stepped inside before Ava had a chance to wipe the tears from her cheeks. She froze when she saw Ava, saw her curled up under the duvets looking so tiny with tear stained cheeks and a quivering bottom lip. Ali’s smile vanished and she rushed forward, clambering onto the edge of the bed and tugging down Ava’s duvet to see her face properly. “Aves, what’s wrong, what happened? Are you okay?” She reached over and gently brushed some of Ava’s hair off her face, and her touch was so gentle that Ava wanted to start crying all over again.

It would be so easy just to tell her. But Ali was concerned about someone she truly believed was her big sister, because she’d never had any reason to doubt that. And Ava couldn’t be the one who broke that, not now - today, of all days, she couldn’t bear to see the way Ali’s face would fall as she moved away, not even knowing who the stranger in front of her was.

Ava swallowed.

Her hands shook slightly as she wiped away her tears, pushing herself up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed so she was facing away from Ali, unable to meet her eyes. “I’m fine Al.”

Ali frowned, and Ava could see her shuffling closer, knew she’d heard the slight tremor she couldn’t keep out of her voice. Ali murmured her name again, curling one hand around her arm as she quietly murmured “No you’re not.”

Ava flinched away from Ali’s touch as if she’d been burned, standing up and curling her arms around her waist. Ali wasn’t wrong - she really, really wasn’t okay. But somehow, today, she was just going to have to grin and bear it, stop her hands staking, smile and laugh and accept the birthday wishes from people she’d thought were her family, when really, she didn’t know them at all. She paused to school her expression before turning, offering Ali what she thought was a reassuring smile and trying her hardest to force the tension out of her shoulders. “Sorry,” she said quietly, meeting Ali’s eyes for the first time and shrugging slightly. “I had a bad dream, and it kinda threw me a bit.”

Ali raised a skeptical eyebrow and there was a still pause in which she held Ava’s gaze, suspicious and curious and clearly very worried. But then she nodded, deciding not to question the blatant lie. “Okay,” she replied slowly, eyes fixed firmly on Ava. “Dad’s making waffles, they’ll be ready in 10.”

Ava nodded too, reaching for her clothes and moving towards the bathroom, freezing with one hand on the door as the words Dad’s making waffles echoed in her head, making her head spin a little. “Yeah, I’m … I’m just gonna shower. I’ll be down soon.”

 

(Later, - after presents had been thrust into her hands, after candles with wax dripping into the waffles below them were blown out, after hugs and out of tune singing and Ava finding herself snorting with half hearted laughter as she and Layla silently agreed not to tell Barbara about the birthday bunting ripping off some of the paint from the walls - Ava found Ali as they hurriedly tugged on their jackets for school, and pulled her into a hug.

“Thanks,” she murmured, putting on the most genuine, unbroken smile that she could manage. “For not telling anyone about this morning.”

Ali gave her a strange look, lingering concern still clouding the usually bright green in her eyes. “You know I’ve got your back , ” she said quietly, and something resembling guilt and hesitance and overwhelming sadness jolted low in Ava’s gut. Ali didn’t seem to notice though, breaking into a softer smile than the ones she’d been wearing over breakfast and bumping Ava’s shin with her big toe, voice filled with adoration and sincerity as she added “Happy 18th Aves.”)

 


 

Putting one foot in front of the other and walk through the door seemed like way more effort than it was worth, when Ava arrived at school. She stopped to grab her books for her first classes of the day, and came to a standstill as she caught sight of the brightly coloured post it notes plastered all over her locker. She let out a small, surprised huff of breath, touching the blue one signed by Nora. She’d forgotten that this was a birthday tradition their old group had - decorating each other’s lockers with streamers and notes and sometimes balloons sellotaped to the corners, lighting up dull off white of the lockers to a rainbow of colour. But the familiarity of it just reminded her of the family birthday traditions from this morning and a tight ball of anxiety pulled at her chest and Ava sucked in a sharp breath, yanking open her locker and snatching what she needed before slamming it shut and hurrying down towards her Bio classroom. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to get through a day of birthday greetings and well wishes without thinking of the constant, nagging reminder that this day being the day she was born was the only real thing she knew about herself.

God, this was not the way she’d envisioned feeling on her 18th birthday.

Ava sighed before entering the bio classroom, forcing a smile onto her face as she caught sight of Sara sitting on a table, legs swinging, clearly waiting for her to appear in the doorway. The moment she moved to sit down Sara blinked, seeming to notice her presence for the first time, and before Ava knew what was happening she felt Sara wrap her arms around her from behind, pulling her so emphatically into a hug that she couldn't help the small laugh that slipped from her lips.

Maybe getting up this morning wasn't the worst idea after all.

“Hey,” Ava greeted softly, turning around to hug Sara back before pulling her off the table and into an empty seat. The smile on Sara's face was so soft, so caring, just like Ali’s had been this morning before Ava had pushed her away, and she couldn’t help the twinge of guilt that shot through her at the thought. She still had to go home this evening to the mess she’d left behind and pretend everything was okay, pretend she was fine, pretend she hadn’t found out the secrets her family had been hiding from her…

Honestly, if she managed to make it through the rest of the day without crying it would be a miracle. As if she could read her thoughts, Sara’s hand suddenly slipped into hers, squeezing gently and distracting her from her thoughts as she murmured “Happy birthday Aves,” smile still fixed firmly in place.

And somehow, even after everything, Ava found herself smiling back. What’s more, for the first time today it felt natural, genuine, rather than the exhausting pretence she'd been living in all morning. Sara grinned at her again, blonde hair falling around her face, caught in the early morning light shining in through the window, free hand fiddling with the pendant resting just at the base of her neck as she asked excitedly “How was your morning? Did your parents spoil you?”

Sara paused again, but before Ava could speak she added “You said they do birthday waffles right, is that still a thing? It's such a great idea, I should've persuaded my dad to do it for my birthday.”

She seemed so excited, so interested, and Ava should’ve been able to pull herself together enough to answer her but she could already feel her fragile, barely there smile slipping, and it was 8 in the morning, and she had a full day of school ahead of her, and she couldn’t fall apart, not now . Ava swallowed, eyes flickering down to the floor to hide the tears she could already feel burning in her eyes, fingernails curling into her palm in a futile attempt to stop herself from crying in the middle of class.

“Ava?” Sara murmured beside her, one hand already resting on her arm, thumb brushing across the bare skin of her wrist. “Is everything okay? What's wrong?”

She shook her head, eyes still fixed on the ground, free hand coming up to rest on top of Sara's, tangling their fingers together. She knew she should say something , attempt to reassure Sara and promise things were okay, get rid of the worried look Ava knew without looking was on her face right now. But when she opened her mouth, she just couldn't, until Sara shuffled close enough to bump her shoulder gently against her own, asking quietly with far too much concern in her voice for Ava to handle, “Did something happen this morning?”

It wasn't that she didn't know she needed to talk about this with someone and soon. Plus, she would be lying to herself if she said Sara wasn't exactly the person she wanted there when she finally confessed the secrets that’d been weighing heavy on her shoulders these past few days. It was just ...  she couldn't have this conversation now. Not in a classroom, surrounded by people, when she knew exactly how said conversation would end. She swallowed, still not looking up from the floor. “It's … It's nothing. I’m fine, I'm just really tired.” She picked at a chip in the wooden desk in front of her. “Bad dream last night,” she added quietly, wondering if Sara would believe it anymore than Ali. Her words didn’t sound convincing even to her own ears, the weakness of her lie clear when she finally forced her eyes up to meet Sara's to see blatant disbelief. But after a moment Sara nodded, leaning closer until her arm was pressed up against Ava's.

Their teacher cleared her throat, asking them to finish off the last of the exercises they’d been working on yesterday while she went to consult another teacher for something. Sara picked up her pen and flipped open her textbook, shooting Ava small but warm smile. Ava tensed, tentatively picking up her own pen and twirling it in her fingers. It should've been relief coursing through her veins - relief, that Sara wasn't going to ask, relief, that she wasn't about to break down into tears in the middle of their bio class - but instead she just felt how she had after her talk with Ali this morning. Guilt. Because after everything that had happened between them this year, she should be honest about this with Sara of all people.

But instead of pulling away because of Ava’s dishonesty, Sara stayed by her side throughout the day, resting her arm against Ava’s in all of their classes, slipping one hand under the table to lightly squeeze her thigh, somehow knowing even before Ava did that she was starting to slip, hovering near Ava’s side as if she was ready to jump in the moment she was needed.

Even so, it wasn't until lunchtime that she brought it back up, after the gang had surprised Ava by decorating their entire table with streamers, balloons, setting off party poppers the moment she walked into the cafeteria, pulling her into the hugs she'd been avoiding this morning. She only saw the box when Sara pulled her down onto the bench beside her and Nate set it down on the table, gesturing for her to open it. She'd seen Sara's group do this for every birthday over the last few years, and even though Nora’s birthday had been in November, she’d adamantly vowed that anyone who decided to decorate or do anything extravagant or special did so under fear of death, and so the usual festivities had gone amiss. Because of this, technically, Ava had had the first birthday out of herself, Gary, Nora, Kuasa and Lily that offered the possibility for everyone celebrating it, but she still had her suspicions about the contents of Nate’s mysterious cardboard box, arching an eyebrow at him as he grinned excitedly at her. Even so, she couldn't help but give a surprised laugh when she opened the box to see a beautiful iced cake, the words ‘Happy 18th Ava!’ piped carefully on top.

A small, genuine smile found it's way on to her face as warmth blossomed in her chest. Because they'd done this for her ; not out of any obligation, but because she was someone they cared about, someone they'd chosen to bring into their group, someone they all just wanted to have a great birthday. Ava swallowed, looking around at the expectant faces around the table, gaze softening. “Thank you guys. You really didn't have to - “

“Hey,” Nate interrupted before she could finish, waving a plastic knife around as he continued firmly “Family get birthday cakes. And you guys, you're family now. No arguments.”

She could feel tears once again burning against her eyelashes, an enormous, unfamiliar sense of gratitude overwhelming her for a moment and making it difficult to breathe. But thankfully her friends either didn't notice the way she looked down at the bench, blinking back tears, or they just realised she needed a moment free of any expectations or demands, and their attention all turned back to the cake, a heated, friendly debate starting over the correct way to cut it.

Ava was momentarily distracted by Nate slapping Zari's hand out of the way to take a photo of his handiwork. Then, Sara nudged her gently, slipping one hand into hers and giving it a light squeeze as she murmured, too quiet for anyone else to overhear, “You okay?”

No.

She wasn't. Not even slightly.

But now wasn't the time; even though Sara would willingly listen, nothing had changed since this morning - she couldn’t have this conversation with everyone else listening, and she wasn't ready - not today. And besides, even though okay felt like a long way off right now, her friends had somehow put all this together just for her, because they were family , and for the first time since she found those adoption papers in the attic last week, it felt like maybe, just maybe, things would work out.

She turned to face Sara, lifting her head to meet her eyes, hoping for a moment that Sara might see everything she didn't have the strength to say right now. And she did - almost instantly, Sara seemed to just get it , if her soft nod and gentle smile were anything to go by. She squeezed Ava's hand yet again, this time pausing to murmur “Another time, yeah?” not waiting for Ava to respond before turning back to the table, grabbing the knife out of Nate’s hand and smirking. “Ava can cut the cake however she wants.”

Ava smiled in relief, accepting the knife she was handed and allowing herself to be dragged into the friendly bickering. As Zari pouted at the unanimously agreed lack of trust in her cake cutting skills, Gary already making requests for his birthday cake, and Jax sneaking a fingerful of icing when Nate wasn’t looking, Ava found herself unable to stop stealing brief, second-long glances at Sara beside her, silently thanking the stars that somehow, nearly a year and a half ago when she'd ended up on Sara's doorstep desperate for a person who would understand, she'd found the person she never even knew would mean the world to her.



“I don't want you to think I’ve forgotten about your present,” Sara said as they walked out of their last class of the day (Math) and headed towards the car park. “I just kinda wanna give it to you without … you know, spectators.”

Ava snorted, nudging Sara lightly with her elbow as she replied dryly “Don't worry, I get it.” She hoped there was enough going on around them that Sara wouldn't notice the way her cheeks heated up as she ducked her head. “I thought the same on your birthday.”

Sara smiled, her hand once again finding its way to her necklace, fingers fondly tracing the two intertwined canaries. “Good.” She thought for a moment before looking back up. “I can bring it over at some point tomorrow?”

Ava bit her lip. Tomorrow was supposed to be a family day; if somebody’s birthday fell on a weekday, the nearest Saturday to the birthday was always reserved for family time. But today had been bad enough, and she had no idea how she was expected to get through tomorrow, pretending to be a part of a family where she knew she didn’t belong, from the moment she got up to the moment she fell asleep in the evening. Her mom would probably be so mad if she invited a friend over at all, but maybe…

Ava felt a sudden flare of anger and defiance. Barbara wasn’t even her mom, not really, why did it even matter if she got mad? So she nodded at Sara, quietly said, “I’m supposed to do family things, but … yeah, that’d be nice, if I can get away with it. I’ll - I’ll text you.”

Sara smiled, hair falling to shield half of her face and brushing delicately against her cheeks as she looked back to the school momentarily to try and catch sight of Zari, whose house she was going to this afternoon. Ava wasn’t sure if the faint blush she spied briefly on Sara’s cheeks was due to the cold or not, but before she had a chance to overthink it Ali had appeared at her side, Layla honked from the car park and Sara’s gaze flickered back to Ava as she agreed softly to the suggestion, too quiet for Ali to overhear.

 




Sara (ur fav human in the world and
is better than u) Lance

iMessage
(Ava Sharpe)
Saturday


11:49am:
hey birthday girl!!!!


11:49am:
how’s it going??


11:50am:
You know it’s not my birthday
anymore right?


11:50am:
You see, there’s this thing
called the sun setting and
it becomes nighttime and
then the date changes wow
can you imagine


11:51am:
shut the fuck up


11:51am:
don’t be a sourpuss it’s
called a BIRTH WEEK ava


11:52am:
That’s not a thing


11:52am:
excuse you yes it is


11:52am:
It’s an excuse for people to
celebrate for longer than
necessary and justify doing
extravagant things in the
name of treating themselves


11:52am:
jeez who hurt u


11:52am:
it’s FUN aves


11:53am:
plus it’s your 18th i think
if there was anytime you
deserved to give in to the
whole ‘birth week’ thing it
would be now just sayin


11:53am:
You’re ridiculous


11:53am:
you love it ;-)


11:54am:
anyway


11:54am:
again, how it’s going
BIRTHDAY GIRL


11:55am:
It’s okay


11:56am:
I’m just, idk … not really
feeling up to it rn


11:57am:
are you okay?


11:57am:
do you wanna talk about
what’s been going on?


11:57am:
What do you mean what’s
been going on?


11:58am:
aves come on, i’m not
an idiot, i know you


11:58am:
something’s been up w
you these last few days


11:58am:
you don’t have to tell me
but at least don’t pretend
that you’re fine when you’re
clearly not


12:06pm:
ava?


12:07pm:
You said yesterday you wanted
to come over at some point to
give me a present


12:07pm:
Could you?


12:08pm:
when’s a good time?


12:09pm:
I could slip out for a few minutes
whenever


12:09pm:
i’m getting lunch w dad in town
right now


12:09pm:
i’ll get him to drop me at yours
on our way home in maybe
half an hour?


12:10pm:
That sounds good X


12:11pm:
see you soon birthday girl ;-)


12:11pm:
Why are you like this


12:12am:
;’D ;’D ;’D

 




It was almost ironic, that for once it was Sara smiling on the doorstep, while Ava tried her hardest to keep it together from inside the house. Because that seemed to be what always happened when they needed each other, and yet somehow the tables had turned in a way that neither of them were prepared for.

But she couldn’t talk about this now (still), couldn’t let her emotions show, because she knew that once she started the whole story would pour out of her mouth and she wouldn’t be able to stop, and she still had to go back inside and talk to her family for another few hours after this, pretending everything was okay. Even so, it took all of her willpower to pull herself together when Sara’s expression softened into a concerned frown, the “are you okay?” falling softly from her lips, a faint echo of their conversation from the day before.

Ava shrugged, shaking her head slightly. She shoved her hands into her pockets to stop herself from reaching out as Sara took a step closer. Sara remained patiently quiet, eyes full of worry as she waited for Ava to elaborate. Eventually Ava sucked in a breath, straightening her shoulders as she murmured “It’s just been a long day, you know?”

Sara didn’t look as if she believed it one bit, just like yesterday, but she let it slide. “I get that,” she said softly. Instead of elaborating more, instead of pushing like Ava almost wanted her to as an excuse to just break down, Sara held out a small, neatly packaged box, buzzing with an almost nervous energy and she bobbed on her feet. But when Ava reached out to take it, Sara shook her head, that familiar, mischievous smile appearing on her face. “Not so fast. Close your eyes.”

Ava looked at her for a long moment, a little confused. But when Sara raised an eyebrow that clearly said Come on Sharpe, do it, we don’t have all day, Ava sighed and did as instructed. She tried her hardest not to flinch when she felt Sara’s fingers on her wrist, followed by the cool bite of metal against her skin.

Opening her eyes, Ava let her gaze flicker down to the bracelet hanging around her wrist, three small charms hanging down from it and resting gently against her skin. The two she could see immediately were a small silver heart and a little matching rose gold basketball, and upon closer inspection she could just about make out a small number 12 engraved in the centre of the heart, barely visible due to the bright light of the winter sun glaring overhead. Ava didn’t even remember telling Sara her number, so she either remembered seeing Ava play, or … or she’d specifically hunted down the information just for this. Just for that little charm.

Ava bit her lip again, trying to blink back the tears in her eyes as she opened her mouth to speak, but before she could Sara gestured for her to turn the bracelet around, and the moment she saw the third charm her breath caught in her throat, the small silver park bench staring up at her as a vivid reminder of everything hanging in the air between her and Sara, every moment they’d shared since the start of the year, every late night phone call, every nudge and hug and smile.

And it wasn’t just that. It was somehow so, so much more; a reminder that Sara would listen if and when she wanted to talk - anywhere, and about anything. It was a reminder that they didn’t have to be okay, not all the time, neither of them, not as long as they were always there to catch each other no matter how far they fell.

It was a reminder that Sara had needed her, just as much as she needed Sara right now.

And it was beautiful.

She must’ve been silent for too long, because eventually Sara shuffled nervously on her feet, saying quietly “I know it’s not as special as what you got me, nowhere near. After what you told me about what basketball means to you and the reason you had to give it up, I wanted you to have some kind of reminder that it’s still a part of you and always will be, you know? And …  that last charm wasn’t even specially made or anything, I just saw it in at the mall and got the idea for the bracelet and I know it’s kinda cheesy and I dunno -”

“Sara,” Ava breathed finally, looking up to meet Sara’s eyes and finding Sara’s full of apprehension and nervousness. Ava held Sara’s gaze for a long moment before she took another hesitant breath, thumb tracing across the charms reverently. “It’s perfect , Sara. I love it.”

“Really?” Sara murmured quietly, eyes softening and flooding with yet more affection, although the lingering concern behind her eyes remained. Ava knew Sara hadn’t missed the way her voice had cracked as she spoke, tears still threatening to fall.

“Yeah,” Ava whispered, the single syllable catching in her throat and making it harder to breathe as she fixed her eyes on the three charms, wondering just how long Sara had been thinking about this gift, wondering how she had managed to find something so fitting for right now, so perfect , even when she had yet to confide in her.

As if she could tell there was something Ava wasn’t saying, Sara reached out to curl one hand gently around her wrist, brushing her thumb momentarily along the bracelet before pulling away and meeting Ava’s eyes once again, her gaze impossibly softer than before as she said in a quiet voice “I don’t know what’s been going on this past week, what it is that you’re clearly trying to work through … but consider this a permanent reminder that I’m here if you ever want to talk, no matter when. If you need me, I’ll be there.”

The determination and sincerity in her eyes was so intense, so raw and honest and caring that Ava had to bite her lip to push her feelings away, a shiver running through her body as she tried desperately to suppress a sob, closing her eyes and reaching out blindly for Sara's hands, or anything else she could hold onto. Sara took a step closer, fingers tangling with Ava's briefly before she slid her hands up Ava's wrists to brush across her pulse point, matching the rhythm of her heartbeat. God, it was so difficult not to just open her mouth and let the secrets pour out, knowing that if and when she stumbled, Sara would catch her, just like she always had done before.

“I’m gonna talk to you about this Sara, I will ,” Ava choked out, eyes still closed, unable to force them open, “but not yet, I can't, not now .” Her voice broke on the last word and she felt Sara’s grip tighten.

“And that’s okay Aves,” Sara murmured immediately, voice as gentle as the patterns she was tracing across Ava's bare arms. “Not now. Not until you want to.”

I do want to , Ava thought desperately, and this time she couldn’t stop herself from pulling Sara into a tight, grateful, all encompassing hug, forcing herself not to cry because after this she still had to go back inside, still had to talk to her family, pretend she was okay, pretend that she belonged. As her fingers tangled into Sara’s shirt she pressed her face into her shoulder, past pretending that she was okay, just hoping that the familiar scent and feel of Sara would somehow make it easier to breathe. Sara brought her hands up around her back, pulling her close enough that she could feel Sara’s heart beating under her chest as she rubbed her back, murmuring soft, vague reassurances in her ear.

It was several moments before Ava pulled back, knowing that if she stood there in Sara’s arms any longer she wouldn’t be able to peel herself away and go back inside, but instead would probably take her hand and let Sara pull her down the drive, take her somewhere safe and let her fall apart. She wrapped her hands around her arms and took a step back, hating that the only overwhelming emotion she could see in Sara’s expression was understanding. She took one deep breath, followed by another, forcing her voice to stay level as she said quietly, regretfully, “I should go.”

Sara opened her mouth as if to protest, to insist Ava stayed until she seemed okay, even if she wouldn’t talk about what was bothering her - but then she seemed to pause, closing her mouth and swallowing. “You got it. I don’t wanna keep you from family time ‘n all. But don’t forget what I said, okay Aves? Anytime you need me .”

Ava nodded, stepping back into the house but lingering in the doorway, fingers coming to rest on the charm bracelet around her wrist. Her words were barely audible as she murmured “Thank you, Sara.” Her eyes drifted from the little silver park bench to where Sara was gazing at her fondly, an unreadable expression on her face. “And … thank you for the bracelet. It means a lot.”

Sara smiled that same warm, familiar smile she’d had on her face when Ava had first opened the door, and gently replied “I’m glad you like it”  before turning and walking back down the drive, giving Ava one last reassuring glance over her shoulder as she left. Only once she was down at the pavement did she wave, call “Happy birthday Ava, and yes , it still counts, it’s your birth week so suck it !”, making Ava genuinely laugh in a way she was convinced she couldn’t today.

Ava closed the door, leaning back against it and running her fingers along the cool charms resting against her wrist. They calmed her, were a comforting reminder that despite how lonely and overwhelming this felt right now, she wasn’t alone. She just had to get through today and then she’d have the time and the energy to tell Sara. Tell anyone.

Just get through today , Ava thought firmly. (Easier said than done).

It was many minutes before she found it in herself to smother down the rising feelings of anger and resentment and confusion and despair. With a sigh, she pushed herself off the wall and straightened her shoulders, checking her face for any stray tears in the hallway mirror and then walking back into the living room, as prepared as she could ever get for the rest of the afternoon.




 

Messenger

Sara Lance
Active now

SAT 10:52pm:


Thank you so so much


i love you heaps nerd, happy
birthday again XX


Love you too X

 

Seen: Saturday, 10:54pm.



Chapter Text

A loud buzzing from her bedside table jerked Sara suddenly out of a hum of peaceful sleep. She groaned, rubbing her eyes as she rolled over, blindly reaching for her phone and swearing under her breath when she caught sight of the time (it was 2am - seriously, who the fuck called at 2am?) before Ava’s name flashed up at her. Sara immediately pushed herself up, shoving her covers down so that they tangled around her feet, hoping the cold would wake her up faster. “Ava?”, she asked, not bothering to hide the concern in her voice.

