It’s the fucking zombie apocalypse.
Of course it is. The world is crashing down around them. They’re surrounded by dead bodies—which is better than the alternative, the grisly, blood-thirsty dead. Zari’s nose curls around the smell of metal, singed flesh, rot, wet asphalt, frustration. The team is gathered around the broken bus, bickering, like always, but sticking together.
Even John stays firmly by their side, his cigarette loose between his fingers. And Zari doesn’t have magic senses, but when she looks at him, she can just about imagine what made the dead people see right through him: the odor of a damned soul.
“Alright, we’re running out of time.” Zari notices that her voice is just a pitch higher than usual, and she sticks her hands into her coat pockets to keep them from shaking. She turns to John. “You live around here, you must know someone with a car.”
“Not exactly the social type, love.”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” Zari tries to remember her breathing exercises—she always preached this to her followers, breathe before you do anything—in, out. It’s not that hard, in, out, but it feels so useless, all of this is so useless. She’s come to love this stupid disaster team, but she needs to get away from their chaos. In, out. She steps to the side, resumes her exercises, tries to think of her brother. In, out. She has to calm down.
“Z?” There’s a gentle touch on her arm, a hand cupping her elbow. “I think I know someone. I used to live around here, back in the seventies.” Charlie looks wistful. “I’ve come back a couple of times since. This bloke, Joe, was a fan of our band way back. We might find a car at his place.”
Zari blinks. “Like… the nineteen seventies?”
“Bit before your time, was it?” Charlie is still cupping her elbow, a smile fleeting over her face, and Zari finds herself holding her breath. She’s fascinated by all things Charlie, all of them, and she doesn’t get quite this much of information to herself very often.
She scolds her disappointment when Charlie’s face turns serious again. “Seriously, though, Z, I… you know I’ll do whatever it takes to get Behrad back, but you’re mortal. I don’t want to risk you.”
“I have you to protect me,” Zari reminds her, and feels almost a little bit bad when Charlie’s eyes melt, just like that. Even her touch on her arm softens, a feathery, barely perceptible thing.
“Yeah, alright,” Charlie says. “I’ll tell Sara.”
She draws her hand back, but her touch stays on Zari’s arm, warm and ghost-like.
There’s blood on the road, dark and red and slippery. Zari measures her steps carefully, her eyes on anything but the person next to her.
She thinks about her brother, about how he’d have blasted those zombies into the sun, that lopsided grin on his face that she’d always claimed she hated so much. He’s always been good at making light of a situation, be it with a joke or a grin or drugs or whatever else weird talents of his.
He’d have gone down this dark road with Charlie, and he’d have bumped her shoulder, cheered her up. He’d have hugged her or whatever else she liked, whatever made her feel better.
Charlie’s been silent since they left. It’s almost like she doesn’t notice how awkward this situation should be, how strange.
It’s not like Zari has been studying her, because that would be creepy, but it’s not her fault how obviously that muscle in Charlie’s jaw twitches. How her shoulders are drawn inwards, her eyelids a bit heavier than usual.
Even her steps aren’t set right, more of a shuffle than looks comfortable on her, a far cry from her usual confident strut. The lines on her face transform in the semi-darkness. Zari isn’t observing her, but if she were, if she could see the way that Charlie’s fingers twist around themselves, the way her nails bury in the space between her knuckles—she sees all that, and there’s a sudden ache in her heart.
She desperately wants to be her brother, if only so she could draw words out of Charlie. She doesn’t make people feel better, she makes them want to be better, that’s her specialty. It’s her job.
But right at that moment, she’d give anything to still Charlie’s hands.
She opens her mouth, gathers all the courage she has, and—
“What exactly is… here?” It’s hard sometimes, differentiating between things that didn’t exist in her time and things she’d been too busy to see. “It looks like a car cemetery. It’s creepy.”
“You could say that.” Charlie’s voice is terse, all the softness gone from it, and Zari wonders what she’d been thinking about while walking. Behrad? But her shoulders seemed more burdened than that, more worn. This weight is old, and everything in Zari tells her she should concentrate on the mission—in, out, quick, like a breath, so they can get her brother back—but that ache in her heart is still there, and Charlie seems so lonely in her burdens that it’s hard to take.
She wants to—she wants to cup her face and to make her look, but it’s hard to go up against pain that she knows nothing about.
“We should get going.” Charlie cuts into her thoughts. “Right where I thought it’d be. Handsome, isn’t she?”
“She doesn’t even look safe,” Zari says. And the car really doesn’t; who even thought to paint an obnoxious British flag all over it? But it’s solid enough, and if it works, too, there’s nothing that she’d rather have in her line of sight.
Charlie perks up. A split second later, Zari hears it too.
The growling. Or snarling, more like, grinding of a thousand