There was no reply, just a heart wrenching strangled gasp on the other end of the line, followed by a muffled sob, as if Ava was desperately trying to hold herself together but not quite managing it. Sara ran her hand over her face, closing her eyes. She’d known something was wrong these past couple of weeks, known it had to be bad because she’d never seen Ava this shaken, this out of step - not last October after she came out, not even after the Thanksgiving debacle. She heard Ava’s breathing grow more and more panicked, and Sara sucked in a breath and tangled her fingers into her sheets, wishing more than anything that she could slip her fingers into Ava’s instead, pull her close, give her the comfort it sounded like she so desperately needed. “Hey, hey, Ava,” she said quietly, rubbing the last remnants of sleep from her eyes. “It’s okay Aves, just breathe. You’re alright.”

She shouldn’t’ve been able to feel the way Ava shuddered over the phone, but somehow, she did. And it hurt. “Breathe,” she reminded Ava softly, climbing out of bed and pulling some proper clothes on from where they’d been hastily thrown over her desk chair, waiting until Ava seemed calm enough to speak before asking quietly “Where are you?”

It took far too long for Ava to reply, and Sara had already grabbed her wallet and hurried down the stairs by the time she did. Ava’s words, her choked, barely audible whisper of “the park” came out hoarse, as if she’d had to force herself to speak, and something crumbled inside of Sara because she knew exactly where Ava would be. Of course Ava would take herself to the park when she could barely think, overwhelmed by panic over something Sara didn’t understand, needing somewhere safe, somewhere comforting, somewhere Sara would know where to find her.

Sara didn’t hesitate grabbing her her father’s keys from the shelf beside the door, knowing he’d understand why she’d borrowed his car when she explained in the morning. She pushed open the front door and winced at the sharp bite of the January air, hurrying into the car. “Hey, Aves,” she murmured as she shoved the keys into the ignition and started the engine, biting her lip. “I’ll be there in 10, okay?”

Ava murmured an agreement, past pretending she didn’t need help, thankfully sounding at least a little calmer than when Sara had first answered the phone. Before Sara could speak again she herd Ava sniff quietly, mumbling “You better not be phoning me while driving.”

Sara snorted humourlessly, but then tipped her head back to rest on the seat and closed her eyes. While she knew Ava was mostly joking, at least part of her wasn’t, and Sara knew that. She couldn’t just hang up and leave Ava alone in the park until she got there, even if she was in the centre of the richer, safer part of town. But as the daughter of a cop, she was well aware of the awful, brutal fatalities from negligence while driving and Quentin had been very stern, very clear when he gave her and Laurel his lecture about driving safely when Laurel had first turned 16. But it sounded as though Ava had more than enough on her plate without worrying about Sara too, so when she quietly asked “Sara?”, voice sounding so, so small in the night, Sara sighed softly, before agreeing to Ava’s quip in an equally quiet voice, wishing more than anything that she could already be by Ava’s side as she reluctantly hung up and then backed out onto the road.

 

The drive felt like the longest 10 minutes in her life, and Sara could barely concentrate over the thousands of questions swirling around her mind. When she finally reached the park and practically ran through the gates, past the signposts directing her to the gardens and instead straight to the duck pond, a wave of relief swept over her when she spotted Ava exactly where she’d known she would be. Ava looked so small, so vulnerable curled up on the bench - their bench, Sara noticed with a faint smile -  her knees tucked under her, hair falling around her face, illuminated by the moonlight, that Sara froze for a moment, feeling her heart twist in her chest. Even now, she was so, so beautiful.

Ava was shivering, clearly not having taken a jacket when she left the house. Her arms were wrapped around herself like they were the only thing holding her together as she stared at the pond, lost in thought, fingers curled so tightly around her bracelet that Sara was momentarily concerned she was cutting off her circulation. Sara shrugged off her own jacket, walking quietly over to the bench and placing it around Ava’s shoulders before sitting down next to her, still not knowing what to do.

Was this how Ava had felt at the start of the year, she wondered? Had she watched Sara huddled on the bench barely holding her tears in, but with no idea what was wrong or what she could do? Ava’s breath was still coming out in short, strangled gasps, so quiet that Sara would’ve missed it if she hadn’t been paying attention, or if the park wasn’t as deserted and silent as it was now. Even so, Ava still sounded calmer than before, and Sara didn’t know if it was the weight of her warm arm across her shoulders that helped, but she left it there anyway, just in case.

In all honesty, the hazy look in Ava’s eyes - as if she couldn’t quite force herself back to the real world, couldn’t stop her thoughts from swirling around her head even for a moment - was the most concerning, but all Sara could do was rub her hand gently up and down her arm as she reminded to her to breathe in a quiet voice, hoping that maybe, just maybe, it would be enough to calm Ava down, at least enough that she could speak.

“I - ” Ava eventually gasped, cutting herself off, bringing one hand up to her throat as she struggled yet again to draw breath, panicked eyes meeting Sara's clear, concerned blue ones for the first time since she’d sat down.  

“Hey,” Sara said firmly, calmly, sliding her hand over Ava's and turning sideways on the bench, crossing her legs in front of her so they were eye to eye. “Breathe.”

Ava shuddered, closing her eyes, and Sara tangled their fingers together before lifting Ava's hand up and moving it to cover her own heart, pressing down until she knew Ava could feel her heart beating a steady rhythm under her palm. “C’mon, breathe, Aves,” she murmured softly. “My heartbeat, can you feel it?” Ava nodded and Sara tightened her grip on Ava’s hand, brushing her thumb over Ava’s. “Good - try to breathe in time to it okay? I’ve got you, it’s just you ‘n me and it’s gonna be okay, I promise.” Sara wasn’t sure if it was her words, if it was Ava actually taking her advice and breathing in time to Sara’s heartbeat, or if Ava was just finding another way to regain control of herself, but Sara watched Ava valiantly claw herself back from the edge of complete and utter panic and after a minute, her shoulders dropped and she let out a long, whistling, shaky breath. Sara let their hands drop to her lap, giving Ava’s a light squeeze. “There we go.”

Ava drew in another breath as if to speak, but Sara beat her to it. “Give yourself a moment to calm down before you work yourself up again, yeah?”

Ava nodded, shuffling closer until her arm was pressing firmly against Sara's. She picked at a loose thread on the edge of Sara's jacket for a moment before her fingers stilled, clinging tight to the cuff until Sara pried them off with her free hand, tugging them down to join her other hand resting against Sara’s leg. Sara smiled softly, giving her an affectionate poke in the leg before murmuring “We really gotta stop meeting like this,” causing Ava to let out a surprised, tearful laugh, turning to bury her face against Sara’s shoulder.

Sara shivered when Ava’s cheek brushed against her neck, the heat from the contact not managing to disguise just how cold Ava’s bare skin was. It was only then that Sara realised she had absolutely no idea how long Ava had been sitting here before she called - it could’ve been hours  and knowing Ava, it probably was - and Sara forced herself to suppress a shiver, glad that Ava couldn’t see the way her smile fell from her lips, lost to the darkness. She nudged Ava lightly. “As much as I wanna sit out here with you, and I do, I really do, I love this place - but it’s like 20 degrees out here and we’re both basically in our PJs, so how about we do this in my dad’s car, yeah?”

“That’s what she said,” Ava murmured unthinkingly under her breath, and Sara choked out a laugh.

“You’ve been hanging out with the boys too much Aves,” she teased gently, pushing herself up from the bench and then pulling Ava to her feet, feeling the way Ava tensed at the loss of contact. Sara hesitated before throwing caution to the wind, looping their arms together and leaning against Ava’s side as she led her over to where she parked the car.

This kind of physical contact was risky, especially with the feelings that were accelerating way too quickly for Sara’s liking. But it wasn’t about that right now. Ava needed her, Sara knew that. And she could push aside her crush on Ava for tonight. She could.

(She could, right?)

 


 

Sara cranked up the heating the minute they were in the car, and as much as Ava was grateful for it, she was so numb (and not only from the cold) that she barely noticed, didn’t even realise Sara had started driving. She was too absorbed in her thoughts, wondering how to tell Sara, now that she’d opened a door to the conversation that she definitely couldn’t close. Not when it was 2am and she’d dragged Sara out to the park in the cold just so that she had someone to cry on.

“Ava?” Sara murmured in a quiet voice, pushing a warm double shot caramel latte into her hands (complete with extra foam and a soft smile). And for some reason, that was what almost did it, what almost opened the floodgates and caused her tears to spill down her cheeks, because she was exhausted and she couldn’t sleep and she couldn’t think and Sara fucking Lance knew her coffee order perfectly even at 2:39am, knew exactly what she needed right now, even if she still didn’t have the words to voice it.

Ava hated that she had to turn away from Sara’s piercingly blue, understanding eyes but it was too much. Instead, she leaned her head against the window, watched the view of the city speed past them, a blur of golden lights and dark, indistinguishable buildings. She didn’t recognise where Sara was taking them at first (and honestly, she didn’t care, she just needed any excuse to be out of her house and be here with Sara). But eventually, she saw a sign labelled Starling Point, 1 mile and a flash of recognition rippled through her. She hadn’t been here often - had hiked one of the trails up the hill a couple of times with Nora - but she had seen Sara’s instagrams, knew that Sara and the original legends had come here countless times for sunsets, picnics, summer outings, or even evening drives.

When they reached the top of the hill, Sara pulled into a park but let the engine hum, keeping the heating on as she shifted her weight and glanced over at Ava with a soft, concerned expression on her face. Ava closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the headrest, wishing the silence would somehow swallow her, instead of having to answer a thousand questions she had no hope of ever knowing the answers to.

Not that Sara asked any questions.

Of course Sara didn’t ask any questions. Because she was Sara, the same Sara who’d let her sit on her bed in silence for hours a year ago, before they were even friends, the same Sara who had followed her lead on Thanksgiving and talked for hours about anything and everything except her aunt’s homophobic comments until she was finally ready to acknowledge them. The same Sara who had spent the last few weeks gently reminding her that she would listen, whenever Ava was ready and not before, to however much of the story she wanted to share.

So of course she didn’t ask, just let Ava soak up the silence, soak up the calm and the warmth and the safety of Sara’s presence that she had needing desperately for so, so long. Finally, Ava worked up the courage to suck in a sharp breath and she could feel the words heavy on her tongue, tasting bitter and still making her feel just a little sick inside. “I’m adopted,” she whispered, opening her eyes just in time to catch the way Sara’s head snapped around to face her, jaw dropping as her eyes widened so much that it might’ve been funny, in a different situation.

She could see Sara carefully attempting to school her features, and part of her wanted to continue, to say something - anything - to lighten the quiet between them, to pretend that it wasn’t eating away at her the way was. But her throat seemed to have dried up, words failing to form in her mind. Before she could speak, Sara beat her to it. Her mutter of “oh thank God, you’re not actually related to Layla,” making Ava snort in surprise, head dropping back against the seat as she laughed, properly, for the first time in almost two weeks.

Two weeks.

It had been a fortnight since she’d found out, fourteen days of carrying this dark, heavy secret around when she could’ve told Sara all along. Because somehow, even though saying the words out loud made them real , it was worth it a million times over for the sense of relief in her chest, the overwhelming knowledge that she wasn’t alone, at least in this. Even if she was alone in reality, because her family weren’t her family and never had been, and they had lied to her for 18 years of her life and they’d still not brought it up, even though she was legally and adult, old enough to make her own decisions, old enough to deserve to know the truth -

“Aves,” Sara murmured quietly, shifting so she could lean across the car and curl one hand around Ava’s wrist, her other hand coming up to rest against her jaw, brushing away the tears she hadn’t even noticed starting to fall. Ava closed her eyes, momentarily leaning into the warmth of Sara’s touch before she shook her head, tears burning against her eyelashes. She wiped her eyes with the sleeves of Sara’s jacket that she was still wearing, letting out a shaky breath, letting the feeling of Sara’s fingers on the skin of her wrist ground her, at least for now.

“Did they tell you?” Sara asked quietly, eyes brimming with concern and affection and heartbreak on her behalf. “Or…?”

Ava shook her head, barely keeping it together, fingers tangling with Sara’s and gripping so hard her knuckles were almost white as she finally murmured “I was looking for photos and stuff for my 18th in the attic, and - ” Her breath caught in her throat, but Sara squeezed her hand hard enough that it brought her back to the moment, giving her an encouraging nod. Ava shot her a grateful look before continuing quietly “I - I found - ”

Sara was looking at her expectantly and it was just too much so Ava closed her eyes, feeling slightly guilty as she realised just how much easier it was to speak without Sara watching. “I found it all.”

Sara didn’t ask her to elaborate, didn’t ask for anything she wasn’t willing to give, and somehow Ava found the courage to add “I haven’t actually said anything to them yet,” voice so quiet and tentative that she wondered if Sara might’ve missed it.

Of course she didn’t. Ava watched as she blinked, realisation dawning on her face. “Wait, I’m the first person you’ve told?” Ava nodded in response, and Sara gave her a long, indecipherable look, curling their fingers together, eyes suddenly looking suspiciously wet, even in the darkness.

And suddenly, somehow, from there it all spilled out and Ava couldn’t stop, couldn’t hold back the words even if she wanted to, couldn’t let every single little niggling terror and insecurity that had built to a breaking point these last couple of weeks just fall from her lips, dripping with heartbreak and resentment and uncertainty that Sara let her talk through. And overshadowing it all, encompassing everything was the horrible, sickly fear that her whole life was a lie and she couldn’t stop herself from telling Sara that it was so overwhelming that she didn’t know what to do , was so overwhelmed by the thought that she could barely concentrate on her schoolwork, which was just making her panic even more. All of the thoughts she’d had over the past few weeks seemed to come tumbling out now Sara was here, warm and safe and here - how it made so much sense that her mother had tried so hard to make her like Layla and Ali, to make her into the perfect daughter, how Layla acting so cold towards her seemed to make sense , why her dad and Spencer had always tried so hard to protect her and help her fit in … and somehow, along the way, other thoughts got mixed in, the ones she’d promised herself not to voice, the questions about whether Ali knew, or if their parents were going to break her heart too, and who the hell was she supposed to be if she wasn’t Ava Sharpe, if Ava Sharpe didn’t exist in the first place?

“Ava -” Sara interrupted for the first time but Ava shook her head.

“My life … all my memories with my family …” she choked out, “they’re all this big lie. They’re not real, I’m not even real -”

At that Sara pulled away, reaching down to unbuckle her seatbelt before climbing out of the car and closing the door, disappearing for long enough that Ava felt pure panic start to crawl up her spine, certain she’d gone too far, sharing too much, dragging Sara out of bed in the middle of the night and then freaking her out, causing her to walk away. Ava sucked in a breath, the prospect of losing Sara as well so overwhelming, so terrifying that she almost didn’t hear the passenger door open or see Sara crouch down in front of her until one warm hand came to rest on her thigh, tracing the softest patterns over her sweatpants, Sara’s free hand covering Ava’s fist and gently softening her grip until she could slide her fingers into Ava’s, gripping her as tight as she could.

“Look at me,” Sara said firmly once Ava seemed calm enough to hear her even though she could feel the millionth wave of tears already burning against her eyelashes. “Ava Sharpe is real, d’you hear me? You’re the same person you have always been. You’re smart and funny and kind and an absolute pain in my ass, but you’re the only person I know who can intimidate Mick Rory with a single look, or who isn’t afraid to go toe to toe with me when I’m being stupid and you know I’m wrong. You’ve had my back every single time I’ve needed it over the past year and a half, even when I was too scared or too caught up in my own head to ask for help.” Her voice cracked as it caught in her throat. “God, Aves, you’re my best friend, and that’s gotta count for something. That has to be real .

And then Sara was shifting upwards, was resting her forehead against Ava’s before pulling her into a hug, crushing her against her chest, arms wrapping around her shoulders as tight as they possibly could at the awkward angle, thankfully hiding Ava’s face from her view, because she could barely see through her tears, and there was no way she’d be able to process any of this any time soon. Because Sara was … well, Sara. She was special. And it wasn’t as though Ava wasn’t aware how much Sara meant to her after all this time, but in all honesty she’d never in a million years have anticipated Sara feeling the same way (well, not quite the same way) back - Sara Lance who had endless friends who had her back, Sara Lance who could charm anyone with a smile and win people over in a heartbeat, Sara Lance who was the school favourite, who everyone was in awe of, who freshman stumbled when they talked to, who teachers in recent years had started to gush about, the soccer captain with perfect grades, the glue that held their grade together.

Sara who was here, for some reason, crouched down in a car park in the middle of the night and calling Ava her best friend .

Ava exhaled, sagging into the hug, sinking into Sara’s shoulder and not even attempting to come up with a response, well past trying to keep her emotions in check. When Sara eventually pulled back, she paused, tucking a stray lock of hair behind Ava’s ear and squeezing her shoulder. “You good?” she asked softly.

Ava knew she wasn’t asking if she was okay , wasn’t assuming that she would be in any way fine. No, Sara was asking if she was okay enough , okay enough to breathe, okay enough for Sara to go back to the driver’s seat, okay enough to not be on the edge of a panic attack. And to that, Ava nodded, because for the first time since she’d found the papers, yeah she was. Sara gave her a long, searching look before pushing herself to her feet and going round to the other side of the car. She settled back into her seat and flicked the radio on quietly, offering Ava the carton of french fries and giving Ava’s thigh a gentle squeeze before her gaze flickered to look out across the sleeping city, and they drifted back into the comfortable, familiar silence that they both knew so well.

 

It was almost 4am when Sara looked back to her, asking in a quiet voice “Are you ready to go back?” A flare of panic shot through Ava at the thought of going back home, back to her … not family. She shook her head vehemently, and Sara hesitated, probably reminding herself that they had school in less than 4 hours, and they both needed at least some sleep. “Come back with me?” she asked softly after a moments pause. “You can stay in Laurel’s room, and we can swing by your place on the way to school for a change of clothes, or if you don’t wanna see your family, you can just borrow some of Laurel’s.”

Ava paused. If she was in a better state of mind, she would have the energy to weigh up the pros and cons, to mentally deliberate the idea of staying over at Sara’s right now when she felt this unstable. Because yeah, Sara had stayed the night at hers before but that was before Ava had been aware of her increasingly non-platonic feelings. Plus, that’d been under the Sharpe roof, under which Barbara had clearly set rules about sleepovers (for Ava at least). At the Lance’s, something told Ava that Quentin wasn’t that stern or rigid, and the idea of Sara being so kind of and sweet right now had Ava terrified that this was just going to quadruple her feelings to an uncontrollable extreme.

But the idea of going back home was even worse, even more stifling and unmanageable, so she gave in and nodded. Sara smiled at her before restarting the car, pulling out of the car park and heading back towards the city.

(It took everything Ava had to keep her eyes out the window, watching Star City fly by instead of gazing at Sara the entire drive back.)

 

It was far too easy to creep through Sara’s house in the dark - somehow, without realising it, Ava had learnt which steps were creaky and where exactly she should stand to avoid making a noise - she could do this blindfolded. So when Sara paused for a moment at the top of the stairs, outside Laurel’s room, Ava knew exactly why. But the idea of letting go of Sara’s hand, of spending the night alone in a room she’d never been in before sent a sudden wave of panic shooting straight through her, and although she managed to smother her gasp Ava couldn’t help the way her shoulders tensed, back straightening as her free hand curled around her waist, gripping Sara’s hand even tighter than before.

“Okay,” Sara murmured softly, taking Ava’s reaction as the answer to her unasked question. Her hand tightened and she brushed her thumb across Ava’s knuckles before leading her down the hallway and into her room, finding her some warm, dry pyjamas and pressing them into her hands. Sara smiled softly at her, giving her hand one final gentle squeeze before letting go, pointing her in the direction of the bathroom so she could change.

 


 

While Ava was in the bathroom, Sara found herself restlessly pacing around her room. It was past 4am. Her dad was definitely going to notice that he no longer had a full tank of fuel in his cruiser, and Sara wasn’t exactly going to try and hide Ava in the morning as though she wasn’t here. It wasn’t fair to Ava, or to the trust Quentin had in Sara. After thinking about it for a brief series of moments, Sara sighed, slipping out of her bedroom, down the hall and into her dad’s room. He’d never be mad about her for sneaking out to help a friend, but he would appreciate her honesty so much more. Full disclosure, and all that.

“Dad?” Sara asked quietly, perching on the edge of his bed.

He startled awake, blinked slowly and rubbed his eyes, frowning when he took in her appearance. He opened his mouth to speak but Sara shook her head to cut him off. “It’s fine, I’m fine. I just … it’s Ava. She called, and she needed someone, so I …” She bit her lip. “I might’ve borrowed your car to go pick her up. And I probably should’ve woken you up and told you before I left, but honestly I wasn’t thinking straight, and she’s here now, she’s staying the night and I know I’m supposed to ask permission but -”

“Hey, Sara,” Quentin interrupted, sitting up and placing one hand on her knee, giving it a light squeeze. “It’s okay.”

Sara let out a soft whoosh of relief whistle past her teeth before she looked away (still catching the way his frown deepened out of the corner of her eye).

“Is Ava alright?” asked Quentin slowly.

Sara only hesitated for a moment, but it was long enough for him to notice. He had that look on his face she’d seen a thousand times before, that warm, kind, fatherly worry, and something about it made Sara shiver as she realised that from now on, Ava wouldn’t be able to have that without all of her worry and fear and insecurities drowning it out.

“Sara?”

“She’s…” Sara sighed, biting her lip, picking at a stray thread on the sweats she’d hastily put on when Ava had called. “I dunno Dad. She’s not okay right now, and I’m not sure … I just don’t know what to do. It’s something that I can’t exactly fix or make better for her.”

Quentin nodded thoughtfully, before asking in a quiet voice “Is this a family thing?”

Sara looked up with a start, surprised, and Quentin’s expression softened. He sighed, pulling her into a quick hug before letting go, ruffling her hair as he offered her a small smile. “Don’t tell me anything if it’s not yours to tell, that’s not what I’m asking. I just want to know if there’s anything I should be concerned about as a cop. Nothing dangerous, right?” Sara shook her head immediately, and Quentin nodded. “Okay. Then … as for what to do - you just told me she needed someone, Sara. She needed you . So just ... be there, okay? Sometimes, that’s all you can do.”

Sara nodded. “Yeah. Yeah okay.”

The sound of the bathroom door creaking open from down the hall had both their heads turning in the direction of the doorway, and Sara immediately swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood up to hurry back to her room. “Thank you Dad,” she said softly.

Quentin smiled encouragingly at her, tilting his head towards the door. “Night Sara,” he said gently. “I’ll see you both in the morning.”

 


 

Sara was sitting on top of her bed covers scrolling through her phone when Ava came back into the room, and she hesitated uncertainly in the doorway for a moment. Sara shifted and nodded towards the space beside her but Ava couldn’t refrain from sucking in a shaky breath, suddenly unsure about what to do, where to go, who to be.

“Ava,” Sara murmured softly, brow furrowing with concern, and Ava forced herself to exhale slowly, walking over to the bed on legs that still felt like jelly. Sara’s duvet was soft and warm as she curled beneath it and she felt a hum of comfort as she settled in beside Sara, feeling for the first time that night that she might actually get some sleep. Sara’s eyes were still fixed on her, but Ava couldn’t bring herself to meet them, knowing that the moment she saw the gentle concern and worry in her gaze she would crumble yet again, and this time, she had no idea how she would come back from it.

Sara quietly said her name once more, reaching out and carefully placing her hand over Ava’s, and Ava couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything except listen as Sara repeated the same gentle reassurances she’d offered Ava at Starling Point, as though trying to make sure Ava knew how much she’d meant them. Ava was still too shaken to properly comprehend what she was saying, but let the words wash over her, attempt to calm her, hoping the panic still vaguely restricting her lungs would lessen, at least for a moment.

It didn’t.

Ava swallowed, closing her eyes tightly, furious that she was unable to just turn her mind off for long enough that they could both sleep, at least for a few hours. It was so unfair on Sara to be dragged her out of bed in the middle of the night, for Ava to make her come deal with this complete and utter mess she’d gotten herself into. Because when it came down to it, Ava could just as easily told her in the day, rather than in the car at 4am, both of them freezing and exhausted and barely keeping themselves awake. She could’ve told Sara when she’d first found out, or at any point when Sara had checked up on her over the past couple of weeks, nudging her arm gently and asking if she wanted to talk, or if she needed anything, or if there was anything she could do to help.

(But never if she was okay - Sara already knew the answer to that.)

Ava felt Sara shift, moving to sit directly in front of her, free hand curling around her wrist and brushing her thumb across her pulse point in a way that was so, so heartbreaking familiar. Ava sucked in a shaky breath, suppressing a sob when Sara’s fingers stilled, coming to rest against the bracelet still around her wrist, the tiny silver park bench pressing lightly into her skin.

“What do you need, Aves?”

You , Ava thought suddenly, the thought burning at the front of her mind, hot tears starting to roll down her cheeks once again. Because she did. She needed Sara so desperately, so completely - she needed someone to hold onto, someone who would let her cry onto her shoulder without judgement, someone who wouldn’t try to push when she wasn’t ready to talk. She needed someone she could trust, someone who wasn’t keeping things from her, someone who wouldn’t try to sugarcoat the truth but would be there anyway, through thick and thin.

She needed Sara .

She hadn’t spoken out loud, but Sara must’ve seen something in her expression, because a moment later she was brushing a hand across Ava’s cheek to wipe her tears away, rubbing her shoulder gently and pulling her to lie down, letting Ava curl up against her side and hide her face, hide her thoughts until she was ready to share them.

Sara’s arms were so warm, so comforting, so safe that Ava could feel her panic finally starting to ebb away, taking a long, shaky breath and shivering slightly. Sara reached down and pulled the blanket up around their shoulders, keeping one arm firmly around Ava as she did so. Ava was barely holding it together, but at this point she couldn't bring herself to care. Sara ran one hand gently through her hair, the other gently trailing up and down Ava’s back and Ava found herself tangling her hands into Sara’s shirt, knuckles whitening as she clung on for dear life, desperate to imprint this memory in her consciousness so vividly that she could be sure it was real , realer than the lies of the rest of her life that she just couldn’t make sense of.

She didn't even know how she managed it, but eventually Ava heard herself whisper, voice thick with tears, “It’s just - I don't even know who my family are .”

The hand combing through her hair stilled, and Ava felt a flash of pure panic course through her veins as Sara pulled away slightly, but then she moved one hand so it was resting against her jaw, tilting her head up so she had no choice but to look her in the eyes. Sara's gaze was so intense, and the gentle, caring look she gave Ava was almost too much.

Sara seemed to notice (of course) and gave her a moment, before brushing one thumb along her cheek. “Just because they're not your family by blood, it doesn't necessarily mean they're not your family. But …” She paused, giving Ava a long, indecipherable look before softly adding, “I can't tell you how to feel about them. You have to decide that for yourself - and only when you're ready.”

Ava shook - whether with cold, emotion, or her tears she didn’t know, but she pressed closer to Sara, and she felt more than heard the way Sara's breath caught in her throat.

 

The whole scene was so heart wrenching that Sara couldn't help but pull Ava into another, tighter hug, holding her almost as tightly as Ava was clinging into her. “Ava,” she murmured quietly, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Whatever you choose, we'll all be here for you - me, Amaya, Nora, Gary, Lily … everyone . Because at some point when I wasn't looking, you became one of the most important people in my life Aves, which means you're family. We’re family, all of us, and nothing is ever going to change that.”

She could feel a fresh wave of hot tears soaking into her shoulder,  but she just pulled Ava even closer, pressing a gentle kiss to the top of her head. She hadn't actually realised the truth in her words until they fell from her lips, but now she'd said it, it made sense .

Because - especially this year - her friends had always been there when she needed them, whenever, wherever.

But none of them had worked their way into her life quite like Ava had, turning up on her doorstep and asking for help, offering her own assistance in return, even when Sara didn’t want to take it.

Ava opened her mouth as if to speak but thought better of it when her breath caught in her throat, ducking her head back down with a strangled gasp. She looked so far from the Ava that Sara knew so well - calm and put together, always ready with a roll of the eyes and a kind but infuriatingly smug smile. This Ava was falling apart at the seams, so confused and lost and broken, and Sara’s heart ached for how much pain Ava was clearly in. “God Aves, I’m so sorry,” Sara murmured, helplessly tracing patterns across Ava’s back in a hopeless attempt to soothe a wound she could never hope to fix.

It felt like hours later that Sara felt Ava shift in her arms - a quick glance at the clock told her it was nearing 5am. They both had to be up in two hours, and neither of them had slept, and …

(Ava shuffled closer, tucking her head down as her breathing finally began to even out, and Sara immediately lost her train of thought.)

She used her free hand to readjust the blankets around Ava’s shoulders, trying her hardest not to wake her, because she looked so calm, so peaceful, so much more at ease than she had done then she was awake.

Ava’s hand curled subconsciously around her arm, and Sara smiled, trying her hardest not to think about those feelings right now, not when Ava's whole world had been turned upside down and she just desperately needed some familiarity, something she knew was true. She exhaled slowly, giving in to the temptation to press a soft kiss to the top of Ava’s head and trying not to smile at the way Ava stirred and leaned in closer. Sara - despite her heavy eyelids and the overwhelming exhaustion enveloping her - took a moment to take in everything; the way Ava looked when she had fallen into a deep, hopefully peaceful sleep, the feeling of her ankles tangled in Sara’s and Sara’s body pressed against hers, warm and soft and beautiful , even with puffy red eyes and tear stained cheeks and huge, dark circles under her eyes. Sara saved every detail, quietly hoping she would never forget what it felt like to fall asleep next to Ava Sharpe, before she let her eyes close and drifted into the same depths of unconsciousness as the girl curled up beside her.

 

 


 

Ava woke up at 5.55am on the dot, as always - years of waking up early to go for a run before school had left her with a finely tuned body clock, one that apparently refused to be ignored even when she was exhausted and had barely slept an hour. But unlike normal, this time the sunlight filtering through the window didn’t fall onto her neatly organised desk, didn’t reflect off the calendar pinned on the wall above it, but instead lit up the room with a soft glow, perfectly complimenting the warm yellows and oranges the room was decorated with. As Ava let her eyes flick around the room, blinking against the early morning sunlight, she tried her hardest to push down the panic crawling up her spine. This wasn’t her room.

Ava pushed herself up onto her arms in alarm, mind too exhausted and confused to register where she was for a moment, before her gaze landed on the little, familiar drawing of two interlinked canaries and she flopped back onto the bed with a shaky sigh, running one hand through her hair.

There’d always been something comforting about Sara’s room, something gentle and kind and safe and … Sara.

Shit .

Ava backtracked for a moment, tilting her head slightly until she could see blonde hair out of the corner of her eye, spread out over the pillow as Sara slept, lips curved into a small smile that had no right to be that adorable this early in the morning. She let out another shaky breath, this time for an entirely different reason. There was so much going on right now, and even the idea of putting on a straight face for her family - (not family) - sent a wave of panic shooting up her spine, let alone the idea of confronting them about this right now.

But Sara had found her and brought her here in the middle of the night because she was Sara , because she was kind and caring and wonderful, and Ava couldn’t deal with these feelings right now, not when Sara was literally in bed beside her, not when she was just looking out for her out her as a friend.

That wasn’t fair on her, not even slightly.

Ava bit her lip, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and slipping silently out from the covers, careful to avoid the hand draped across the bed next to her, as if Sara had been...nope. Ava paused in the doorway and looked back at Sara one more time, ignoring the way her heart fluttered in her chest at the sight, before closing the door quietly behind her, hoping desperately she could get a handle on these … feelings … before Sara woke up.

 

She’d assumed Quentin would also be asleep, and the surprise must’ve shown on her face when she closed the door of the linen cupboard after finding a towel and turned around to find him behind her, clearly having just gotten up. Ava swallowed, an apology and an explanation about why she was in his house in Sara’s pyjamas at 6am on the tip of her tongue, but before she could speak he just offered her a warm, gentle smile, somehow managing to make her feel a little less broken inside.

“You feeling up for pancakes kiddo?”

He still had that concerned but fond look on his face, far too caring and far too much like Sara’s, but Ava forced herself to smile back, hoping he couldn’t see her thoughts playing out in her expression. “You don’t have to - ”

“Hey, I’m having a craving,” Quentin interrupted with a shrug, shaking his head. Daring Ava to call him out on it. “I’m just asking if you want in.”

Ava met his eyes, ready to tell him that she was fine, that he didn’t need to do this, but then he raised an eyebrow expectantly. It was such a blatant go on and say no , the same challenging stare that Ava had never been able to resist from Sara and she couldn’t stop the quiet, resigned laugh that slipped past her lips. She let a small, shy smile creep onto her face. “Yes, then. That’d … that’d be lovely.”

Quentin gave her a smirk that was again startlingly similar to Sara’s, but before she had a chance to process it he was tilting his head towards the bathroom and disappearing down the stairs, leaving her standing, still a little confused, in the hallway.

 

Sara was still asleep when Ava crept back into the room, hair wet from the shower, still dressed in the pajamas she’d had on earlier. She should probably wake her, if Quentin was about to start cooking pancakes, but she just looked so peaceful curled up in the spot Ava had vacated that she couldn’t bear to wake her.

Especially when Sara had barely gotten any sleep during the night, entirely because of her.

As nice as Quentin had been to her when she’d talked to him earlier (and as nice as he’d been literally every time she’d spoken to him before now), she wasn’t quite up to socialising with him this early in the morning. Not this sleep deprived, and definitely not by herself. So instead of making her way back downstairs, Ava rolled over the chair from in front of Sara’s desk and sat down, pulling one leg up and resting her chin on her knee. She was facing the window, and it was nice, at least for now, to just watch as the sun slowly crept over the neighbouring houses and into the sky (trying her hardest to ignore the way the bright colours of the sunrise washed over where Sara slept, illuminating the soft curve of her lips, and the way they were curled up into a smile).

Who was she kidding.

She wasn’t even trying to ignore Sara - how could she? It was peaceful looking out of the window watching the world wake up, but it could never compare to watching Sara, watching the way her chest rose and fell with every breath, and the way she shifted slightly on the bed, burrowing down under the covers, fingers subconsciously reaching out to grasp something next to her, but only finding empty space. It was the middle of winter, but in the warm sunlight Ava could just about make out the light dusting of freckles across Sara’s cheeks that she’d thought had faded, standing out against her pale skin.

Ava swallowed. She’d known since that New Year’s party that there was something more to this crush, but she’d forgotten, at least temporarily, in the midst of everything else that was going on. (Maybe forgotten was the wrong word. She’d known all along; Sara making sure she was there by Ava’s side to offer her support, or a hug, or simply a gentle, comforting smile whenever she needed it had only made those feelings grow stronger, more persistent.)

But somehow, with all the chaos over the past couple of weeks, it had been easier to ignore the way her stomach fluttered whenever Sara smiled at her and slipped her hand into hers, or the way her cheeks seemed to heat up whenever she thought about that moment at Kuasa’s, the way Sara had looked at her, eyes filled with affection, flickering over her expression before she leaned up, brushing her lips softly over Ava’s cheek.

Ava shivered, forcing herself to look out of the window rather than gazing stupidly at the sleeping girl in front of her. But as her eyes stilled to rest on the quietly awakening street out the window, Ava found her heart skipping a beat as she suddenly realised what that feeling she hadn’t been able to name was, and why her brain had seemed so reluctant to acknowledge it. Because she’d never felt it before. Because she hadn’t known what this was, had never felt it in real life, had never been able to pinpoint it or compare it to the books and movies and songs she’d seen it in. Because this wasn’t the stupid crush she thought it was, not at all.

 

She was in love with Sara Lance.

 


 

Sara didn’t know how she’d ever thought she could go her entire life without knowing what Ava Sharpe looked like in the mornings, hair still wet from the shower, face soft and eyelashes free from mascara, her lips curved in a thoughtful kind of contented peace. But now that she knew, she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to forget.

Ava looked beautiful. More than that, she looked … comfortable. Not okay , not at peace , not at all. But comfortable. At ease somehow, as though now she’d told someone about finding out she was adopted, the burden had been lifted just enough that she felt safe in her own skin again, even if she wasn’t anywhere near to being alright .

How would anyone expect her to be, after finding out her parents had been lying to her for her entire life?

Before she could follow that train of thought, Ava turned to look at her, sunlight catching in her hair and making her skin glow, illuminating the soft smile that crept across her lips when she noticed Sara was awake. It really wasn’t fair, Sara thought, that Ava had only had one hour of sleep and still looked incredible. She blinked, hoping Ava would assume it was due to the sun, rather than her trying to find something to do that wasn’t just … staring longingly at her best friend. Who was in her room, wearing her clothes, having just slept in the same bed as her, buried in her arms.  

Who Sara absolutely, definitely, 100% did not have feelings for.

“Hey,” Ava said quietly, voice a little hoarse, and even though Sara knew it was probably from the crying the night before rather than the early morning, it was still far too adorable. She smiled back, not trusting herself to open her mouth, not when she could almost hear her heart beating rapidly, lodged in her throat, that familiar feeling she didn’t want to acknowledge blossoming in her chest, stronger than ever before.

“Can I borrow some clothes for school?”Ava asked quietly, completely oblivious to the internal crisis Sara was having. Sara nodded, pointing towards the drawer she kept them in and managing to mumble out something to do with Laurel’s jeans being in the second drawer of the dresser in Laurel’s room. In all honesty, she barely caught two words of what Ava said before she disappeared towards the bathroom to change, too distracted by Ava’s smile and her hair and her lips and those stupid feelings she couldn’t get rid of to pay attention.

Sara rolled over in bed, pulling a pillow over her head to muffle her groan, trying to stop her hands from shaking. Tommy was wrong. She couldn’t do anything about this crush, no way. Because it was quickly growing into something Sara couldn’t control and if she did decide to act, it was going to mess up her relationship with Ava - the best friend she’d ever had - beyond repair, and it would probably tear their friendship group apart in the process. And anyway, Ava had enough going on in her life right now, she didn’t need Sara complicating things between them.

Not now, and not ever.

Sara groaned again, pulling the pillow off her head and rolling onto her back, staring up at the ceiling as she desperately tried to make sense of the million thoughts swirling round her mind.

She’d already complicated things, the moment she pressed her lips to Ava’s cheek on New Year’s eve - and in all honesty, she didn’t regret it. She’d do it again in a heartbeat, just to feel the tingle of Ava’s skin under her lips, to see the way her cheeks flushed red, ducking her head down and letting her perfectly curled hair fall over her face to hide that small smile that had crept onto her lips. She’d do anything, just to get Ava to smile like that again, that soft, secret smile she knew she wasn’t meant to have seen.

Sara sucked in a breath, closing her eyes and remembering how Ava had been sitting that morning, staring out the window but lost in thought, looking safe and happy and content, almost glowing in the sunlight.

 

Oh.

 

A lump formed in Sara’s throat and she let out a quiet, barely audible whisper of “ No” as it suddenly hit her all in one go, stealing the breath from her lungs as her heartbeat quickened, pounding incessantly in her chest.

 

She was in love with Ava Sharpe.

And she had no fucking clue what to do.

 


 

A gentle tap on the door snapped Ava out of her thoughts, swivelling in the chair she’d sat back down in to face the door, trying her hardest to focus her attention solely on Quentin, rather than getting distracted by Sara (again).

Quentin smiled, gaze flickering between them. “Pancakes are ready,” he started, before his eyes met Ava’s from across the room and he smirked, adding “if you can drag Sara out of bed, which might I add, should be an Olympic sport. Extra bacon for you if you succeed.”

Sara let out a protesting “Hey!”, throwing a pillow at the doorway just as Quentin vanished downstairs. She huffed indignantly before turning her head to face Ava, lips curving up into an identical smirk from the one her father had worn moments before. Ava swallowed, wanting to drag her eyes away, but unable to. “Guess you’d better drag me out of bed then,” Sara said slowly, propping herself up on one elbow as she winked in Ava’s direction. Ava blinked, trying to ignore the stirring in her chest and the way her cheeks were beginning to heat up, but before she had a chance to compose herself Sara had climbed out of bed, slipped her hand into hers and started to pull her down the hallway.

Ava smiled, following her. But keeping that smile on her face became more and more difficult as they entered the kitchen and Sara went over to hug her dad, smiling up at him as he kissed her lightly on the head. Because even though it had still been there at the back of her mind, she’d almost managed to ignore the reason she was here, not at home, until now. Until Quentin had started talking and making pancakes and acting like the world’s best father, causing everything to come flooding back - every lie, every doubt, every insecurity.

Ava squeezed her eyes shut, reaching out to place one hand against the wall, desperately trying to steady herself without anyone noticing.

“Ava?” Quentin asked quietly, holding a plate of pancakes out in her direction, and only then did Ava realise Sara was on the other side of the kitchen looking through the cupboard for something, completely oblivious to the turmoil Quentin seemed to have spotted. “You alright, kid?” he asked quietly, handing her a plate of pancakes and giving her shoulder a light, comforting squeeze before dropping his hand back down to his side.

Ava opened her mouth to speak, not sure what she was going to say, but found she couldn’t force any words past the lump in her throat anyway. She wasn’t alright. In fact, she’d never felt as far from okay in her life as she had last night - lost, alone, sitting on a park bench barely able to breathe - but that wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have with the girl she was crushing on’s father, so she just swallowed, nodding slightly. “Thank you for the pancakes, they smell delicious.”

Quentin’s expression softened, and he just looked so understanding that Ava started to feel tears burning at the back of her eyes. She blinked, rapidly, forcing them away.

“That’s quite alright, Ava,” he eventually responded, seeming to sense her dilema and gesturing in the direction of Sara, who had piled various sauces onto the kitchen counter. Sara looked up, smiling brightly and causing Ava’s stomach to flip, thankfully giving her something else to focus on instead of Quentin’s fatherly affection.

 

It wasn’t until later, after they’d eaten breakfast and gotten ready for school that Quentin mentioned anything again, pulling her aside when Sara vanished upstairs to find her keys and giving her another thoughtful, concerned look that made her want to burst into tears. “Ava, I want you to know that our house is open to you anytime, if you need somewhere to go. If being at home isn’t an option, here always will be.”

His words were so sincere, so caring that Ava lost her voice for a moment, unable to come up with a response. She swallowed thickly, desperate not to cry in front of Sara’s dad, just about managing to softly murmur her thanks before Sara came back downstairs and he went outside to start the car, leaving Sara to lock up.

“You okay Aves?” Sara asked quietly, lightly resting one hand against Ava’s arm and brushing her thumb across the fabric of the hoodie Ava was borrowing. Ava closed her eyes, shaking her head slightly, and she faintly heard Sara say her name before she was pulled into a hug, both of Sara’s arms wrapping around her back and pulling her close, giving her the space to pull herself back together before they had to go face the world.

Sara rubbed one hand up and down her back, and Ava could hear the smile in her voice as she said teasingly “You know, we could just skip school and stay here.”

It was tempting, but honestly, if she didn’t do this now she might not manage it at all. So Ava shook her head, sucking in a shaky breath before pulling away. She didn’t need to say anything, didn’t even need to give Sara a particular look for Sara to just get it. They stood on the front porch a few moments longer, and Ava wasn’t sure how Sara knew that it was exactly what she needed - the cold air, the morning sunlight, the hum of the car engine slowly warming from down the drive, the feeling of Sara’s hands curled around Ava’s forearms - but it was. It was enough for Ava to eventually somewhat resemble herself, to feel like she could be at school without being seconds away from crumbling, to feel like she was still real.

“You ready?” asked Sara softly.

“No,” confessed Ava truthfully, but she offered Sara a small smile. “But I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

 


 

Messenger
(Nora Darhk)

avalance will rise y’all
Active now

MON 8:14am:

Nate:
RED

FUCKING

ALERT

AVA AND SARA JUST SHOWED UP
AT SCHOOL TOGETHER


Wally:
I’m sorry wHAT

 

Nate:
Oh no oh no oh no Ava is wearing
one of Sara’s hoodies HOLY SHIT
DO YOU GUYS THINK … ??????


Kuasa:
You think they hooked up??!?


Gary:
ok ok ok let’s look at the facts

a) they’ve been getting v close
these past few months, esp since
sara’s birthday
b) they just showed up at school
together on a school night
c) ava is wearing sara’s clothes

conclusion: they had sex i’m abt
to have a mental breakdown


Lily:
SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP WHERE
ARE THEY @Nate WHERE ARE YOU


Nate:
BY MR STEIN’S PHYSICS CLASS BUT
THEY’RE HEADING TO AVA’S LOCKER
I’M GONNA LIKE SUBTLY TRY FOLLOW


Lily:
oKAY OMW


Amaya:
Whoa guys, hang on

That doesn’t sound like Ava

Tbh that doesn’t even sound
like Sara these days


Zari:
I mean maybe they’ve finally
admitted their dumb gross
feelings for each other and it
wasn’t just a hookup?


Ray:
@ Nate were they holding hands
or something???


Nate:
Idk I didn’t see they’re by Ava’s
locker rn

They’re standing really close


Wally:
i’m fine i’m fine i’m fine i’m fine


You:
Wait I’m in that hallway rn

Nate oh my god you literally
look like you’re about to fckn
combust calm down chill out


Gary:
HEY CAN YOU BLAME HIM


Jax:
dO THEY LOOK LOVESTRUCK


Zari:
GIVE US THE PLAY BY  PLAY


You:
Guys guys guys shut up

Something’s wrong


Amaya:
What do you mean?


You:
It’s Ava, something’s wrong
with Ava


Gary:
how bad?


Ray:
How can you tell?


You:
She’s been my best friend
since we were 6 I know her

She’s been crying

They both look like they
haven’t gotten any sleep


Lily:
Ava’s been acting so weird lately

They’ve gone to each other about
like, big stuff first over this year so
far

You think she went to Sara abt
whatever’s been up these last 2
weeks???


You:
They definitely didn’t have sex
guys so drop that thought asap


Amaya:
How bad do you think it is?


You:
Ava literally looks like a fucking
trainwreck, I think it’s Bad

I don’t even know what could be
wrong, after everything with her
mom after she came out I can’t
think of anything that would like,
break Ava this much

Unless


Kuasa:
Unless????


You:
@Gary @Lily @Kuasa Spencer??


Gary:
oh no

oh shit no no no


Zari:
Wait her brother Spencer? What
about him?


You:
He’s in the army, what if …?


Amaya:
Oh my god no


Lily:
Okay guys no think rationally

If something had happened to Spencer
we would’ve heard about it, like Ali
would be just as crushed, Ava probably
wouldn’t have come to school for a bit


Nate:
Yeah she’s been weird since school
started again, we definitely would’ve
heard by then if it was something that
big


You:
Okay I think Sara’s going to
her locker

I’m gonna talk to Ava

I’ll keep you guys updated

 


 

The closer Nora got to where Ava was standing, the clearer the slight redness around her eyes became, and the more obvious was that both she and Sara had had very little sleep, if they had slept at all. Ava shivered in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with the cold, leaning closer to Sara’s side, and Nora watched as Sara slipped her hand into Ava’s, brushing her thumb gently across Ava’s skin and causing Ava to visibly relax, some of the tension she was carrying draining from her shoulders.

Nora walked closer until she could lean against the locker next to Sara, making sure Ava saw her but not wanting to breach her personal space. Ava swallowed slightly as her eyes met Nora’s for the first time, wrapping her free hand tightly around her waist, fingers barely creeping out of the sleeve of the oversized soccer hoodie she was wearing (Nora was trying very hard to ignore the letters SL embroidered clearly on the sleeve).

She watched as Sara smiled softly at Ava, raising an eyebrow to ask a question Nora didn’t understand. Nevertheless Ava nodded, and Sara gave her hand one final squeeze before slipping way to talk to Nate and Ray, leaving Nora and Ava alone to talk.

“Hey,” Nora greeted quietly, deliberately not asking if Ava was okay, not wanting to give her the chance to lie about how she was doing. She also purposefully didn’t mention where Ava had clearly spent the night, because like she’d said in the group chat - something was wrong, and the Ava and Sara thing was definitely not top priority right now (although Nora wasn’t going to pretend that a small part of her wasn’t absolutely, stupidly ecstatic about this small development).

Ava smiled back, or at least tried to, but it seemed a little too out of place, a little too fragile for Nora’s liking.

“It’s not - ” Nora hesitated, eyes flickering upwards to scan Ava’s face, just to be sure before she carefully said, “It’s not Spencer, is it?”

Ava shook her head immediately, closing her eyes for a moment as though trying to keep tears from falling. It took everything Nora had not to reach out for her.

“No,” Ava said in a small voice. “No, he’s … he’s fine.”

Nora nodded. “Okay. I just wanted to check.”

Ava didn’t reply, her hands fidgeting absentmindedly with the cuffs of Sara’s hoodie. Nora wouldn’t have worried about it but it seemed such an anxious and panicky movement that Nora couldn’t stop herself from curling her hands around Ava’s and squeezing to try and still the movements. Ava shivered again, freezing briefly and then shoving her hands deep into her pockets, trying but failing to hide the way they were shaking. Nora sighed softly, unsure what to do when Ava seemed so reluctant to give her any information. She was used to the roles being reversed.

“I’m not gonna push Ava,” she said quietly when Ava remained silent. “Just let us know if there’s anything we can do to help, yeah?”

Something between relief and conflicted confusion flashed in Ava’s eyes before she nodded again just as the bell rang for homeroom. Nora offered a gentle, reassuring smile in response, nudging Ava’s shoulder and tilting her head slightly in the direction they were supposed to be walking as other students began to flood through the hallway. Ava exhaled shakily, running one hand through her hair and starting to walk, and Nora guessed the action was mostly so she didn’t have to see Nora’s face as she murmured “It’s just family shit, y’know.”

Nora snorted. “I do know. In fact, I’m thinking about majoring in it at college, it does seem to be my speciality.”

Ava laughed, quiet and a little uncertain, but a definite genuine laugh nonetheless, and Nora grinned a little. Sara appeared at Ava’s side as they passed Nate’s lockers, joined by Nate, Ray and Lily. Sara offered Ava a comforting smile that the others didn’t seem to catch and Nora was certain she wasn’t meant to have seen.

Well.

Family shit or not, something had shifted last night, even if Sara and Ava hadn’t noticed it themselves.

 


 

As the floods of students rolled out of the school, eager to get home after a predictably long and dreary Monday, Ava caught Nora’s arm as she went to walk out of the gate, pulling her across to the other side of the road. A few minutes earlier, she’d insisted to Sara that she was okay going back home, and even though Sara clearly hadn’t believed her, she’d nodded, not trying to change Ava’s mind, but making sure she knew to call her the moment anything was wrong, or even if it wasn’t and she just wanted to talk. Ava had nodded, agreeing, but in the few minutes since Sara had left she’d started to question her decision, becoming more and more unsure by the second. The idea of going home alone was sending Ava into a quickly spiralling state of anxiety.

“Ava?” Nora asked, voice tinged with as much concern as she’d clearly been trying to disguise this morning.

Ava swallowed, fiddling with the straps of her backpack. “D’you wanna … are you … I dunno, are you free tonight?”

Nora’s expression softened. “For you? ‘Course I am Aves.”

The sense of relief that Nora’s gentle reassurance brought her was overwhelming and Ava smiled slightly as a silent thanks. She was still more than a little on edge, but before either of them could say anything else Layla pulled up beside them, and Nora nudged Ava, tugging her into the car. Ava waited for Layla to mention something about her vanishing the night before, about Robert being furious or Barbara having infinite punishments lined up the minute Ava stepped foot back in the house.

(She didn’t - the car journey was silent, and although Ava was grateful for the lack of questions, it didn’t exactly help her growing panic about going back to the house she’d called her home for 18 years without even knowing better.)

 

Her mom - Barbara - was acting … nice. Overly nice, almost nice enough that it was suspicious when she gently asked Nora how she was doing and made them both a cup of tea before leaving them to go upstairs and talk, letting them both know she was downstairs if she needed them, but not once mentioning Ava’s disappearance the night before. Ava didn’t miss the odd look Nora shot in her direction once Barbara’s back was turned, but she just shrugged, not quite understanding either - she’d convinced herself on the way home that Barbara would be fuming that she’d snuck out of the house after midnight, without leaving a note, Sara’s text to Ali being the only indication that Ava was actually okay. Ava had been pretty certain Barbara would never let her out of the house again.

Apparently not.

Once her mom - Barbara, not her mom - had left, Ava practically dragged Nora upstairs, leaning back against the door and closing her eyes for a moment once they were in her room, trying to remember how to breathe.

“We don’t have to launch right into whatever this is now, you know,” Nora said quietly from when she had perched on the side of the bed. “I doubt your mom’s gonna be kicking me out anytime soon, she’ll probably offer me a dinner invitation.”

Nora wasn’t wrong, but Ava shook her head, walking slowly over to her bed and sitting down, leaning against the headboard. She swallowed. “No,” she said softly, shaking her head. “If I don’t tell you now, I’ll never be able to.”

Nora frowned, concerned and clearly about to ask more questions. Before she could, Ava yanked open her bedside drawer and pulled out a thick folder, shoving it into Nora’s hands without opening it, hating the way her hands were still trembling. Nora looked at her for a long moment, expression indecipherable. Ava just shook her head, somehow unable to explain this all to Nora, not when she’d known her for almost as long as she could remember.

“Just read it,” she eventually whispered, and only then did Nora look down, slowly opening the file and beginning to look through the papers.

Ava had needed Sara’s calm the night before, had desperately needed the way she had schooled her features and talked her down and reminded her that she still had another family who loved her, and who would always be there. That was why she’d gone to Sara first, even though that decision was more subconscious than anything else, panicked and shaking and calling the first person she could think of.

But now that the realisation had begun to settle in, she also needed someone to scan through the documents like Nora was doing right now, looking at her birth certificate in confusion and wondering what it was doing in the file, searching through more and more wordy, confusing documents before she found what she was looking for. Nora froze, jaw going slack and breath hitching in her throat just as Ava’s had done two weeks earlier as she finally found the adoption papers near the back of the file, staring at them for a moment before slowly lifting her head to meet Ava’s eyes, confused and angry and upset and so, so much more.

It was almost reassuring, seeing Nora cycle through the exact same emotions she’d gone through - Nora knew her far too well by now to pretend that this was fine, to maintain any semblance of calm. Nora exhaled, placing the papers down gently on the bed. “They told you?”

Ava froze, breath caught in her lungs. Neither of them said anything for a long moment, but the silence was more informative than any response could ever be, so Nora shoved the papers roughly away from her and pushed herself up, eyes burning as she said angrily “I swear to God Ava, I’m gonna - ”

“No,” Ava said far too quietly, catching Nora’s arm before she could storm out of the room and confront Barbara, even though it was what she deserved. “Nora, no.

The words came out far more desperate than Ava had intended, but they did the trick, and Nora sank back to the bed, looking back at Ava, even more concerned than she had been before.

“Why not?”

Ava shook her head, trying her hardest to put thoughts into words. “I...I’m not ready to do it yet. But…” she exhaled slowly, trying to calm both herself and Nora down. “ I need to be the one who does it. It’s gotta be me.”

Nora frowned, nodding as if she knew Ava’s words were true, but hating that she couldn’t do anything to help. After a moment, she sat back on the bed, swinging her legs up and leaning next to Ava against the headboard. “Okay,” she agreed softly, putting the papers carefully back into the folder and closing it. “Okay.”

Ava was going to say something else, a question about something unrelated, but before she could her phone buzzed loudly. She picked it up of the bedside table, reading through the message and snorting in surprise, sounding more lighthearted than Nora had heard her since before the winter break. Nora turned, arching a questioning eyebrow, but before she could ask, Ava smiled a small, genuine smile and said “Apparently Ali told mom you had an emergency last night, to explain why I vanished. That’s why she’s acting so weird towards you rather than yelling at me.”

Nora snickered at Ali’s quick thinking, tilting her head back to rest against the windowsill. “Well, what can I say, I am her favourite daughter.” Ava winced and Nora’s eyes widened, instantly realising what she’d said. “Sorry,” she said quickly, grimacing. “I’m guessing that inside joke won’t quite be on the table for a while.”

Ava laughed a little flatly, mirroring Nora and leaning back to rest her head against the headboard, her eyes snapping shut. She wanted so desperately to be able to say something lighthearted to Nora, to assure that she was doing at least kind of okay after Sara had talked her down, just to say something. Because Nora had known her forever and as much as Ava had needed someone who had that kind of place in her life to understand how insane this revelation was, it also made it so much bigger and more daunting and Ava now needed some way to regain control over how she felt about it all. But her mouth had gone dry at Nora’s accidental quip and she couldn’t bring herself to say anything, even as her brain whirred desperately at double speed to try and manufacture some kind of appropriate response.

Nora’s voice was quiet when it broke the tense silence between them, and Ava almost jumped at the feeling of Nora’s hand on her knee as she said “Hey. Aves.” Ava opened her eyes hesitantly to see Nora watching her carefully. “What’re you thinking?” she asked softly.

Ava shook her head. “I can’t -”

“Yes you can,” interrupted Nora firmly. “It’s me, remember? Anything ever, it’s always okay, that’s what you used to tell me right? No matter how sad or horrible or scary or dark or illogical, I could always tell you. I’ve told you the worst thoughts that have ever gone through my head Aves, don’t feel like you can’t tell me absolutely anything.”

Ava met Nora’s eyes, saw pure, unfaltering honesty there and grasped ahold of a moment of courage as she mumbled out “I’ve been thinking … maybe … you know, this is why my mom always hated me so much. It … it made sense.”

“Ava -”

“I wasn’t really hers, so it was harder to love me, harder to make me into who she wanted. And it was easier for her to condemn me for all the ways I was different - for being so tomboyish and rebelling in everything she wanted me to be - and then acting the way she did when I came out.” Ava’s voice shook as she spoke and she curled her hands into tight fists in her lap. “But … but what I don’t understand is … if that’s the reason she never connected with me, why did she always love you so much?”

Nora’s eyes widened, and Ava wondered whether she should press her mouth shut and forget this part of the conversation had happened, but now that she’d started talking about it, it was as though the words fell from her lips of their own accord.

“It’s not like you were her daughter either, and it’s not like you fit all the rigid rules for what she wanted out of a kid or around her kids - you were this troublemaker foster kid whose dad had turned into a criminal and was all over the news, whose Mom had died in the way that people at church whispered rudely about and I remember the awful looks my relatives gave us during the Christmases you’d be at my house but Mom still protected you no matter what, and I know she still would. She loves you Nor.” Ava could taste the salt from the tears that were streaming down her face, could feel the bitterness for blurting this warped accusation at Nora, but the thoughts were pressing this painful weight on her chest that was so heavy that Ava felt like she could barely breathe. “So why was she so determined not to love me ? What did I do? I know I’m not hers, but neither are you, and she wasn’t willing to support me when I came out, she let Susan say what she did at Thanksgiving and never even stood up for me. It has to be more than this whole adoption thing right? What did I do that was so wrong that she hates me so much?” The last sentence came out as a choked gasp, thick with tears and Nora’s arms were around Ava before either of them could say anything, just in time for Ava to crumble.

“Oh Aves,” murmured Nora, hugging Ava tightly. “God, I’m so sorry.”

“‘S not you,” whispered Ava brokenly into Nora’s shoulder. “I shouldn’t’ve made it sound like your fault. You didn’t … I didn’t mean it like that. I would redo it all exactly the same a hundred times over to have you as my best friend because you deserved to have my family when you needed us the most.”

“Your mom loves you Ava,” said Nora.

“She’s not my mom,” muttered Ava petulantly, sniffling. Nora whacked her elbow.

“Yes she is,” she said sharply. “She’s raised you your entire damn life Aves, saying she’s not your mom disregards the validity of adoptive parents’ for kids everywhere.”

Though part of Ava felt a spike of anger towards Nora for her blunt reprimand, and part of her felt nauseous still at the words adoptive parents , another part was relieved. Relieved that someone was here, telling her to stop being stupid, to stop pretending that she wasn’t at least in some way a Sharpe.

“For what it’s worth,” said Nora, leaning back in and reaching down to gently brush away some of Ava’s tears, “I think how your mom treated me isn’t some kind of indicator that she loved you less, I think it proves that how she treated you had nothing to do with you not being biologically hers. I’m not saying it excuses it, because God knows she was shitty to you for a long time and you definitely didn’t deserve that. But I think when you finally feel up to it, you should talk to her. About all of this. It’s the only way you’re going to figure out why.

Ava didn’t reply. She couldn’t find the energy to argue with Nora’s logic, but the thought of facing Barbara and demanding why she’d always been second - or third, or fourth, even fifth - best was still too much to even fathom. “Can we just … just sit here for a bit?” she whispered. She was glad to have told Nora. It was nice knowing that she had two different kind of friends in her corner who knew , and who could help her figure out in their own ways how to approach this situation in the days and weeks to come. Ava hadn’t planned on telling Nora anytime soon - in fact, it hadn’t even crossed her mind. But now that she had, she couldn’t imagine having to keep this a secret from her.

“Yeah,” murmured Nora, fixing Ava’s hair before dropping her hand to Ava’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “Yeah, always. As long as you need.”

Ava nestled into Nora’s side, a closeness that was usually very uncharacteristic for them (save for situations like these, where the world felt like it was falling apart and nothing was safe or familiar or secure, and the only thing either of them could do was pull the other close and promise they’d be there no matter what.)

“I’ll always need you Nor,” Ava said quietly, hoping it would at least somewhat make up for the slightly resentful words she’d let slip before.

Nora hummed softly. “You’ll always have me Aves. I promise.”

 

Chapter Text

Somehow - Ava wasn’t quite sure how (that was a lie, yes she was, it was Sara) - she managed to make it through the week. She managed not to fall behind in school, was nudged out of her absent minded anxious spirals of thought by Sara, was prompted to laugh and roll her eyes and feel somewhat normal by the rest of the legends during the day. Their antics and the bickering, the familiarity of them all, the hum of comfort their jokes and speculations and ridiculous plans brought was everything Ava hadn’t realised she needed since finding out she was adopted.

It turned out, Sara had been right. They were the family she hadn’t even realised she had, and right now, that meant everything.

By Friday, miraculously, Ava’s entire brain wasn’t all consumed by overthinking her place in the Sharpe family. Instead, she was trying not to roll her eyes at the constant stream of messages Gary was sending to their old group chat as they all tried to brainstorm prank ideas.

(It had been a tradition every year of high school that after the winter holidays, both Ava and Sara’s friend groups had a prank war up until spring break. It had started as a competition among their whole grade, but even during freshman year it become very clear that Ava and Sara’s groups were the two most creative, and the animosity between Ava and Sara just made things all the more interesting. Sara and the legends had won that first year, and by sophomore year, though several others in their grade participated, it soon became a schoolwide spectacle to see which group was going to best the other in the annual competition.

This year, Rip had jokingly mentioned in homeroom that with their groups no longer at odds and now all one big bunch of friends, there would be no prank war this year. It’d been Nate and Gary, outraged at Rip’s insinuation that they would let senior year pass without the annual prank wars, who immediately declared that it was still happening ‘for old time’s sake’. According to them, the fact that they were all friends now would make it even more amusing this year.)

Ava let out an exasperated sigh as dozens of messages lit up her lock screen. She muted the chat, not quite okay enough yet to handle Gary and his unbridled energy and enthusiasm or being dragged into discussions over the prank ‘greatest hits’.  

“Hey, Ava.”

Ava glanced up, smiling with slight surprise. Zari was leaning against the locker next to Ava’s, fiddling with the straps of her bag with definite uncertainty.

“Hey,” said Ava, slipping her phone into her back pocket and dialling in her locker combination. “What’s up?”

Zari bit her bottom lip, waiting for Ava to finish unloading her textbooks before she quietly said “I was wondering if you - maybe - had a minute to, you know … talk.”

Ava did know.

She knew exactly what Zari wanted to talk to her about.

Despite all of Zari’s efforts, after the winter break, Behrad had been sent away to boarding school, and even though Ava had been caught up in the chaos that was her own family life right now, it’d been hard to miss how much Zari was struggling. She’d been so quiet and withdrawn at lunch over the past few weeks, one hand attached to Amaya’s at all times, leaning against her side. However much Nate and Ray tried to make her laugh the most she ever managed was a small, slightly fragile smile.

Zari wasn’t by any means the loudest one in the group, but everyone had missed her snide comments and inappropriately timed jokes - it felt as if she’d vanished, even though she was sitting right beside them. But no one could blame her, not when she was clearly in so much pain with the emptiness Behrad had left behind in his absence.

So yeah, Ava knew that Zari wanted to talk to her about Spencer, and him going away, and God, Ava wished more than anything that she could just forget how much more complicated talking about all of this suddenly was after discovering the truth about her adoption, because she wanted more than anything to be able to give Zari the advice she needed. Especially when she looked like that, eyes wide and full of pain, confused, lost, and a little alone. Ava closed her locker, shoving the books she needed into her bag and fiddling slightly with the bracelet around her wrist. She sucked in a sharp breath, swinging her bag over her shoulder. “Yeah,” she said after a moment. “Yeah, okay, of course.”

Zari looked so incredibly relieved by her agreement that Ava couldn’t bring it in herself to regret her reply, even when she knew it was going to send her into a black hole of her own thoughts about Spencer and her relationship with him. Zari needed this. Zari deserved someone to be able to give her some sort of peace about this. So Ava just offered her as comforting of a smile as she could manage before she had to look away, leading Zari towards a quieter part of the corridor just so she couldn’t see the guilt that clawed at her stomach, because the thing was, Zari wanted help from someone who had a similar relationship with their brother. Back at the start of the year, that’d been Ava … but now -

Now, Ava just felt like a fraud.

She eventually came to a halt near their French classroom, turning around to look at Zari and giving her what she hoped was another, reassuring smile. “Go on,” she prompted quietly, sensing Zari’s hesitance. “Ask whatever you want. Seriously.”

Zari paused for another long moment, eyes scanning Ava’s face for any reluctance or unease that Ava desperately hoped she was hiding. Zari cleared her throat, wincing almost imperceptibly at how loud the sound was in the unusually quiet corridor. “How uh … how did you deal with it? When … when he went away? Your brother, I mean.”

Your brother.

Ava had to purposefully stop herself from flinching at the words, but thankfully Zari’s eyes were now fixed on her sleeve, fingers picking at the seam of the flannel she was wearing. Ava swallowed thickly, but before she could answer Zari had continued, voice trembling slightly. “I just don’t know what to do. He was just … the house is so quiet now, without him. Usually he was singing and laughing and being so fucking annoying but he made me play soccer with him outside and I had to watch his dumb cartoons after school and it was all so ridiculous but without it all, everything feels so empty. I - I feel like I’ve lost something. Someone. I don’t know. And I know he’s not gone , I know I’ll see him during spring break and then over the summer but it’s just -” She ran a frustrated hand through her hair before shrugging helplessly. “I tried explaining it to Amaya, but I couldn’t find the words, I just - I dunno, I guess I just thought you’d get it, because you said your brother left, and …”

She broke off, voice cracking slightly and Ava knew she should’ve reached out, taken Zari’s hand and squeezed it or offered the advice that Zari had clearly come here for, but instead she froze, the words your brother left echoing round and round and round her head, drowning out anything else.

Of course, Zari didn’t know about the adoption thing.

Ava had only told Sara, Nora and very recently Gary, so there was no way Zari could know. And way back at the start of the year, when Behrad being sent away to school had first been mentioned, Ava had told Zari she could talk to her about it anytime, so she was entirely to blame for getting herself into this situation, but now … now she just felt that same guilt from before settling deep in her stomach, making her feel more and more nauseous the more time she spent here, talking to Z, pretending she understood.

She’d thought she understood, but now she felt like she was lying, because it turned out Spencer was never her brother anyway, so how could their experiences even begin to compare?

“Ava?” Zari murmured quietly, desperate for something, anything, to hold on to, and Ava swallowed again, trying her hardest to make sure her thoughts didn’t show on her face. Zari didn’t need to hear any of this on top of her own problems right now. Besides, it wasn’t that Ava didn’t want to tell her, it was just … this definitely wasn’t the right time.

“Honestly … I could’ve dealt with it better,” Ava said after a long pause, voice quiet enough that Zari would’ve missed it, had she not been waiting so desperately for a response. “I mean, I was a kid, you know? I didn’t understand why he was leaving - I did when I got older, especially when I started getting the brunt of all my … my mom’s shit.” (She hoped Zari hadn’t heard the way her voice had wavered on mom .) “But back then, I was so angry with him for just leaving me behind that we didn’t talk for ages. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew it wasn’t his fault, I knew he deserved to go live his own life and get away from our parents and stuff but I took it out on him and I think… I think we maybe that’s when we started to lose each other.”

But not why, Ava added in her head, biting her tongue to stop herself from saying it out loud, reminding herself that it was her who didn’t talk to Spencer for months after he left, not the other way around. But that said … maybe, for all these years, she’d been blaming him for leaving when she should’ve been blaming him for lying to her over and over an over, keeping their parent’s secrets with no thought about the cost, or how much it’d hurt her in the future.

If he had known , Ava reminded herself weakly, clinging onto that one final thread of hope.

(He must’ve known. He couldn’t’ve not known.)

Ava shivered even though they were  nowhere near an open door or window, ignoring the odd, slightly concerned look Zari was giving her. “Make sure he knows how much you love him,” she said, shoving her shaking hands into her pockets. “Make sure he understands why he was sent away. Because if he doesn’t - ” She cut herself off, swallowing thickly and trying to get her thoughts back into order. “That’s … that’s when misunderstandings happen.”

Zari frowned, eyes now fixed on Ava, still looking concerned. “What do you mean?”

Ava shrugged, unable to help Zari without spilling her secrets to the world, secrets she wasn’t ready for the world to know. “I don’t - I don’t mean anything, that was - sorry. I … look, just make sure you tell him how much you love him, okay?”

“I do,” Zari said firmly, tapping her fingers anxiously against her leg. “And I know he loves me more than anything,” she added slowly, words hesitant, but still filled with a quiet confidence. A confidence that Ava envied more than anything, because a month ago, she would’ve said the same, and believed it with all of her heart. But now … now she couldn’t help but wonder, because maybe for Spencer keeping up the pretence of being her family had just become too much, and he’d had to get out. Or maybe he’d just realised that pretending to love her would only get harder and harder as she grew up, and that she’d start to notice that things were wrong, and ask for answers he’d sworn not to give her.

Either way, he’d known, and he’d left her alone in a house full of strangers because of it.

“Ava?” Zari asked again, and only then did Ava realise she’d been quiet for too long, had zoned out enough that Zari had caught onto there being something else here.

“Sorry,” she murmured, pulling her phone out of her pocket to check for notifications she knew she didn’t have. She exhaled, trying and failing to force the tension from her shoulders. “Sorry, I gotta - I need to go.”

She could hear Zari quietly asking if she was okay, saying her name, but Ava couldn’t focus, couldn’t manage to concentrate on the words, could only keep walking away from the questions she didn’t want to think about, and the answers she already knew. Her phone vibrated in her hand, this time with a text from Sara asking where she was and if she was okay, but Ava just shoved it roughly back into her pocket, closing her eyes and leaning back against the wall once she was out of view. She’d told Sara she’d meet her in the library for their study period, but there was no way she’d be able to concentrate now, not with this many questions about Spencer flying round her brain at a million miles per hour.

Ava sighed, before pushing herself off the wall and picking up the bag she’d dumped at her feet, heading towards the library. To pull herself back from her fear and uncertainty, she firmly reminded herself that it was Sara and Sara would make things easier. Sara would calm her down, Sara would make her feel like the world wasn’t ending, Sara would assure her that Zari wasn’t going to go spreading rumours that something was up with Ava.

Sara wasn’t going to push, not even if she just sat and stared at the worksheet she needed to do until the bell rang for the end of school.

 


 

There was just something about the way Sara was sitting there, sending concerned glances in her direction every few minutes as she stared blankly at the math question in front of her, that made her want to hide. And yet somehow at the same time it made her want to open up, to tell Sara everything that was on her mind, to let Sara persuade her to do something about her problems rather than just ignoring them for as long as possible.

Because of course Sara could be the one person who made Ava feel both unbelievably terrified and also so, so safe at the same time.

Ava sighed, looking back down at the jumbled numbers on the page her brain couldn’t focus on one last time before putting her pen down on the table and running one trembling hand through her hair. Sara leaned back in her chair, eyes fixed on Ava, even more worried than before yet still not asking for any answers Ava didn’t want to give. Ava let out a shaky breath, eyes fixed on the desk. “I talked to Zari,” she said quietly.

Sara’s eyes widened slightly in surprise before the expression vanished from her face. She slid one hand across the desk to place it across Ava’s fingers, which had started tapping anxiously against the table without her realising, squeezing lightly, but still not speaking.

“She … we talked, a bit, about Spencer. And Behrad, obviously. But - ” Ava cut herself off, not sure how to word what she was trying to say. Sara sat with her in silence for a moment, only the sounds of other people talking quietly and turning pages disturbing them. Sara’s fingers traced soft circles across Ava’s skin, causing goosebumps to shoot up her arms at the contact, thankfully distracting her slightly from her other problem. Sara frowned slightly, seeming to follow her train of thought about Spencer not actually being her brother without Ava needing to say a word.

“You could talk to him,” Sara eventually said in a soft voice, but she seemed to sense Ava’s panic before it had even had time to take effect, adding quickly “Not now. Not today, if you’re not ready for that. But … at some point.”

Ava exhaled, forcing some of the tension from her shoulders as she gave Sara a small, hesitant nod. Sara smiled, her thumb brushing against the small, basketball charm hanging from Ava’s bracelet as she retracted her hand. This time, Ava lost her breath for entirely different reasons and she silently reprimanded herself as she attempted to find some sort of control over her emotions, eventually murmuring an agreement.

“You might even find some of the answers you’re looking for,” Sara pointed it out quietly, and it wasn’t that Ava hadn’t considered it before, but somehow the words sounded more reasonable, more logical coming out of Sara’s mouth, so she nodded.

“Yeah,” she agreed in a small voice after a long pause. “If he remembers me being...adopted, then I guess - he must know why, or … or why they didn’t tell me or … I don’t know -”

“He’ll know something, even if he doesn’t know the full story,” Sara interrupted firmly, and it was so sure and confident that Ava couldn’t help but believe her. She nodded, giving Sara a thankful smile. Sara returned it warmly before clearing her throat and picking up her pen from the table, twirling it round her fingers. “Okay, so, now we’ve talked about that, can I have some help with 2b? I would copy you, but you haven’t done it yet.”

Ava gave her a scandalised glare, to which Sara just laughed, grinning back at her. Ava rolled her eyes, grateful Sara had pushed the Spencer issue as far as she needed, but still stopped the moment the conversation started to go somewhere she wasn’t ready to hear just yet. She would talk to him, soon - Sara was right; either he hadn’t known, or he’d have answers, but either option would be better than her sitting here with endless possibilities swirling round her mind, unable to work out what was going on.

 


 

Messenger

Zari Tomaz
Active now

FRI, 4:19pm:


Hey


I’m sorry for running out before


There’s weird stuff going on w my
family atm and Spencer’s a part
of it all, I didn’t quite know what
to say or whether my advice would
even be any help and I kind of flaked


Dude no it’s fine


I’m sorry if it brought up anything
you’re not rlly ok to talk about rn,
i would never put u in that position


No, I know, I’m fine Z, I swear


Give me this weekend to sort out
all my family shit (at least w Spencer)
and then I’m all ears to talk about
Behrad leaving


I know it’s not easy, not at all and
I’m still here to talk, I just gotta
actually take my own advice for a
second, it turns out


Well for what it’s worth


It’s pretty good advice


I called Behrad last night and i think
it helped both of us to talk it all out


And uh, idk what’s going on rn with
your fam but this goes both ways -
you can talk to me if you want to


Or any of us


We all care about you Ava, we’ve got
your back if you need us


I know xxx


Even if we are gonna kick all
your asses in this prank war but
you know, whatever ;-)


Ha


You wish Sharpe


Seen: Friday, 4:28pm.

 


 

Spence

Text Message
(Ava Sharpe)
Saturday


1:58pm:
Are you busy?


2:05pm:
Hello to you too Aves


2:05pm:
Are you?


2:06pm:
No, why? You okay?


2:11pm:
Aves, what’s up?


2:12pm:
Did you know?


2:12pm:
Know what????


2:15pm:
Ava what are you talking
about???


2:17pm:
Wait


2:17pm:
Do you mean


2:17pm:
Aves


2:19pm:
Did they tell you?


2:19pm:
So you knew


2:20pm:
Ava


2:20pm:
That’s all I wanted to know


2:20pm:
I know you’re probably busy
sorry for bothering you


2:21pm:
Ava, jesus just stop for a sec


2:21pm:
Did they tell you?


2:24pm:
No


2:24pm:
I found the papers


2:24pm:
Shit


2:25pm:
Listen, give me 10 minutes and I’ll
call you, is that okay?


2:28pm:
Aves come on please


2:29pm:
Okay


2:29pm:
Fine

 


 

This was a mistake. Spencer was going to call, and tell her that it was true, he wasn’t her brother, he’d just tried his hardest to do what their parents wanted - to make her feel like she belonged, when in actual fact, there was nowhere she belonged less. Ava sucked in a shaky breath, pulling on some shoes and creeping out of the house, shoving her hands into her pockets in a futile attempt to stop them shaking.

She shouldn’t’ve texted him. This was a conversation she desperately wanted to have face-to-face, but since yesterday’s talk with Zari she hadn’t been able to think, hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything other than the fear in her stomach, the absolute, petrifying, all consuming fear of losing Spencer. Spencer, who’d been the only real support she’d had in this house for so long, until Ali had grown old enough to make her own decisions, rather than just following her mom’s - Barbara’s - lead.

Ava paced around outside for a moment, until the shivers from the dread of Spencer’s incoming call merged with her shivers from the cold, and she snuck into the pool house (which wasn’t necessarily much warmer at this time of the year), closing the door behind her and sinking down to the floor, leaning back. Not to keep the door shut, but, well … to make sure no one came in. She wasn’t ready to have this conversation with her family, not when that would mean having this conversation with Ali - not when that would mean losing Ali for good.

Because Ali didn’t know.

Whereas Spencer did. And in all honesty, Ava had absolutely no idea which was worse.

Her phone buzzed against her leg and Ava pulled it sharply out of her pocket, but the moment Spencer’s contact photo flashed up she felt that now familiar panic crawling up her spine, making it impossible to breathe, to think, to move. She reached out to decline the call, letting her head tip back against the door as she smothered a sob, gripping her wrist so tightly with her other hand that she could feel the charms on her bracelet digging into her skin as she sucked in a frantic, shaky breath. The phone rang for a second time, but this time she didn’t hesitate, declining the call instantly and tossing it onto the floor, running both trembling hands through her hair before dropping her head down to rest on her knees, not even trying to hide the way her shoulders were shaking now that no one was here to see.

 

2 missed calls

 

Spence
Saturday, 2:35pm


Spence
Saturday, 2:35pm


Spence

Text Message
(Ava Sharpe)
Saturday


2:36pm:
Ava


2:37pm:
It’s okay


2:37pm:
Please pick up


The phone rang for a third time, vibrating against the cool pool tiles and echoing in the empty room, far too loud, still making Ava’s breathing catch in her chest as she reached to pick it up. It took far too long for her to work up the courage to accept the call, lifting the phone up with a still shaking hand and pressing it against her ear.

She didn’t know what to say.

And it was stupid, because she’d had all morning to think about it - she’d been playing this conversation on loop in her head for the past few weeks, ever since she first found those adoption papers in the attic the week before her birthday; she’d run through every possible outcome over and over again, until she could barely bear to think about it. But still, when Spencer said her name gently from the other end of the line, it felt like he was a stranger, a million miles away, and instantly everything she’d planned to say vanished from her head. Ava shuddered, leaning her head back against the door and closing her eyes, not realising tears were rolling down her cheeks until she faintly heard them drip onto the cool tiles below.

Ava wiped her eyes, sniffing slightly, wishing Spencer’s voice wasn’t so gentle, so concerned as he murmured her name for a second time, and then said quietly “tell me what happened, yeah Aves?”

She tried.

She really did try, opening her mouth and putting all of her energy into speaking, letting the truth fall from her lips. But just like the first few times she’d tried to talk to Sara, no words came out, and Ava choked back a sob, burying her head in her hands. She couldn’t. Because the moment she told him she knew the truth, he’d leave, and Ava had never felt more alone in her life than she did right now, and she thought he was safe and she’d thought he cared and that he would always love her even if their parents didn’t, and she couldn’t bear it if -

“Breathe, Ava,” Spencer reminded her quietly, and she shuddered, knuckles whitening around the phone as she tried frantically to force air into her lungs.

He waited until she’d caught her breath before asking again, and this time, after a moment of hesitation, Ava managed to work up the guts to tell him about looking for photos in the attic, about finding the file and the birth certificate and all of the information she needed to put two and two together. And somehow, after that, she kept talking, telling him how she hadn’t been able to confront their parents yet because she was so scared of what they would say, how scared she was of losing him and Ali, and even Layla, how she wasn’t even sure if either of them actually knew , or if their parents had just been lying to everyone else as well.

Spencer didn’t speak, not yet, but he might as well have, the question have you been keeping this to yourself all this time? thick and heavy in the air. Ava wiped away a few more stray tears, opening her mouth several more times before she managed to force out “I told Sara,” small and quiet and far too shaky.

“Yeah?” Spencer asked quietly, clearly looking for more information, but Ava remained silent, pressing one hand over her mouth to muffle the choked half sob that threatened to escape.

Instead of pushing for more information, Spencer waited for her to pull herself together, didn’t speak until he heard the small “Spence?” she murmured, voice miserable, still trembling. “Can you just - if you hate me, just tell me now. Because you’re not my brother, so you don’t have any obligations now, and if you’re gonna say it i’d rather you did it now than - ”

“Ava, just because we’re not related by blood doesn’t mean we’re not still siblings,” Spencer responded a little too harshly, causing a fresh wave of tears to roll down Ava’s cheeks. “God, Aves, I love you more than anything, you know that, right?”

Ava’s breath caught in her throat, and she didn’t respond.

“Aves?” he asked again, bordering on desperate, and Ava curled her free hand around the bracelet on her wrist, fingering the little rose gold basketball Sara had found and using the cool metal to ground her, bring her back to reality rather than letting her thoughts wander.

She swallowed thickly, voice barely audible as she finally replied “I don’t know Spence, I thought you did, but now I can’t stop my mind from running over every crazy scenario and every single reason why - ”

Why you left.

Ava choked slightly on her words as she cut herself off, but thankfully Spencer didn’t realise where she was heading, and instead asked “Why this would change things?” When she didn’t reply, he said her name again, adding quietly “this could never change things between us Ava - I already knew.

“Then why did you lie?” Ava demanded, a hint of anger entering her voice for the first time as she sat up straighter, wishing she could see Spencer’s face, but at the same time glad that she couldn’t. “If this doesn’t change anything, they why keep it from me? Why pretend? Why didn’t you just tell me?

“You know why,” came the inevitable response, and she did, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. Because she’d known from the start that it was her parents who’d hidden this, not her brother, but even so...maybe if he’d had a reason, it would’ve been easier to understand, easier to forgive.

Neither of them said anything for several minutes.

Ava watched the wind ripple through the trees out the pool house window, considered hanging up because she didn’t know if she had anything left to say. But she didn’t want to. She’d waited so long to talk to someone who could actually give her some kind of answers and she wasn’t ready to go back to the lonely confusion of trying to make sense of all of this on her own.

“You know,” said Spencer eventually, even quieter than before, and Ava could’ve sworn she heard the tears in his voice. “I remember the first time I met you.”

“You were four,” Ava scoffed, wiping her cheeks with her sleeve. “You probably didn’t even know what was really going on, there’s no way you remembered that clearly.”

“I do!” argued Spencer.

“Yeah right.”

“Can you and your stubborn ass back up for a second and listen to me?”

The familiarity of his insult, of them bickering made Ava smile a little. When Spencer seemed sure that Ava wasn’t going to shoot him down, he started speaking again.

“It’s not all, you know, this bright clear memory in my head,” he admitted and Ava bit her lip to stop herself from making a triumphant quip. “But I remember it in flashes. I think even then, I could tell whatever was happening was important. A friend of dad’s had come over and he … he had you with him.”

Ava sucked in a sharp breath, eyes snapping shut. “That friend - was he … is he my -”

“No,” said Spencer quickly. “No, he wasn’t. He was also a doctor, I think … I think that’s why he had you. I don’t know why he came to us, I don’t remember him arriving, but I remember I was in trouble with Dad for making a big mess upstairs and he came up to tell me off and bring me downstairs to keep an eye on me.”

“Where was Layla?” asked Ava before she could stop herself.

“I don’t know,” replied Spencer honestly. “She wasn’t at home, I don’t think - maybe she was at some kind of a playdate? When I came down, Mom had you. I knew you weren’t Layla … you were too small, too still, too quiet. She was literally the most annoying, fussy baby Aves, I’m not kidding, and you were just so … calm. Dad introduced me to his friend - I don’t remember his name, I’m sorry, I’ll see if I can find him on Facebook later tonight for you - but I’m pretty sure I cared more about seeing who the hell you were.” He stopped suddenly, and Ava heard muffled voices over the line, heard Spencer say something like “No, not now, get Mike to do it.”

“You can go if you need to,” she said, ignoring the panic that settled in her chest at the thought of having to go back into the main house.

“No, it’s okay,” promised Spencer. “I can stay. I need to stay Aves, I’m not just gonna let you run away right now. You deserve some kind of explanation.”

Ava didn’t have an argument or a response to that, so instead, she said “Did Mom and Dad tell you who I was?”

“They just told me your name,” said Spencer softly.

Something cold and unsettling washed over Ava and she had to tamp down the sudden wave of nausea that swept through her. “My name?” she echoed. “I … I already had a name?”

She heard Spencer’s intake of breath, the remorseful, hesitant sigh before he said “Yeah, you did. I don’t know whether Dad’s friend had given it to you, or whether there was a letter or something that said what your name was but … Mom introduced you to me as Ava.”

“Just Ava?” Ava whispered, hugging herself tightly.

“Just Ava,” echoed Spencer, obviously hearing how desperately Ava needed the truth over any false reassurances. “Mom and Dad gave you your middle name later. To make you a part of the family.”

Ava didn’t have anything to say to that. She still felt kind of sick and leaned forward to rest her head on her knees. She didn’t know why she hated the idea that she’d already been named before she came to the Sharpes - it should’ve been some kind of relief, that she had something that was real, that had always been hers, but it unsettled her so much and she couldn’t explain why.

“Ava? Are you -”

“I’m fine,” said Ava bluntly. “Just … finish your story.” She swallowed, hearing the reluctance in the gaps of Spencer’s silence, so softened her voice and added a quiet “Please.”

He didn’t for a second, but when it became clear that Ava wasn’t going to continue, wasn’t going to fill in the blanks, wasn’t going to admit how much the name thing had shaken her, there was the rustling of movement from the other end of the phone line before Spencer decided to do as Ava had asked.

“Mom told me your name and … I … I dunno, I can’t quite remember what happened next. I think I went to go play or something but I was being really rowdy and I wanted attention I guess - I mean, I was four. Dad was getting really frustrated I think? I think he was the one who was stressed about the whole situation. Not because he didn’t want you - not like that, I just think he was trying to figure out how to do right by you. Mom could see that I guess, and she asked me to come over and sit with her on the couch and got me to hold you so she had her hands free.”

“That doesn’t sound like Mom,” Ava said in a small voice.

“I know,” said Spencer with a low, reminiscent chuckle. “Fun fact Aves - she wasn’t always a raging bitch all the time. There was actually a period of time - before I decided to be rebellious just to piss them off, and you became a tomboy and then later came out, and Layla was deemed perfect, and Ali developed her defining personality trait of sarcasm - where she was actually a really, really good mother. To all of us. You especially.”

“I find that hard to believe,” mumbled Ava.  

“I wish I could prove it to you,” he answered, voice heavy, “‘cause she was. I think she had already made up her mind before Dad about keeping you. But as soon as she gave you to me …” He broke off abruptly and Ava felt something clench in her chest. “I swear to God Aves, you looked up at me with these massive blue eyes and you just … you just smiled. You smiled so wide and you were so freakin’ cute and like, you punched me in the face a little bit and I think I kinda hated you for that but it didn’t even really matter because I figured if you could do that, then I could teach you to bounce a basketball and that was good enough for me.”

Ava laughed, not realising she was crying again until she heard the wetness in her voice, felt the tears drip from her jaw onto her shirt.

“I looked over at Mom,” continued Spencer, “and I asked something along the lines of ‘Is she ours? Can we keep her?’”

Ava couldn’t suppress the strangled sob that ripped past her throat, couldn’t stop her whole body from shaking as she hugged her knees tightly against her chest and crumbled, wishing Spencer was here to pull her into his arms, to tell her this in person, to smooth her hair and crack gentle jokes and promise her it would be okay, to tell her these things that she couldn’t remember that gave her some kind of soft assurance that despite the anger she had towards their parents right now, they loved her. They’d always loved her, even at the most difficult of patches, and somehow Ava had managed to convince herself to forget that until now.

“I know it doesn’t change that we’ve all lied to you,” said Spencer, and his words sounded hoarse, dripping with regret. “But Ava, I need you to know that you were wanted. You are. You had me wrapped around your little finger from the very first moment I met you, Dad only ever wanted to give you the best life he could whether that was with us or not, even Mom loved you almost immediately. You were ours from that first day Aves.”

It took Ava a while to bring herself to answer, to steady her breathing and brush away her tears, but when she did, she mumbled “Layla always hated me though.”

Spencer huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, well. It’s because you have better hair than her.”

“She’d feel a lot better about that if she knew that it had nothing to do with me winning some kind of genetic lottery that she missed out on.”

“Maybe that’s all the more reason to let her stew in it a little then.”

This time, Ava laughed too. It was weak and tired and more than a little broken but somehow, it was genuine.

“You get that right?” prodded Spencer, and Ava could hear the urgency in his voice. “You get that we love you so, so much.”

Ava heard her own pathetic cry that only partially got stuck in her throat, followed by Spencer’s shaky sigh and Ava could tell he was about to launch into another big brother speech about her importance in the family and as much as she appreciated that, she didn’t need to hear it, not anymore, and she didn’t have the energy to continue sobbing on the pool house floor in this freezing weather.

“I know,” she interrupted before Spencer could get another word out. “I know Spence.”

“Do you?”

“Yes. I … I do now.

Spencer exhaled in relief and Ava felt tension from her own shoulders vanish.

“Are you gonna talk to them?” asked Spencer gently. “Mom and Dad?”

Ava curled her fingers around the cuffs of her sleeves, letting the uneven feeling of the fabric ground her from the vague panic she felt at the idea of confronting her parents. “Eventually,” she murmured, “yeah. I … I don’t think I can right now.”

“That’s fair,” Spencer agreed quietly, pausing for a long moment before adding “just let me know when you do, yeah?”

Ava murmured an agreement, wishing she could stay on the phone with him for a while longer, but knowing before he told her that he had to go. “I love you Ava, don’t ever doubt that,” he said in a quiet voice, and Ava bit her lip, closing her eyes and stretching her legs out in front of her, forcing some of the tension from her shoulders.

Spencer went to hang up and Ava sat up straighter, a desperate “Spence, wait,” slipping from her lips before she had a moment to think about her words. He paused, and she swallowed thickly, the fingers of her free hand tapping against her leg in a familiar rhythm, trying to calm herself down. She took a deep breath, letting everything he had said sink in, voice cracking slightly as she finally murmured “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

 

Messenger
(Nora Darhk)

The Gals & Gary™
Active now

TUES 7:02am:


Lily:
@Nora Love you babe x


Kuasa:
Let us know if you need
anything, okay?


Gay Carebear Green:
<3 <3 <3


Ava:
Love you Nor XX


You:
Thank you

I love you guys x

 


 

Ava Sharpe

iMessage
(Nora Darhk)
Tuesday

 

7:11am:
You coming to school today?


7:12am:
Not this time


7:12am:
This one


7:12am:
This one’s just too much


7:12am:
I know


7:13am:
The legends are gonna ask why
you’re not there


7:13am:
Do you want me to tell them?


7:15am:
Yeah


7:15am:
Wait no


7:17am:
I don’t know


7:17am:
You don’t have to


7:17am:
I can tell them you took a mental
health day, or that you had stuff
to look over w your social worker


7:24am:
Nora?


7:25am:
Tell them the truth


7:25am:
You sure?


7:25am:
Yeah


7:25am:
I trust them all and idk I guess
I’m fucking tired of pretending
every year


7:26am:
I need to stop being ashamed
of what happened


7:26am:
Ashamed?


7:26am:
Babe, you shouldn’t be ashamed


7:27am:
Ashamed is the wrong word


7:27am:
Not of her, or of what she did


7:27am:
Idk


7:27am:
Of this just being another piece
of the Nora Darhk tragedy


7:28am:
That’s not what your life is


7:29am:
Do I need to remind you what
today is, Aves?


7:30am:
Your life isn’t a tragedy because
I distinctly remember the day in
7th grade that we were studying
Shakespearean tragedies in English
and you joked that maybe that was
you and then you said to me, and I
quote, “Wait, no, that’s not right,
because Gary’s my comic relief and
you’re my sensible best friend who
stops me from prematurely dying so
I have to eventually have a boring
happy ending because otherwise you
would both be useless characters in
this overall story and that would be a
waste.”


7:34am:
I can’t believe you remember
that


7:35am:
You’re going to live a long and boring
life with a dumb happy ending and I’m
going to make sure you do responsible
things like pay your taxes and Gary is
going to make you laugh at least
once a day and at some point I promise
you today won’t hurt as bad as it does
right now


7:37am:
I don’t deserve you


7:37am:
Yes you do


7:38am:
I love you so so much Nora


7:38am:
And I’m not the only one, both
my mom and my dad have told
me this morning to give you a hug
from them and to tell you that
if you need anything ever, you
can come over at anytime


7:39am:
Mom contemplated making your
favourite pecan pie for me to
bring to school for you so that
today wouldn’t suck as much


7:39am:
Of course they did


7:39am:
OF COURSE SHE DID


7:39am:
Tell them I love them


7:39am:
They know


7:40:
You’re the favourite Sharpe,
remember? ;-)


7:40am:
Oh, how could I forget? ;’D


7:40am:
Thank you Ava


7:41am:
I owe you and your family
so, so much, god


7:41am:
Hush


7:41am:
You don’t owe us a thing


7:42am:
Just promise me you’ll call
me if you need anything, ok?


7:42am:
I will, promise


7:42am:
Love you x

 


 

“Hey, Sara, just a sec.”

Sara paused on her way out the door, glancing over her shoulder to give her father a quizzical look. He was standing by the couch in a suit - Sara knew he had to go down to the courthouse for something today - and he wore an odd, thoughtful expression. Sara felt a sudden, swooping fear in her stomach and she tightened her grip on the doorknob, barely managing “Is it Laurel?” in a somewhat calm and regulated voice.

“What?” Quentin’s eyes went wide. “No, no - God, no Laurel’s fine. Sorry, I shouldn’t’ve -” He shook his head, laughing tiredly. “No, baby, it’s not Laurel. It’s nothing that serious.”

Sara exhaled in relief, giving her father a halfhearted glare. But Quentin still looked a little torn, was holding the file in hands a little too purposefully for Sara to just dismiss it, and she stepped back into the living room to raise an eyebrow at her father. “Dad?”

“How close are you with Nora?”

“Nora Darhk?” said Sara, frowning. “Uh, I dunno. Kinda close I guess? She and Ava have been best friends since they were little and they all joined the legends around October. She’s pretty cool - a little reserved but I guess you can’t blame her with all the shit that’s gone on her life. Why?” A niggling thought flared in Sara’s mind and she sucked in a sharp breath. “Is this to do with the Darhk investigation? You’re not gonna try use her to get to Damien are you? She’s just a kid Dad, that’s not fair -”

“Sara, no,” said Quentin firmly, holding up one hand to cut Sara off. “I would never risk her like that. You know I’m not that kind of cop.”

Sara huffed with both frustration and confusion. “Okay, then what’s this about?”

Quentin furrowed his eyebrows, eyes flickering down to the file he was holding. “I know you care a lot about your friends,” he said, and his voice was gentle in a way Sara hadn’t been expecting. “If Nora’s at school today … just be there for her, okay? Be a good friend to her.”

There was something protective and paternal in his voice that Sara only ever heard when he spoke about her or Laurel, and she couldn’t stop herself from asking again, “What’s this about?”, adding a quiet “Why wouldn’t Nora be at school today Dad?”

Finally, Quentin glanced up to meet her eyes and Sara’s stomach jolted at the heaviness in his expression. “Don’t tell anyone, okay?”

Sara nodded, not knowing if she was more nervous or scared for what the hell it could possibly be that her father was talking about.

“Today’s the 10 year anniversary of the day Nora’s mother committed suicide.”

All the air left Sara’s lungs in a rush, and a low ache filled the space instead. “Oh.”

Quentin sighed. “Yeah. I … I wasn’t sure whether to tell you to respect her privacy or anything, but I know you won’t go broadcasting it.”

“Of course not,” said Sara quickly, clutching the strap of her school bag tightly. God, she wanted to call Ava right now.

“Just be there for her,” repeated Quentin, and his eyes were soft and fond this time. “I know you will be. You’re a good friend Sara - that’s why I wanted you to know.”

Sara couldn’t help but smile, an embarrassed flush working its way onto her neck. “You’re the one who taught me to care about people, Dad,” she said with a shrug, biting her lip as she met his gaze. “Thanks for telling me. I’ll look out for her if she is there today.”

Quentin crossed the space between them, squeezed her shoulder. “That’s my girl.”

 


 

Ava Sharpe

iMessage
(Sara Lance)
Tuesday

 

7:46am:
hey


7:46am:
so uh


7:46am:
dad just told me what today
is for nora


7:47am:
How does he know??


7:47am:
the file on damien


7:47am:
i had no idea that’s what had
happened to her mom


7:48am:
Yeah


7:48am:
She’s been through a lot


7:48am:
you don’t fucking say


7:49am:
is she coming to school today?
do you know?


7:49am:
Not this time


7:49am:
She does most years but I think
it being 10 years is just a lot


7:49am:
jesus, yeah no fair enough


7:50am:
She asked me to tell everyone


7:50am:
The legends I mean


7:51am:
wait seriously? she doesn’t have
to, like there’s no obligation


7:51am:
she knows that right?


7:51am:
Yeah, she knows


7:51am:
Nora Darhk isn’t someone who would
tell people something like this out of
a sense of obligation


7:52am:
I think it’s her way of letting people in,
of trusting them with something big
about herself


7:52am:
I think it’s also a way for her to start
to move on from it


7:52am:
god i can’t even imagine


7:52am:
Yeah, me neither


8:01am:
I’ll be at school in 10ish minutes,
meet you outside?


8:02am:
Meet you then x

 


 


Nora was waiting on the Sharpes’ front porch when Layla’s car pulled up in the driveway after school that day.

“Will it be too much if I give her a hug?” asked Ali in a small voice.

“No,” said Ava and Layla in unison, and Ava couldn’t bring herself to be surprised at how soft and sympathetic Layla’s voice was. (She’d always had a soft spot for Nora, even when Ava was her least favourite person in the world.) All three sisters had exited the car, grabbed their bags and headed towards the door. Nora got to her feet, giving Ava a small, sheepish smile as a silent hello before stumbling a little when Ali attacked her in an emphatic hug.

“Let me breathe Al,” said Nora, and Ava could tell she was putting in a lot of effort to keep her voice level.

“Sorry,” mumbled Ali, pulling back and glancing hesitantly up at Nora. “I’m … I’m sorry Nor.”

Nora’s eyes flickered with weight and sorrow before she schooled her emotions for Ali’s benefit. “Thanks Ali,” she said quietly. “That means a lot.”

 

Ava waited for Ali and Layla to head inside before leaning against one of the obnoxious pillars that framed the front porch, watching Nora carefully. Eventually she spoke, softly and she hoped, full of understanding. “You wanna stay here or head out somewhere?”

Nora fiddled with the cuffs of her sleeves. “Stay,” she whispered.

Ava nodded, reaching out to curl her hands around Nora’s but stopping herself, knowing that Nora was one for needing her personal space when she was this emotionally overwhelmed. They ended up sitting in the backyard, lying down unter the huge tree at the bottom of Ava’s garden just like they used to when they were kids and everything in Nora’s life seemed to be falling apart, just staring up at the branches above and enjoying the calm and quiet understanding between them. It was a while before either of them said anything - after all this time, it didn’t feel like there was much left to say - but eventually Ava heard Nora say “Do uh … do you remember when Gary fell off that branch right there and broke his arm in 4 places?” Her voice was quiet, almost wistful.

Everything had been simpler then - they were 7, messing around in the garden in spring when it’d just started to warm up - before Nora’s dad had disappeared, before Ava had realised she was gay and stopped playing sports because she was scared of her … mother … finding out, before Barbara had really started to pressure her about what she was wearing and how much makeup she didn’t own. Ava laughed, shuffling slightly closer so she could nudge Nora’s arm lightly with her own. “Yeah, it looked like something out of a horror movie. Layla puked when she saw it.”

Nora snorted. “I remember,” she said softly, but her words sounded hollow, almost empty, and Ava had to force herself to keep her eyes on the branches above and give Nora the space she needed rather than turning to look at her friend. A silent shiver ran through Nora’s body, and it took everything Ava had not to act on the instincts she was used to with Sara - reaching out, holding Nora’s hand, pulling her into a hug. Nora wasn’t Sara. So Ava waited, watching Nora and making sure not to push. Nora had something to say, she could tell - she’d sought Ava out for a reason, she just needed the space to unjumble her thoughts before she could share them with anyone else.

There were a few moments of heavy silence between them, but eventually Ava heard Nora suck in a shaky breath, saying in a quiet whisper, voice thick with tears, “I can’t remember what her voice sounded like.”

Ava felt something snap inside of her and rolled onto her side, all self control flying out of the window when she heard the way Nora’s voice cracked. Nora’s bottom lip was trembling, eyes still fixed on the leaves on the tree as if Ava wasn’t there, clearly moments away from tears but trying her hardest to keep them at bay as she fiddled nervously with the zipper of her jacket instead. It took her a minute to get her breathing under control, but Ava still waited, not interrupting, knowing that Nora would continue when she was ready.

And she did. It took a few seconds, but Nora scrubbed a hand over her face and started in a shaky voice, “We have these … had these home movies. You know the ones your parents do to try and ‘capture your childhood’ at christmas and birthdays and when you take your first steps and all that shit? Yeah those. And - ” Nora sucked in a sharp breath, cutting herself off, and this time Ava couldn’t help but reach out and take her hand, giving it a light squeeze and hoping it would somehow give Nora enough strength to continue. Nora sniffed, blinking rapidly. “We … we had so so many of them. They were all so dumb and so badly filmed but my mom, she loved them - she was always talking in them and laughing at stuff my dad was saying and cooing at me and all that. But they - the police, they took them all away when she died. They started confiscating a few when dad disappeared but then when she died they just took everything, claiming it was evidence or something, I don’t know.”

She stopped, finally rolling over onto her side to meet Ava’s eyes, and Ava felt a fierce flash of anger on Nora’s behalf shoot through her when she saw the sheer vulnerability in Nora’s expression and the way she was still blinking back her tears. Nora squeezed her hand almost painfully. “I think they thought it could’ve been a homicide at first, that maybe she’d known something about dad’s operation and he’d sent someone to kill her. It took years for them to verify that it was a suicide, but I just …” She shrugged helplessly, wiping her cheeks with her free hand before meeting Ava’s eyes, her breath catching in her throat. “There’s this part of me that isn’t sure. About whether it was … you know. Actually a suicide. I know they proved it but like … Dad would be able to frame it that way. Or get into the police, I dunno. I don’t know, I don’t care right now what it was - it doesn’t change anything, she’s still gone and nothing is gonna bring her up. Once they catch dad it’ll be important to know which one it was, but until then … I just … I just want one of those videos so I can hear her voice again, you know?”

“Yeah,” said Ava softly. “Yeah, I know.”

A flash of anger and resentment flickered in Nora’s eyes suddenly. “I’ve tried,” she said bitterly. “When … when it was 5 years, when we were 13 … I - I asked my social worker if she could get me one, and she tried, but the cops were insisting it was evidence, and they wouldn’t let me - I don’t know what the fuck kind of evidence a shaky video of my mom playing with me is, they’re home movies , but whatever, I guess.”

Nora shrugged again, letting go of Ava’s hand to wipe her eyes again, properly this time and slightly smudging her mascara in the process. Ava opened her mouth to say something, but Nora cut her off, sighing and adding quietly “If it’d help them catch dad then I’d get it, it’s just … I just want one .”

Ava nodded, lost for words. She would never stop Nora from talking about this when she needed to, especially when it was something that Nora so fiercely kept these vulnerable parts of herself hidden from almost everyone. But it was so difficult hearing it all and knowing that there was nothing - nothing - Ava could do, no way that she could fix the situation and provide Nora with a tiny semblance of the closure she so desperately needed and deserved.

 

Except maybe…?

 

No.

Ava pushed the sudden, almost exciting thought away. It was a possibility, for sure, but … it wasn’t fair to suggest it to Nora, not right now, especially not when there was such a slim chance of anything coming of it. She sighed quietly, rolling back onto her back when Nora did the same, but remaining close enough to rest her arm against Nora’s to ground her.

“I miss her,” breathed Nora, voice hoarse and full of grief and longing.

“I know,” said Ava again, hating that her own voice cracked as she spoke, hating that she could feel tears building against her own eyelids. She could only vaguely remember Nora’s mother, remember her bright smile, the way her perfume smelled when she hugged Ava when Ava came over after school, her light, twinkling laugh when Gary used to get up to his antics. She wanted to tell Nora all this, but knew it was nothing Nora wasn’t already replaying in her head every minute of today, every tiny, otherwise irrelevant memory being agonised over, analysed, desperately preserved. Instead, Ava didn’t say anything, just squeezed Nora’s hand with all her strength as they continued to stare up at the tree in silence, not able to fix the past but both wishing they could.

 


 

Ava knocked on Sara’s front door slightly awkwardly, trying not to think about the last time she’d been here, especially when she saw the surprise on Sara’s face as she opened the door to find Ava standing on her doorstep. Clearly, the same thought had crossed through Sara’s mind, because her eyes flickered up and down Ava’s body as if to check if she was alright before finally finding her face again, meeting her eyes with a confused “Hey. You okay?”

Ava nodded, shoving her hands into her pockets and trying to ignore the way Sara was dressed in only a tank top and some pyjama shorts (in winter in the late afternoon - God, was this girl immune to the cold or something?) because now was not the time for Ava to be preoccupied by this damn crush, she was here for more important reasons than that. “Yeah, I’m okay, I just … actually, I came to talk to your dad.”

Sara raised an eyebrow, even more confused than she had been before. But she stepped back to let Ava in, taking the umbrella she was carrying out of her hands and leaning it against the wall.

“About anything in particular?” Sara asked with her regular type of unrestrainable, teasing curiosity. Ava nodded, smiling at Sara’s clear inability to be subtle about not liking being in the dark. Ava nudged Sara’s shoulder and followed her into the living room.

“I’ll tell you both in a minute.”

Quentin seemed just as surprised as Sara had been that she wanted to talk to him, but had somewhat more subtlety than his daughter. As Sara switched off the TV, Quentin made Ava a cup of tea and moved to sit in his armchair, leaning forward on his knees and giving Ava reassuring look. Ava took a deep breath, suddenly uncertain. She didn’t know whether this was a ridiculous request, whether Quentin would frown at her for asking him to break police rules or whether it would obviously interfere with the current Darhk investigation and Ava was just being stupid and clueless. But then Sara sat down next to her with her knee resting against Ava’s, offering her a small smile almost identical to her father’s that silently said it’s okay . So Ava tentatively explained her idea. Quentin listened patiently as she explained about the home videos, and how important they were to Nora, about how Ava knew they might somehow be important to the  case and she knew that if they were actually useful Nora would prefer the police kept them and used them to catch her dad, but … if they weren’t being used for any purpose, Nora having one wouldn’t do anyone any harm, would it?

“Ava.” Quentin stopped her before she could continue, cutting off her rambling thoughts, just as Sara placed a comforting hand on her knee.

Ava ran one hand through her hair, looking down at Sara’s hand. “Sorry. I - ”

“Don’t apologise,” Quentin interrupted gently, leaning forward a little further and waiting for her to meet his eyes before continuing earnestly, “It shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll look into it, and see what I can do.” He paused, before something resembling frustration and a seemingly fatherly protectiveness flashed in his eyes. “If we’re being honest, those tapes have never been examined as evidence since they were first confiscated, and they should have been released back to Nora when they became unnecessary to the investigation. Now that you mention it, I might put someone on reexamining them, just in case but as soon as we find one that’s useless to us, I’ll give it to Sara to pass on, yeah?”

Ava’s breath left her in a rush and it took all of her effort not to sag back against the couch in relief. “Thank you,” she replied, not sure quite how to express just how much this would mean to Nora without spilling secrets that weren’t hers to share, but Quentin just smiled as if he already knew, getting up from the armchair he was sat in and squeezing her shoulder comfortingly as he walked past, pausing in the doorway and turning back to face her.

“Would you like to stay for dinner Ava? It’s probably going to be homemade pizza.”

Ava glanced over to Sara briefly, who just nodded at her and bumped their shoulders together, hand still burning against Ava’s knee, not seeming to have noticed it was still there. Ava swallowed, trying her hardest not to think about that whilst Quentin was talking to her. “Yes, thank you, that’d be lovely.”

“Good,” Quentin smiled, grabbing an empty mug off the shelf by the door and making his way towards the kitchen, humming to himself as he went and causing Sara to roll her eyes affectionately.

Finally, Ava let herself relax into the couch, closing her eyes and just letting herself stop for a moment. Sara shuffled closer, leaning her head against Ava’s arm almost absentmindedly as she scrolled through her phone. Ava fought the urge to squirm away at how close Sara was, at how the proximity was making Ava’s heart race in a way that she desperately hoped Sara couldn’t hear.

When she finally braved a glance at Sara, Sara was looking at her with a small, accidental smile on her face, something indecipherable in her eyes. The same look she’d had that morning in bed a week ago after she’d come to find Ava in the park in the middle of the night and brought her home.

“What?” Ava asked softly, unable to help a matching smile from creeping across her lips.

Sara shook her head. “It’s nothing,” she tried to say, but the words just made something flutter deep within Ava’s chest, not helped when Sara’s eyes met hers, burning with an unfamiliar, yet not entirely unwelcome intensity. Ava raised an eyebrow, and Sara laughed softly, pushing herself off the couch and holding her hand out to Ava, wiggling her fingers and waiting for Ava to take them before pulling her up too. Sara looked down at where their fingers were joined, squeezing Ava’s hand lightly before finally looking up and meeting her eyes again, saying in a quiet voice “You’re a really great friend.”

There was just so much sincerity to her words that Ava was temporarily speechless, but Sara didn’t seem to notice, already leading her towards the stairs before Ava had a chance to reply.

“Brooklyn Nine Nine?” Sara asked, and Ava blinked, not having been paying attention.

Before Ava could respond, Quentin called out from the kitchen, “Ava! If you can get Sara to finally clean her room then you get first dibs on extra toppings.”

“Dad!” exclaimed Sara, cheeks flushing but Ava smirked.

“Brooklyn Nine Nine after your room is actually livable then,” she teased and Sara glared at her with no heat in it, just dragged Ava up the stairs scrunching her nose embarrassedly in a way that really shouldn’t have made Ava’s heart flutter like it did.

“Fine,” said Sara, sending Ava a cheeky look over her shoulder. “But you have to help. You’re the one who spontaneously stayed the night and interrupted my room tidying schedule.”

Ava ignored the heat at the back of her neck at the memory of that night, and instead scoffed and elbowed Sara playfully. “Sure Sara,” she chuckled. “Whatever you say.”

 


 

In truth, Sara was more than a little apprehensive about this. Not about giving Nora the video her Dad had managed to obtain from the station, but about how she would react. Because unlike Ava, Gary, Lily, Kuasa, and even Ray, she still felt like she didn’t know Nora that well, having not been close to her growing up and seeing first hand over these past months the kind of walls Nora used to hide herself from the rest of the world. Ava had mentioned, once or twice - usually when discussing the easy friendship Ray and Nora seemed to have formed - that Nora tended to try and push people away rather than letting them in.

(It sounded a little too familiar for Sara’s liking, but Ray had been one of the main people forcing his way into her life and changing her outlook when she was young and abrasive and untrusting and pushing people away. But it gave her some kind of relief that he was the one carefully toppling Nora’s walls, because Sara had complete faith that he would give Nora exactly what she needed.)

Sara spun the package in her hands round, watching the gate for Nora’s arrival, pushing herself off the wall the moment she saw a flash of dark hair coupled with that familiar leather jacket. Sara walked over to meet Nora, a hesitant smile on her face and giving Nora a reassuring grin when Nora arched an expectant eyebrow that clearly said is something wrong? Sara couldn’t really blame her for being suspicious - the two of them didn’t really have a relationship, and their friendship was still pretty on the outskirts. But Sara didn’t want Nora to think she was going to give her some kind of ominous, serious news passed on from Quentin about the investigation, so she offered a quiet “It’s nothing important.” She waited until they were inside, walking towards their lockers before she stopped, turning to face Nora and leaning back on the wall, dropping her bag to the floor.

“Okay Lance,” said Nora, crossing her arms defensively even as a somewhat amicable smile lingered on her face. “What’s up? You’re acting as though you’re about to break up with me.”

Sara snorted with laughter, rolling her eyes. She’d always liked Nora’s sense of humour, and she couldn’t stop herself from quipping “Yeah, hate to break it to you Nora, but there’s someone else.”

Nora grinned and Sara returned it, finally holding the package in her hand out in front of her. “Nah, for real though. Ava mentioned something to my dad last week and uh … he did some digging. Went over some old evidence to make sure there weren’t any loose ends and he decided that you’d have more use for this than the cops.”

Nora still looked confused, eyes scanning Sara’s face for a moment, looking for some kind of indication of what Sara was talking about. She finally took the package and started to pull off the tape holding it shut. The moment she looked inside and pulled out the old, VCR tape, Sara heard all of her breath leave her lungs, eyes flickering incredulously to Sara before drifting back to the item in her hands that had started to shake.

“Is this …?”

“Yeah,” said Sara quietly, a little taken aback as she realised this was the most emotional she’d ever seen the girl before her. “Dad said that they were going through all of the other ones again over the next couple weeks. Just to check if there’s anything they can pick up from them now that they have new evidence and … he told me to make sure you knew that you would get any of the tapes that the cops decide they don’t need. He doesn’t know how long it’ll take to get them back to you but -”  

Suddenly, without warning, Nora flung her arms around Sara’s neck, pulling her into a tight hug, almost dropping the videotape in the process. Sara stumbled back in surprise but hugged Nora equally tightly, unable to help her soft, slightly uncertain laugh. “Easy Nora, I told you - there’s someone else, you’ve gotta stop being so clingy.”

Nora pulled back with a laugh of her own, sending Sara a smirk, but Sara tried not to noticeably stare when Nora quickly moved to wipe her eyes. She thought she’d known how much this would mean to Nora when Ava had initially explained the situation to her and her dad, but now, with Nora Darhk having hugged her like she’d done the impossible, gratitude rolling off her in waves, Sara realised that she could never even begin to understand just how much Nora needed this.

“Thank you,” said Nora quietly, in barely a whisper.

It was the sincerity in her voice that blew Sara away. The complete and utter broken gratitude, the way her voice cracked on the words and made Sara want to hug her all over again. But then Nora shifted her weight awkwardly from one foot to the other, looking uncomfortable and more than slightly out of her depth, so Sara simply smiled, picking up her bag and slinging it over her shoulder. “It’s really no problem Nora,” she said just as genuinely, eyes fixed on Nora’s. “I wish we could’ve got you the lot of them all at once.”

“Sara,” Nora interrupted, voice slightly less unsure than it had been before. “This is more than enough. So thank you.” She smiled back, carefully shoving the package into her bag. Before Sara could reply, Wally, Nate and Lily caught sight of them, calling out a hello and joining them by Nora’s locker. Lily seemed to notice Nora’s silence and nudged her, asking a silent question that Sara didn’t need words to interpret. But Nora’s answering smile was just as easy to read and Sara found herself inwardly promising to make an effort to spend more time with Nora.

The same way Sara had told Ava that the legends were her family, something told Sara that Nora needed that too.

 


 

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noradarhk posted 1 new photo:

10 years of missing you and your undercooked chocolate chip cookies, your fairytales that made me feel like the world wasn’t such a bad place, your hugs, your smile, your terrible choices in 80s classic movies and everything else in between. I love you mom xxx

Liked by: avacsharpe, saraalance, gxryggreeen, ztomaz, laaylasharpexx, raymondcpalmer, and 176 others.
Comments:
avacsharpe: <3 <3 <3
avacsharpe : I still remember that time she managed to convince @gxryggreeen that chicken and ice cream w caramel sauce was an actual delicacy from New Mexico
gxryggreeen : SHUT UP @avacsharpe SHE WAS VERY CONVINCING
KuasaJiwe: Here if you need anything x
nathanielheywood: Heaps of love x
wallacewesttt: <3 <3
aliJsharpeXX: love you nora<3
raymondcpalmer : Let me know if you need anything at all <3
noradarhk: @avacsharpe @KuasaJiwe @nathanielheywood @aliJsharpeXX @wallacewesttt Thanks you guys, love you all stupid amounts xx
noradarhk: @raymondcpalmer <3 Thank you x
noradarhk: @avacsharpe @gxryggreeen HAHAHAHAHA I had actually forgotten about that ;’D ;’D and no Gary, she wasn’t convincing at all, you were just the sweetest, most gullible little seven year old

Tuesday 31 January.

 


 

Ava had come over after school to do history - or at least, that’s what they’d said, even though they both knew it was unlikely to happen after the week they’d just had. In fact, they’d never actually got as far as opening the textbook, as Sara had dropped it unceremoniously on the floor when Ava had flopped down onto her bed, lying back with a heavy sigh and staring up at the ceiling, fiddling anxiously with the charm bracelet around her wrist. Instead of speaking, Sara had simply joined her on the bed. She lay close enough that their arms could touch, hoping the warmth of her skin against Ava’s would do something to calm her down, even if she couldn’t do anything else.

It felt like they’d been there for hours before Ava moved, shifting slightly on the bed and slipping her fingers into Sara’s, squeezing them tightly as she sucked in a shaky breath. Sara squeezed her hand back but didn’t move, keeping her eyes fixed on the ceiling, not wanting to pressure Ava into speaking, but waiting until she was ready.

“This thing with Nora,” Ava eventually said in an uncertain, slightly shaky voice. “I just … I can’t stop thinking about it. She - she’s lost both her parents. And we’ve been friends for years and I don’t know why this year is different but it just -”

Sara ran her eyes over a crack in the ceiling as Ava’s voice broke, tracing small circles across the back of Ava’s hand but still not looking, trying to give Ava the privacy she needed to sort through her thoughts and work out what she needed to say.

“I might - ”

Ava’s impossibly small voice cracked for a second time and she gripped Sara’s hand harder. Sara pushed herself up onto her elbows so she could look Ava in the eyes, and it took everything Sara had not to act on instinct when she saw Ava shudder just slightly, eyes wet with unshed tears that Sara hadn’t seen appear. Because Sara’s instinct was telling her to distract Ava, to lean in and press the softest of kisses to Ava’s lips and murmur “It’s okay.” But that wasn’t an option. So Sara gave Ava as gente and encouraging of a smile as she could, her thumb tracing the lines on Ava’s hand, patiently waiting until Ava took a deep breath and steadied herself just a little. She didn’t say anything though, so Sara gave it another couple of moments before, shifting her weight and nudging Ava’s thigh with her knee. “What Aves?” she asked quietly.

Ava shivered, curling one arm around her waist protectively and closing her eyes, and even though she knew that this was what Ava needed, part of Sara immediately regretted asking the question. Ava swallowed, before eventually saying “I might talk to my parents about the adoption papers.”

Sara smiled gently at Ava, nudging her shoulder affectionately when she saw Ava’s lips twitch slightly, not quite a smile, but almost. Sara couldn’t quite spot the link between Ava’s thoughts - how Nora’s situation related to Ava’s at all, but while she was deliberating whether or not to ask, Ava seemed to understand and sighed again. “I owe it to Nora to try to fix this,” she said in barely a whisper.

Sara rolled onto her back to hide the way her face fell at Ava’s words, unsure why the sinking feeling in her stomach was so heavy, so intense. But just like a moment ago, before she could question Ava’s words, Ava filled the silence. “No matter what was going on between me and my mom, she always had a soft spot for Nora. And … with everything that’s happened with Nora’s family, I know - at some point, accidentally, my mom … she became the closest thing to a stable mother figure Nora had. And if … I don’t know, it’s almost like … if I lose her - if I let myself lose my parents, Nora loses that stability too.”

Sara forced herself to keep her face calm, unchanged, but pushed herself up again and crossed her legs. She waited for Ava to do the same before taking both of her hands, gripping them tightly and giving Ava a long, concerned look. “Aves, look at me,” she said softly, giving Ava a small smile when her eyes flickered up from the bed to meet hers, still damp but looking a little more focused than before. Sara took a deep breath, desperately hoping her words would somehow express her thoughts without Ava misunderstanding her. “Ava, I’m not … I did hear what you said. And you do have a point - a good one, and I know how much you care about Nora.” She paused, uncertain, and bit her lip before continuing earnestly, “But this has to be about you . Only you. You can’t make it about Nora, or your siblings; if and when you talk to your parents about this, it has to be because you want to, not out of any obligation to anyone else.”

Ava remained silent for a long moment, and Sara was scared for a long, uneasy moment, wondering whether telling Ava what she really though was a good idea or not. A stray tear rolled down Ava’s cheek and before she could stop herself Sara had reached up to brush it away, ignoring the way Ava shivered slightly at the contact. “It’s easier to do it for her,” Ava eventually whispered, voice thick with tears. She leaning forward slightly - almost instinctively - and this time Sara couldn’t help but pull her into a hug, wrapping her arms around Ava and rubbing one hand up and down her back, hating how familiar it now felt to have Ava crying in her arms after these past weeks.

“I know,” Sara murmured quietly, fighting to keep her voice steady despite the way her heart felt like it was breaking on Ava’s behalf. She smoothed one hand over Ava’s hair before leaving it to rest against her shoulder, giving it a light, comforting squeeze. “I know.”

 

It was a while before Ava shifted in her arms. She pulled away, wiping her eyes with her sleeve and pausing for a moment, and Sara couldn’t stop herself from grabbing a tissue from her bedside table and fixing Ava’s smudged mascara. Ava laughed a little when she realised what Sara was doing, fingers fiddling with a tear of Sara’s jeans.

“This whole breakdown every other day thing means I should probably just stop wearing makeup these days, huh?” she said, not quite sounding okay yet. Sara offered her a small grin to the weak joke, stopping herself from saying something along the lines of you’d look beautiful either way. “You’re right though,” added Ava, far too much vulnerability in her voice. “I’m gonna … I’ll talk to them tonight.”

“For you?” Sara asked gently, eyes filled with concern.

“Yeah,” Ava agreed, voice still a little too fragile for Sara’s liking. She swallowed hesitantly, looking down at the floor before lifting her eyes to meet Sara’s once again. “For me.”

This time, when Sara smiled, it felt as if the room lit up around them, just as it had done in the early morning sunlight that day that simultaneously felt like months ago, and like it happened yesterday, when Ava had spent the night at Sara’s. Ava smiled back, taking Sara’s hand but hesitating a moment later when she looked over to the door. “Can you…” she paused, biting her lip, but when Sara nodded encouragingly at her she worked up the courage to ask quietly “walk home with me?”

“Of course Aves,” Sara replied softly, pulling her to her feet. “Always.”

 

Ava could already feel her breathing beginning to pick up, the idea of confronting her dad starting to seem worse and worse now she’d actually committed to it and was standing right outside her house. If Ava hadn’t felt sick to her stomach about it all, she would’ve found it kind of funny, a little ironic about how closely this mirrored the first night her friendship with Sara had properly began. Back when it had only been about Ava coming out, when her and Sara didn’t really know where they stood with each other, when Ava had at least been sure about her place in her family, even if things were tense right now. All these months later, Sara was still right there, right by her side promising her things would be okay. It was much more than just about coming out now - and Ava knew this wouldn’t blow over as quickly and as easily as that first fight had. But it felt kind of comforting to know she was in the same position she had been before, and had come out on the other side okay and could do the same again. As if on cue, Sara squeezed her arm gently, with just enough pressure to ground her and attract her attention without causing her to freak out even more.

“You got this,” Sara said quietly, eyes fixed on Ava’s face.

She smiled reassuringly, giving Ava a small nod, and somehow her infectious confidence allowed Ava to take a deep, shaky breath to steady herself, before nodding back and meeting Sara’s eyes once again. She bit her lip, not fully able to force all of her doubts from her mind. “Can I … can I call you tonight?”

“Of course you can,” came Sara’s immediate response, accompanied by another reassuring smile.

Ava paused for a moment, expecting Sara to leave, but for some reason she didn’t. It was as if she was waiting - waiting for her to work up the nerve to move, waiting for her to regain enough confidence to actually go talk to her - her dad - rather than just thinking about it. It shouldn’t have meant so much, but the simple idea that Sara would stay here for as long as Ava needed was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes, so Ava blinked, looking down at the floor and whispering “Okay,” to herself, before straightening her shoulders, finding Sara’s hand and giving it a tight squeeze.

Without her having to say anything else Sara seemed to understand, tilting her head slightly towards where Robert was still tinkering in the garage and giving Ava one final encouraging smile before letting go, taking a few steps back down the drive. Ava paused, screwed her head on right, took one last deep breath, before finally starting to walk down the drive, awkwardly adjusting the straps of her bag as she went.

It felt like she was standing inside the garage for hours before she worked up the courage to clear her throat, catching Robert’s attention. “Hey uh … Dad. Can I … can I talk to you?”

Robert stood up, smiling when he saw her. When she didn’t return it, he frowned with concern, placing the spanner he was holding down on the side and wiping his hands on his jeans before leaning back against his workbench. “Yeah, of course bug, what’s up?”

Ava froze, her stomach twisting unpleasantly at the nickname. All of the words she’d planned out in her head dried up in her throat and she was suddenly too terrified of hearing the answers he might give her. Before he could ask for a second time, Ava reached into her bag, hands trembling as her fingers curled around the manila folder holding the papers, pulling out into the open and shoving it in her father’s direction.

“What’s this?” asked Robert. He raised a teasing eyebrow. “Did you get a bad report card?”

Ava still didn’t speak, and Robert gave her a long, anxious look. After a minute, he finally flipped the file open, and Ava felt even sicker as all the colour drained from his face and his confusion morphed into horror mixed with heartbreaking understanding. “Ava, I -”

“Were you ever going to tell me?” Ava demanded, almost glad that her voice was furious rather than the pathetic brokenness it had been with Sara earlier.

Robert’s face fell. He took a step forward and Ava instinctively moved backwards, trying not to think about the flash of hurt on his face. “Of course were were Ava,” he said, eyes flickering down to take in the papers in his hands. “We … we were going to tell you after graduation.” When Ava again didn’t respond, he sighed, flipping the folder shut and placing it on the workbench. “That’s the truth sweetheart, I promise.”  

Was it?

How was she ever supposed to know what was the truth anymore, after all the lies she’d been told? Tears burned against her eyes and she turned away from him, roughly wiping them away. She saw him move to try and comfort her and she shrugged him off, shaking her head. “No, don’t,” she said in a low voice that was thankfully still coated with anger. He kept his distance, but Ava hated that she actually felt bad that she’d put that heartbroken expression on his face.

No. He’d put that expression there, he was the one who’d made the choice to lie. To keep her in the dark. To now make her question everything she thought she’d been sure about in her life.

“Ava,” Robert said helplessly, almost pleading with her. “We were going to tell you. We wanted to give you the summer after graduation to come to terms with it, and have space from us at college if that was what you wanted, but leave enough time for you to ask any questions you might have before moving out. That’s why we chose that time.”

Ava closed her eyes, not able to look at him any longer. “ Why though?” she finally whispered hoarsely. “Why not just tell me when I was a kid? It would’ve been so much easier for me - instead you just lied to me for 18 damn years!”

The pause that followed was unmissable, only a heartbeat, but it still felt like a lifetime. But then Robert stepped forward, grabbing Ava by the arms and holding her just tight enough that she couldn’t run away as he answered “Because we wanted you to be ours, Ava. You are our daughter, whether that’s by blood or not.”

It took a moment for Ava to work up the courage to open her eyes, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks, but when she finally did she immediately found similar eyes looking right back at her, wide and desperate and full of pain. They’d always laughed and joked as kids about who got which features from which parent - Ali had insisted, over and over again, that Ava had inherited their father’s bluish-green eyes, whilst she’d been stuck with Barbara’s. And their parents had laughed and joked and played along. Ava stifled a sob. All that time, they’d acted as though nothing was wrong, even though they’d known all along it was a lie, because Ava wasn’t their child, and never had been.

(A small voice in her head - maybe Sara’s, maybe Nora’s, was quietly but vehemently insisting the opposite, was reminding her that 18 years of parenthood wasn’t dismissed by something as trivial as being related by blood, but right now, Ava ignored it.)

“Am I the only one who didn’t know?” she eventually asked, voice even smaller than it had been before, not entirely convinced that Spencer had even known the whole truth. “Did Layla? Ali?”

“No,” Robert replied immediately, letting go of her arms and shaking his head to try and reassure her. “Layla was too young to remember, and Ali was born after. We never told either of them.” He paused, uncertainty flashing through his eyes before he quietly admitted “Spencer did though.”

Ava took a step back, too exhausted to run but desperately needing to put some space between herself and the man she didn’t know whether to call her father. She sagged back against the workbench and hung her head, roughly wiping away a tear before it could fall. “Yeah, I know.”

If Robert’s face showed any surprise, she didn’t see it, because he’d turned around, running both hands over his face and sighing before dropping them back to his side. Ava wondered, briefly, if he’d be mad that she talked to Spencer first, but that thought was smothered by another, sudden flash of anger. If he’d wanted to talk to her about this first, then he should’ve fucking told her to begin with.

“He hated it,” Robert said quietly, turning back around to face her but avoiding her eyes. Ava felt a wave of panic ripple through her before he must’ve seen her expression, hastily adding “not that you were adopted. Never that you were adopted - he loves you more than anything, Ava. But … he hated that we lied to you about it, and that we made him lie to you about it too.”

“I wonder why,” Ava snapped spitefully, letting out a disbelieving scoff. “I know he hated it,” she said, fighting to keep her voice level and devoid of emotion. “He told me.”

Robert sighed, taking a step closer but not reaching out to her, seeming to recognise that she couldn’t manage that, not right now. “Ava,” he said softly, waiting for her to look at him before continuing in a quiet, still concerned voice. “Please don’t blame him for his part in this.”

Ava hardened her gaze, fixing it on the car in front of her because she knew she would break if she even tried to look at the man beside her. Her hands gripped the workbench so hard her knuckles went white. “I don’t,” she said coldly.

She didn’t know what else to say. She didn’t know how to act, she just … she just desperately wanted this conversation to be over, so she could go upstairs and call Sara immediately, instead of simply standing here and trying to make sense of a million things at once, putting all of her effort into not letting her tears fall. She needed Sara to tell her things would work out, to tell her that confronting her dad had been a good idea, that it would get easier, and that at some point soon she’d stop feeling like the world was crumbling around her.

Ava pushed herself up and walked over to her bag, picking it up from where she’d dropped it earlier and slinging it over her shoulder.

“Ava,” Robert started before she could leave, the worried expression on his face far too heartbreakingly for Ava to convince herself that she didn’t care, that the anger was overshadowing any sympathy she had for him right now. “Do you want to talk to your mom about this now?”

Ava’s eyes widened, stomach clenching in fear, the idea making her feel more than slightly nauseous. “No,” she said immediately, voice sharp and desperate.

Robert’s gaze softened. The facade of her anger had finally broken, and Ava knew he could see how vulnerable she was underneath it all. “I can tell her you know, if you want me to.”

“Okay.”

“Ava,” Robert said quietly but his voice was firm, as though he’d finally found his footing again as being the adult in this scenario. He waited for her to look at him but when she didn’t, he just sighed, as though not surprised. “We love you Ava. So much. Don’t ever forget that.”

He sounded so sincere, so genuine that Ava’s feet were frozen to the spot for a moment as she replayed his words over and over in her head, finally feeling her tears start to roll down her cheeks, unable to hold them back for any longer. She heard him say her name in a soft, comforting voice. Out of the corner of her eye, saw him move along the workbench to pull her into a hug and she instantly moved, sucked in a panicked breath and practically ran from the garage. leaving Robert standing alone in the garage, still holding the adoption papers in his hand.

 


 

Ava knew the minute Robert told Barbara that Ava had found out about the adoption.

Though the snide remarks, disapproving sighs and endless antagonisms Ava had always endured from her mother had lessened over the past few years, Ava was still quite used to the way Barbara would purse her lips when Ava moved to leave the house wearing one of Spencer’s ratty old hoodies, was familiar with the icy tension that settled in the room if Barbara heard anyone mention anything about Ava’s sexuality. Even now, almost four years after Ava had quit playing basketball, Barbara still sighed if Ava showed any sign of interest in the game, whether playing, watching, or just discussing it with Robert.

It would’ve been exhausting, if it hadn’t been the foundation of Ava’s relationship with her mother for the past 18 years.

But the same evening that Ava had confronted her father in the garage, every look, every sigh, every unamused expression or quiet remark that Barbara sent Ava’s way all suddenly stopped. Ava wasn’t sure whether it was Barbara’s way of trying to atone for the lies they’d told for so long, or whether she was afraid of the inevitable confrontation, or even if she just thought it was easier to cut all communication with Ava altogether (the latter of which Ava couldn’t think about because it sent her into an anxious panic). Ava tried to convince herself that perhaps Barbara had had a difficult day at work, or this was her immediate way of processing that the secret she’d tried so hard to keep was now loose. Three days later, however, even Ali and Layla had noticed their mother’s behaviour all week.

“Did the rest of us miss something?” asked Ali unhesitatingly at dinner on the third day.

“Miss what?” asked Barbara, taking a sip of water.

“Are you kidding?” Ali deadpanned. She emphatically waved her fork between Barbara and Ava, to which Barbara sent her a look and Ali rolled her eyes, dropping her fork to her plate. “ This. You two. Like, I get you’re not exactly Lorelai and Rory Gilmore or anything, but you two are being weird. I swear you haven’t spoken a word to each other in like, ten days.”

“Alison, you’re being overdramatic,” said Barbara stiffly. “I’ve just been busy.”

Ali glanced over at Ava with a raised eyebrow.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Ava with a shrug, but the way Ali’s eyes lingered on her proved that she hadn’t exactly been convincing in her deflection. The rest of dinner had been quiet, the conversation thankfully diverted by Robert quickly filling the silence with an anecdote from the clinic and then Layla monopolising the talk with details about her new boyfriend. Ava had caught Ali’s continuous glances over at her, evidently suspicious of whatever both Ava and Barbara were clearly not disclosing.

Ava told this to Nora on the phone later, lying on her bed and recounting her mother’s distance over the recent days. “It’s everything I was afraid of,” she whispered, throwing her arm over her face even though there was nobody there to see the way her bottom lip quivered. “I mean, Ali’s not wrong - we’re not exactly about to go have our own mother daughter television show but … that doesn’t mean I want to lose her. As fucked up as our relationship is, you were right Nor, she’s still my mom and that’s more than I can say for my birth mother - whoever she is, it’s not like she’s lining up anywhere to have any kind of role in my life, clearly.”

“She hasn’t said anything to you?” Nora asked. “Barbara?”

“Nope,” said Ava, sighing. “Literally, not one word other than like, ‘set the table’ or ‘tidy up the living room when you leave’ and all that crap. God, I wanna ask my dad what he told her but … I don’t even know how to talk to him right now.”

“I mean, the thing is Aves, it’s not like she’s never acted this way before,” Nora pointed out. “Remember after you came out to them?”

Ava let out a soft huff of breath. Yeah, she remembered.

She remembered the split second of agonising, terrifying silence after she’d whispered out “I’m uh … I’m gay”, broken by Ali’s quiet whoop and the immediate, wonderful hug that had relief seeping through Ava’s entire body. Ali had started talking a mile a minute about how great it was that Ava didn’t have to settle for the plethora of disgusting guys around school and how half the girls were much hotter anyway. Layla had shrugged, given Ava a small, tight smile and said “Good for you I guess. Less competition. Now I know I never have to worry about you making a move on any of my boyfriends” to which Ava had let out a hoarse chuckle and muttered “Yeah, not a chance.” She could tell there was something more in the hesitance in Layla’s eyes, something resembling uncertainty and maybe even embarrassment or apprehension, which Ava had later realised was Layla’s worry about her image at school when people found out her younger sister was a lesbian. But in that moment on that Sunday afternoon, Layla’s half-approval had been enough.

Robert’s eyes had been filled with surprise, and Ava had seen his thought process in his expression, the way he was clearly cataloguing and combing through memories, trying to figure out how or why or when he missed this massive development in Ava’s life. Of course, he didn’t say any of that aloud, just given her a kind, gentle smile, reached out and squeezed her knee and softly said “We’ll love and support you no matter who you are or who you love Ava.”

But Barbara hadn’t said a word. Ava had felt her mother’s eyes on her during Ali’s hug, but when Ava turned back to face her parents, Barbara’s gaze was fixed firmly on her mug of tea in her hands. She hadn’t spoken, just offered the most incremental, barely there nod at Robert’s declaration of support, only managing a quiet hum of agreement when her husband turned to her and said “Right, honey?” The phone had rang out shrilly from the kitchen soon afterwards, and Ava wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her mother leave a room so quickly in her life.

“Yeah,” she said now to Nora. “I remember. She didn’t say anything to me for like, two days.”

“Exactly,” said Nora. “Maybe this is her way of processing stuff this massive. Because instinctively, it’s something that she’s been raised to act a certain way towards, but somewhere deep down she probably knows that that isn’t the right thing to do.”

“Except when she did talk to me again after I came out, we had that huge fight over dinner about how wrong she thought it was,” added Ava, trying to ignore the lurch in her stomach at the recollection, instead attempting to focus on the better memories of the night - of the first time she’d ever spent an evening hanging out with Sara.

“Didn’t you tell me later that she’d said all those things after getting off the phone with her mom who had called because she saw your coming out facebook post and like, wasn’t having any of it?” argued Nora. “Your grandma, the shitty, homophobic, incredibly racist, conservative and all around awful matriarch of your family?”

Ava bit her lip. “I mean, yeah,” she admitted reluctantly.

“You can’t tell me that you don’t think that conversation would’ve influenced how she reacted that night,” said Nora and Ava wished they were talking in person so she could glare at her lifelong best friend.

“Why do you always take her side?” she huffed petulantly.

“Aves, I’m not taking her side,” Nora insisted, a hint of a smile in her voice. “I’m showing it to you. Your mom’s not a bad person.”

“That’s because she actually likes you,” Ava retorted, trying not to think about how much saying that hurt.

“She loves you Ava,” Nora said softly. “She can’t have raised and cared for you for 18 years and not love you at the end of it all. She just has a really, really different view of the world and you challenge literally all of the things she assumed was right and wrong.”

“Bet she never imagined I’d make her life this challenging when she adopted me,” muttered Ava in a small voice.

“Hey, if it’s any consolation, you’re my favourite Sharpe sibling,” joked Nora. “I’d adopt you over Layla, Spencer or Ali any day.”

“Uh, you better!” exclaimed Ava, but she couldn’t stop the grin from flickering across her face. She sat up, ran her fingers through her hair and let her eyes scan the room. Her gaze paused on one of the polaroids on the wall opposite her, one of her whole family smushed in close on Christmas day several years ago the last time Spencer had visited home, his long arm outstretched as he tried to take a selfie on Layla’s polaroid camera. (It had turned out too overexposed, Robert’s face half cropped out and Ali’s hand moving as the photo was taken, creating a blur near Ava’s head. Layla had sighed and declared that it wasn’t ‘aesthetic enough’ for her to keep, had let Ava claim it instead).

“You gonna talk to her?” asked Nora quietly.

Ava paused, anxiously raked her nails over her jeans as she kept her focus on the polaroid. It was one of the rare photos Ava had with her mom, and an even rarer photo she had of Barbara smiling.

“No,” she said eventually. “Whatever she’s trying to figure out … if I ask when I want to know, I doubt she’ll tell me. But she has to talk to me about it sooner or later - Dad will make her - and I figure if she’s the one who starts the conversation, it’s more likely that I’ll get the truth.”

Nora hummed softly in agreement. “That’s a good plan.”

Ava tore her gaze away from the photo and flopped back down onto her bed, snapping her eyes shut and roughly pushing her hair away from her face. “Yeah,” she murmured. “I sure hope so.”

 

It wasn’t until Saturday that Barbara seemed to finally find it in herself to bring up the elephant in the room. Layla was out with her ‘boy of the month’, while Robert had taken Ali to her lacrosse game. Ava had assumed that Barbara had gone too, and was relieved to finally have the house to herself for at least a few hours, to be able to wander through the hallways without feeling like she had to avoid her family, able to take her time finding food and not have to worry about making small talk with anyone. She’d slept in - a rarity for her, but Nora, Sara and Spencer had all collectively ordered her to take some time for herself this weekend - so it was nearing eleven when she finally dragged herself out of bed and down the stairs to eat breakfast.

It was a dreary day outside - rain splattered loudly against the window panes, grey clouds painted across the skies and showing absolutely no signs of letting up. Ava sighed, grabbing the peanut butter from the cupboard above her and pulling open the dishwasher to find a knife. Just as she shoved the dishwasher closed again, she spotted movement out of the corner of her eye and she whirled around with a yelp, breathing out a loud sigh of relief when she saw it was just Barbara standing in the doorway, not an intruder who had snuck inside while she’d been asleep.

“You scared me,” she said breathlessly, turning back to her toast. “I thought you’d taken Ali to lacrosse and I was about to get murdered by a home invader or something.”

It wasn’t until after she spoke that Ava remembered that she and her mother hadn’t been talking all week, and she immediately tensed, paused in buttering her toast, waited uncertainly for Barbara to respond (or not respond).

“I have a lunch with Yvonne and Penny at twelve,” said Barbara eventually, her voice careful and measured.

Ava just nodded, tightening her grip on the knife. For a second, she thought Barbara would leave the room, wait until Ava had finished using the kitchen to use it herself. Ava wasn’t sure if she wanted that or not. Part of her was desperate for the safety of not having to talk about this, especially with the one person she already had a less than easy relationship with, but the other part of her needed so desperately for some kind of answer, for any kind of explanation that Barbara was willing to give.

It felt like an age before Barbara stepped a little further into the kitchen and quietly said “Can we talk?”

Instinctively, Ava wanted to say no. The same way she had automatically gone to decline Spencer’s phone calls in the pool house, the way she’d wanted to run as soon as she actually brought up this topic with Robert - right now, all Ava wanted to do was disappear. But as she glanced hesitantly across to her mother, Barbara’s face was so anxious - more emotive and expressive than Ava could ever really remember it - that she relented with another, small nod.

Barbara let out a sigh of relief before moving to stand beside Ava at the bench, opening the tin in front of them that held her standard Earl Grey tea and absentmindedly making a cup, clearly trying to find a way to organise her thoughts. Ava finished making her breakfast, tossed her knife into the sink and crossed to the other side of the kitchen, standing by the island in the middle of the room to give herself something to do in the uncomfortable silence, a way to move at least a little away from Barbara and not feel so caged in.

“Look,” Barbara said after a couple of minutes. “I … I know you and I haven’t always had the best relationship.”

Ava resisted the urge to scoff. Barbara seemed to notice, and Ava was surprised to see her lips upturn wryly.

“I also know that that’s largely my fault,” she added, a little quieter. “I’ve always been hard on you. Harder than I should’ve been and … usually for things that weren’t fair. I was always trying to make you more like your sisters, more like who I wanted you to be.” She shrugged, her fingers stilled from stirring the tea and her eyes flickered up to meet Ava’s. “It’s not an excuse but - I guess I never really knew how to raise a sporty girl. Being a tomboy was discouraged in my family. Although, to be fair, a lot of things were discouraged in my family.”

This time, Ava did scoff and Barbara smiled a little properly (if not slightly remorsefully too), before she tore her gaze away from Ava’s and furrowed her eyebrows thoughtfully.

“When … when you came out,” she said slowly, and Ava felt her stomach lurch, “I -” Barbara paused, tightened her grip on the handle of the mug. “I didn’t react well. And … Ava, I hope you know that I regret that more than you could ever know.”

Ava stiffened, and her hold on her plate became so tight that she had to turn away from her mother and put it down on the bench in front of her out of fear of breaking it. She had not expected this to come up during this conversation.

“Ava,” said Barbara, her voice so much softer than before and Ava snapped her eyes shut, could feel the tears burning behind her eyelids. “Ava, I need you to know that … none of it - none of it ever - was about this. It was never because you were adopted.”

Ava’s breath hitched at the word, and her whole body was poised to bolt. She wasn’t sure why she’d wanted this confrontation so badly, because now that it was here, she wanted to be doing literally anything else. She didn’t realise how tightly she was gripping the countertop until a hand curled around her arm and tugged gently. Ava reluctantly released the bench and turned, keeping her eyes fixed on the floor because she couldn’t look at her mother.

“Ava,” Barbara said, keeping her light hold on Ava’s elbow. “You have always been my daughter. I was hard on you for being so sporty as a kid because that’s how my mother taught me to raise my daughters. I always did what I thought was best for you, even if it wasn’t necessarily the right thing to do. And … as for … as for you coming out -”

“Mom -” Ava tried to whisper out.

“No, listen,” said Barbara firmly, squeezing Ava’s arm. “You know what our family is like. What my family is like. You know how they think, what they believe, what I was raised to believe. I grew up thinking being gay was a sin, and even though being with your father all these years had a tiny voice in the back of my head reminding me that maybe that wasn’t quite true, I never thought I would have to reevaluate my beliefs because if we’re honest, I never thought it would become a part of my life. It never even occurred to me that any of you kids would - you know, be that way - and it wasn’t until you came out that I had to stop and try to teach myself to think differently. Those early days after you told us … I remember how I acted and that must have hurt you a lot, but I promise you right now Ava that nothing I ever did was trying to intentionally make you feel like you didn’t belong in this family, because you do. As much as Layla or Ali or Spencer.”

A lump had formed in Ava’s throat and she desperately wanted to reach up and hurriedly wipe away the tears that were spilling from her eyelids down her cheeks, but she didn’t want to give away to her mother that she was crying. But something - Ava refrained from calling it motherly intuition - made Barbara click on to exactly what Ava was trying to hide, and she carefully reached between them to tilt Ava’s chin upwards so she could meet her eyes. As soon as Barbara caught sight of the tears streaming down Ava’s face, she let out a soft sigh of “Oh Ava” and pulled her forward into a tight, warm, gentle hug. Ava sank into it, burying her face in her mother’s shoulder and squeezing her eyes shut. It struck her suddenly that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been held by her mom like this, couldn’t remember the last time any form of affection or comfort between them had been this open and honest rather than curt and hurried and somewhat uncomfortable.

“I know this will take a long time to fix,” murmured Barbara against Ava’s hair, and another wave of relief swept over Ava. Because perhaps more than anything, she had been terrified that even after she’d talked to both of her parents about this, even after she’d confronted them and everything was out in the open, that maybe they’d just sweep it under the rug again and the topic would gather dust, forgotten.

“Yeah,” Ava whispered, pulling away and wiping her face with her sleeve. Barbara’s tsch ’d, pulling Ava’s hand down and reaching out to grab a tissue from the bench.

“Don’t do that, you’ll ruin your sweater.”

“It’s Dad’s from like, thirty years ago,” replied Ava, arching an eyebrow.

“Exactly, it’s sentimental,” said Barbara.

“Pretty sure he’s forgotten it exists.”

“All the more reason to preserve it carefully.”

Ava couldn’t stop the laugh that slipped past her lips at how quickly they fell back into their usual arguing, although she couldn’t help but notice the absence of the normally present heat and frustration. She finished dabbing her cheeks and let her gaze flicker back to her mother’s face. Barbara’s expression was uncharacteristically soft, but Ava could see the weariness in her eyes.

“Yeah,” Ava repeated, straightening a little as she let herself drift back to Barbara’s earlier comment. “Yeah, this is gonna take a while to fix. You … you guys lied to me for 18 years.”

“I know,” said Barbara, shaking her head. “We should’ve told you years ago. We just … we kept waiting for the right time when you were young and it never came, so we told ourselves we would leave it until you were 10. But that birthday came and went and we were so scared of what it meant to tell you that we just kept delaying it.”

“What made you decide on graduation?” asked Ava, wrapping her arms tightly around herself.

Barbara sighed. “Spencer,” she said, and Ava wanted to cry all over again. “Before he left, he told us that the next time he came back, we either had to have told you or have a plan for when we were going to tell you. And it had to be before you went off to college. He … he was done with us lying, and he was done with having to keep it a secret from you.”

“Before I went off to college,” echoed Ava, and she couldn’t stop the incredulous smirk from flitting onto her face. “You realise you literally chose the last possible date within that time frame, right?”

Barbara let out a quiet laugh. “Yes, I’m aware.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. Ava glanced over her shoulder, saw her toast sitting on the bench getting cold, but she’d lost her appetite and couldn’t bring herself to eat any. She found herself playing with the cuffs of her sleeves to give herself something to do with her fidgeting hands, while Barbara moved to reboil the kettle.

“Did, uh -”

Ava glanced up as Barbara hesitantly started to speak.

“- did your Dad say anything? About how we got you?”

Ava shook her head, feeling an uncomfortable chill run through her body. “No,” she said in a small voice. “I kind of ran out on him.”

Barbara nodded, didn’t seem to have any kind of judgement for Ava acting the way she had. She paused for a few moments, before saying “Do … do you want to know?”

Ava’s breath caught in her throat, and it took her a long time to find her voice. “Eventually, yeah,” she whispered after a while. “But um … not … not now. Not yet.”

Barbara nodded again, this time her eyes full of understanding. “When you do want to hear about it, you can ask us whenever,” she said, and Ava could hear the promise in her words. “We’ll tell you everything we know, if you like.”

A soft breath whistled through Ava’s teeth. “That would mean a lot,” she said quietly, offering what she hoped was a sincere smile.

There was another beat of silence, this one more familiar and a little awkward, before Barbara rolled her eyes with a gentle chuckle and crossed the space between them again, grabbing Ava’s plate of peanut butter on toast and setting it down beside the sink.

“Hey!” protested Ava.

“Those look like the most unappetising pieces of toast I’ve ever seen,” said Barbara, her voice back to its usual, sharp quip. “Go upstairs and shower. I’ll make you something to eat.”

Ava did a double take. She couldn’t remember the last time her mom had made her - just her, rather than the whole family - a lazy weekend brunch. She made another (though somewhat half-hearted) attempt to take back her plate as she weakly insisted “Mom, it’s fine, you don’t have to -”

Barbara swatted her hand away. “I still have an hour before I have to go out,” she said, and the sternness in her voice left absolutely no room to argue. “Now go do as you’re told. Your hair looks like a mouse’s nest, and I’m certain that sweater desperately needs a wash.” She glanced across at Ava, and though her words were as unflinchingly reprimanding as usual there was a softness in her eyes and a small smile on her face that Ava definitely wasn’t used to.

“Fine,” she said, rolling her eyes overdramatically as she headed for the door. She heard Barbara huff something about ‘teenage attitude’, but the fondness in her voice overshadowed any exasperation she was clearly trying to put on. Ava grinned a little, and as she hurried up the stairs, she felt the sick feeling she’d been carrying around with her for the last three weeks suddenly vanish, felt as though an enormous, crushing weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and perhaps for the first time since she’d stumbled upon the papers in the attic earlier this month, she actually, properly believed that maybe, everything would be okay.

Chapter Text

Ava had known this was coming. She’d discussed it with Sara, multiple times and at length, and both of her parents had checked with her that this afternoon was the right time for her to tell them. But still, Ava didn’t think she’d ever be ready to tell Ali and Layla the truth, especially when there was such a high chance that she’d lose them both even though this hadn’t been her fault, that she’d had no control over the lies her parents had told on her behalf.

“Ava?” Robert asked quietly from where he was sitting next to her on the couch, he and Barbara on either side of Ava, both closer than they would usually be in any other situation.

“Well this seems ominous,” quipped Ali, pulling her legs up onto the armchair and crossing them. “Okay, so we can rule out Ava getting herself knocked up. Did she see a murder and now we’re in witness protection and have to move across the country?”

“Alison,” said Barbara warningly and Ali rolled her eyes, falling silent. Robert glanced across at Ava, softly saying her name again, a prompt for Ava to start this conversation her way if she wanted to. Ava shook her head. She knew Ali, knew her joking remarks were her way of hiding her nerves over the clear seriousness of whatever this was. Even Layla’s eyes were on her, careful and suspicious and maybe even an element of concerned that made Ava just feel nauseous. She let her gaze flicker to the floor, fingers anxiously and instinctively spinning the charm bracelet round her wrist.

If she was being brutally honest, Ava could handle losing Layla. It would hurt almost unbearably of course, because for all the shit between them, Ava wasn’t sure what her life would be without Layla in it. But the truth was, they’d never been that close, not with Barbara constantly pressuring Ava to act like Layla, think like Layla, dress like Layla, be Layla. There’d never been a close, sisterly bond between them and even though they were both now old enough to recognise Barbara’s flaws and acknowledge that most of their dislike for each other as children was misplaced, they could never have a relationship completely free of the past. Ali though. Ali was her little sister. Ali had been her little sister from day one, whether they were related by blood or not and Ava couldn’t bear to look up, couldn’t bear to see the confusion in her eyes, not if she was about to lose her.

So instead of launching into the explanation she’d been rehearsing in her head for days now, she swallowed, rubbed her clammy hands against her thighs and whispered “Can you tell them?”

Robert’s eyes flickered with surprise and something that resembled remorse. He nodded, squeezed her thigh comfortingly and turned his attention to his other two daughters, starting to speak.

He told them how a colleague of his from med school and turned up one day with a baby he had no way to care for, how he’d known that the Sharpes already had two children and would be financially secure to look after a child, about how none of them were willing to put her into the system and how they’d then taken her in, adopted her and raised her as one of their own. He told them about Spencer being old enough to remember, how they’d made him promise to keep it a secret, and about how Ava had found out sooner than they had intended, rummaging around in the attic for photos she never even saw, about how it was only fair that Ali and Layla knew now too. The more he spoke, the more the fear began to build sickeningly in Ava’s stomach. Neither Ali nor Layla said a word and their silence was making it harder to ignore the anxious pressure pushing down on her lungs. She leaned slightly closer to her dad as he finished, attempting to draw enough strength from him to look up, eyes drifting to Layla first, deliberately avoiding Ali.

Layla cleared her throat, eyes narrowing slightly. “Why did you keep it a secret?”

Robert looked over to his wife, expression indecipherable. For the first time Barbara took a shaky breath, composure slipping as her hand found Ava’s and gave it a light squeeze. “We didn’t want her to feel any different to you guys. And … we didn’t want it to impact any of your relationships.”

Ava choked back a bitter laugh at Barbara’s words, the irony of them not slipping past her as it seemed to have for everyone else. Layla nodded, seeming to accept the response. She asked a couple more surprisingly reasonable questions before leaning back in her chair, nodding stiffly. Her reaction was better that Ava had expected, and Layla’s apparent acceptance gave her enough courage to brave a look in Ali’s direction, hoping to see a similar response from her little sister, but an uncomfortable gut feeling made her feel not quite confident enough to expect it.

And it looked like she was right not to - Ali’s face was pale, eyes wide in shock, hands trembling just enough for Ava to notice before Ali shoved them roughly into the pockets of her jacket, meeting Ava’s eyes for the first time. Ava swallowed, reaching out to take Ali’s hand or place her hand on her knee, just to do something to reassure her sister that she was right here, just as she’d always been, and nothing had changed. But Ali flinched away, giving Ava a long, confused and pained look before getting to her feet and disappearing down the hallway.

No one moved until a minute later a door slammed above them and Ava shuddered, burying her head in her hands and exhaling shakily, desperately trying to fight back the tears she could feel burning in her eyes and not wanting her parents or Layla to see just how much Ali’s rejection hurt. She knew somewhere, deep down, she needn’t have hid it. Everyone in the room knew how close Ali and Ava were, and Ava could feel the guilt rolling off her parents in waves.

“She’s just shocked Ava, give her some time,” Robert murmured quietly, wrapping a gentle arm around her shoulders. Ava immediately shrugged it off. She was feeling a sudden overwhelming surge of anger towards him and her mother for putting her in this position in the first place, for perhaps irreparably ruining the most important familial relationship she had left. But Ava knew they were already feeling this regret, had been since Ava had first confronted them and she didn’t want to twist the knife further. So before she slipped and lashed out, she pushed herself to her feet and avoided everyone’s eyes, murmuring something about having homework before leaving the room too as fast as she could without actually running.  

Upstairs, she paused briefly outside Ali’s room, trembling hand hovering over the doorknob as she fought the desperate urge to push the door open and explain it all properly from her point of view, explain that nothing was different, not really. But all she could remember was the betrayal and distance in Ali’s eyes when Ava had finally glanced up at her and Ava snapped her eyes shut as though that would put some sort of halt to the overwhelming, crushing hurt that she could feel in every part of her body at the idea that she had actually, properly lost Ali.

She pulled her hand back, sucking in a shaky breath and walked past Ali’s door to her own room.

 


 

Sara (ur fav human in the world and
is better than u) Lance

iMessage
(Ava Sharpe)
Saturday


1:13pm:
So we told Ali and Layla


1:15pm:
and?


1:15pm:
It was okay


1:15pm:
what level of okay? okay as in, right
couldn’t have expected any better
this is pretty good in the grand scheme
of things and it’ll even out soon, or okay
as in literally could’ve been better in like
every possible way but at least nothing is
on fire?


1:18pm:
Yeah that second one


1:18pm:
shit aves, i’m so sorry that sucks


1:18pm:
d’you want me to call you?


1:19pm:
No, I just


1:19pm:
I can’t talk about it rn


1:19pm:
Which I know, makes no sense bc
I just texted you about this but


1:20pm:
Idk


1:20pm:
hey, it’s fine x


1:21pm:
wanna get out of the house? come over,
i’ve been dying to watch the b99 s3 finale
and you’ve been tied up w all this for the
past month


1:22pm:
Actually yeah, that sounds perfect


1:22pm:
have you eaten? Dad’s home and he’s
making quesadillas


1:23pm:
he also said that if we end up binge
watching b99 all afternoon then you’re
staying for dinner lmao


1:24pm:
Tell your dad I love him


1:24pm:
yeah he knows he likes you better than
he likes me ;-)


1:25pm:
That’s probably bc I actually make
you clean your room & unload the
dishwasher


1:26pm:
he just said that that’s accurate


1:26pm:
i hate it when you two gang up on me


1:27pm:
;’D


1:27pm:
Okay I’m leaving now, see you
soon X Do you want me to pick
up anything from the convenience
store in the village?


1:29pm:
POPCORN


1:29pm:
and those weird toffee chocolate covered
donut things that zari got me obsessed
with


1:31pm:
Aren’t you on a diet for soccer
starting like, this week?


1:32pm:
shut up it’s my cheat day


Read: Saturday.

 


 

Instagram
(lilssstein)

You uploaded 1 new story:

TG&G: 1
OG legends: 0

Good luck washing that purple
hair dye out @nathanielheywood
;-) (we loooove u ;’D)

#SCHSsenioryearprankwar

 

Wednesday 15 February at 3:08pm:

nathanielheywood replied to your story:

I hate you guys


HAHAHAHA

It’s supposed to last 10
washes so…. maybe just
have a rlly long shower?


Uh huh sure

I can’t believe you got your
dad to help you guys THAT’S
SO UNFAIR


Dude there are no rules
here, remember?

Senior year prank war is
all in yo


Well you guys better watch
your backs bc we are gonna
get REVENGE


Have fun w that pretty
boy :-))))


On another note I look kinda
good w purple hair don’t ya
think?


YEAH KINDA LIKE A GRUNGE
ROCKER IN A PUNK BAND U
KNOW????

 


 

It had been a week.

Neither Ali or Layla had spoken to her in a week. Way beyond what was necessary. But at least Layla wasn’t actively avoiding her. Layla was being normal (mostly). Layla wasn’t not meeting her eyes and shutting herself in her room, wasn’t flying out the front door without eating breakfast to avoid seeing Ava, wasn’t immediately moving to walk in another direction at school if she caught sight of Ava in the halls.

Ali was.

And besides, it would hurt less to lose Layla. Layla who Ava had never really got on with, not compared to the inseparability she and Ali had always had for the better part of 15 years.

That said … she’d never known how to talk to Layla, not since Barbara had started to draw a line between them, pushing them so far apart that finding out Ava was adopted was probably a relief to Layla, an excuse to not have to force a connection between them anymore. Ava’s stomach flipped at the thought and she pushed herself up off the bed, something uncharacteristically reckless taking over and forcing her to move, marching down the hallway to Layla’s room. She shoved open the door, slammed it behind her as she stepped inside and Layla arched an unamused, slightly irritated eyebrow as she pulled her headphones out of her ears.

Layla opened her mouth to speak, but Ava got there first, the frustration that’d been building all week finally reaching its peak as she leaned back against the door, crossing her arms across her waist. “Look, I know you and I aren’t close,” she started, eyes fixed on Layla’s. “And I know we’ve got this weird, fucked up, antagonistic relationship, and I know you weren’t cool with me being gay and you love making my life a living hell, and I pretty much love doing the same for you and it’s always been that way but -”

“But?” Layla asked when Ava cut off abruptly, her recklessness dissipating slightly and fear making her words stumble suddenly. There was a flash of something in Layla’s eyes and she sat up a little, repeating in a quieter voice, “But what Ava?”, something other than indifference entering her voice for the first time since she’d found out the truth.

Ava took a deep breath, looping one finger under her charm bracelet without thinking about it. She thought she saw Layla’s gaze shift to the chain around her wrist, a thoughtful expression flitting across her face before her eyes moved back to Ava. Ava swallowed. “But …” she said in a small voice, “but you have no reason to … to give a shit about me anymore. We both know that. Not now that I’m not … not actually your sister - ”

“No,” Layla interrupted, eyes flashing with something unidentifiable. “Mom and Dad don’t get to just suddenly pull the rug under all of us and suddenly reveal this bullshit as though everything that’s happened our entire damn lives just doesn’t count for anything. We’ve been sisters for 18 years Ava.” She paused, expression softening slightly before her lips curved upwards in a wry sort of smile. “No one could annoy me this much unless we were siblings.”

Siblings .

Ava froze, caught somewhere between shock and confusion. “I … wait, what ?”

Layla rolled her eyes, the annoyance clear in the action causing Ava to sag against the wall in relief at the familiarity. Layla swung her legs over the side of the bed, getting to her feet with an over dramatic sigh as she took a step towards Ava. “Oh my God Aves, don’t be so overdramatic. Yeah, you’re adopted, yeah, it sucks that mom and dad lied to you for so long. But are you actually my sister? Yes. Are you a proper part of this family? Still yes.”

Ava bit her lip, trying desperately to sort through her emotions and pull herself back together before Layla noticed her falling apart. Layla narrowed her eyes, and there was no heat behind her words as she added, a little softer “And am I gonna kick you out of my room in 10 seconds flat if you get get all mushy about this? Also yes.”

Ava choked pack a relieved laugh, past pretending Layla’s acceptance didn’t mean anything to her. She managed a slightly uncertain smirk, not giving herself the time to overthink her actions but instead stepping forward, pulling Layla into a hug. It wasn’t until Layla lifted her arms hesitantly around Ava’s back, relaxing just ever so slightly, that this was the first hug they’d shared in years, since almost before Ava could remember. Layla squeezed her tightly for a brief moment and Ava leaned closer, taking a deep breath, savouring the moment she knew she wouldn’t last.

Then Layla pulled away, poking Ava in the stomach and narrowing her eyes. “Now get the fuck out.”

Ava laughed softly, giving Layla a small shove and dodging Layla’s attempted returning punch. She slipped out of the door, running one hand through her hair as she left and unable to keep her stupid grin off her face for any longer. She headed back to her room, closed her door behind her and flopped down on her bed. A sudden bubble of confidence overtook her, making her fish her phone out of her pocket to call Sara, desperate for someone to talk to. If Layla could let this go and promise they were still family, then Ali could too.

She had to.

Ava wouldn’t know what to do if she didn’t.

 


 

Instagram
(ztomaz)

You uploaded 1 new story:

TG&G: 1
OG legends: 1

What, you thought we weren’t
gonna catch up? Nice try

(This is what happens when u
let ur guard down during
soccer practice HAHAHA)

@KuasaJiwe @lilssstein have
fun with these new and very
fashionable soccer uniforms
#SCHSsenioryearprankwar

 

Wednesday 15 February at 3:08pm:

KuasaJiwe replied to your story:

YOU KNOW WHAT

I WAS BEING R E S P O N S I B L E
AND FILLING IN SOME OF THE NEW
FRESHMEN ON THE TEAM ON HOW
TRAININGS AND SHIT WORKED

THAT WAS A LOW BLOW TOMAZ


It’s go hard or go home this year
Jiwe, you know that ;’D


Rip is gonna blow his fuse when
he sees the uniforms tho

Like me and Lils don’t care

But I don’t wanna get in trouble


Nah dude it’s fine

Don’t go telling anyone else
but we’re getting new uniforms
for this season

Rip wanted us to go out in style
so ruining these ones isn’t a big
deal, don’t stress


Oh damn, that’s cool

Well on that note

I’m gonna try and figure out what
the hell to do w this ridiculous
jersey now


Enjoy ;’D

 


 

Sara wasn’t quite sure how exactly everybody found out, but in all honesty, she wasn’t surprised. It was high school. Secrets weren’t exactly kept under a lock and key. Hushed conversations eavesdropped on in hallways, notes passed in class intercepted by an unsuspecting middleman, tearful phone calls in bathrooms overheard by someone in a neighbouring stall - Star City High School definitely wasn’t Fort Knox of teenage gossip.

Except … this wasn’t just teenage gossip.

This was Ava’s life. A secret she hadn’t even known until just over a month and a half ago, and the entire school suddenly knowing that Ava Sharpe was adopted was more than a bit disconcerting for Sara , she couldn’t even imagine how shaken Ava would be when she found out that she was this week’s topic of schoolwide discussion.

Sara had realised within the space of five minutes as she approached her locker between Bio and P.E. on Monday morning. Ava hadn’t been in Bio because she’d been organising an event for one of the ridiculous number of clubs she was a part of, so Sara was alone as she tugged open her locker and grabbed her gym kit. It was then that she heard Trinity Bradley’s voice, clear and spiteful from a few lockers down as she said “I mean, is anyone shocked? It’s not like she looks like them.” There was a ripple of chatter before someone else’s voice, a guy’s, replied with “I mean, she kinda does Trinity. And they always seemed like such a tight family - I definitely didn’t see this coming. I wonder how Ava’s taking it.”, another boy chiming in with “Ava Sharpe, adopted? That’s definitely a yearbook moment.”  

Sara’s blood went cold and she clutched the strap of her school bag tightly. No. They couldn’t know - how would they know? (Easily, she thought logically. Someone could have easily overheard a conversation she and Ava had, or one Nora and Ava had, or maybe Ava’s texts had been hacked, hell, maybe Ali or Layla had told their friends and it had just rippled around the school - regardless, there were endless possibilities, but that didn’t make this any better .) Before she could slam her locker shut and berate Trinity for spreading mindless gossip and just being an all round bitch (possibly even give her another black eye), Sara’s phone buzzed incessantly in her pocket and she pulled it out immediately. Notifications lit up her lockscreen.

 

MESSENGER
Jax to your group
is this what’s been up w her these last few weeks???? are you with her?
now


MESSENGER
Amaya to your group
Are all the rumours around school true? About Ava being adopted?
now


MESSENGER
Zari Tomaz
Tell me you’re with her rn
1m ago


MESSENGER
Zari Tomaz
This is why she was weird when i asked her about spencer leaving, isn’t it?
2m ago


SNAPCHAT
from thea Q
4m ago


MESSAGES
Nora Darhk
How the fuck did everyone find out?
5m ago


SNAPCHAT
legends™
from wally west
9m ago


SNAPCHAT
legends™
from Z
14m ago

 

“Shit,” Sara muttered under her breath, hurriedly unlocking her phone and opening her messages. If all their friends had heard, then it had definitely spread far enough around school that there was no rectifying this situation. Now, it was just a matter of whether Ava was aware that her life changing secret was public news #1.

 

Aves

iMessage
(Sara Lance)
Friday


10:36am:
hey, where are you?


10:36am:
Student council offices

 

Sara sucked in a sharp breath, slamming her locker shut and swinging her gym bag over her shoulder. Her thumb was already moving to press the call button on her and Ava’s message chain, when her phone vibrated in her hand with another text.

 

Aves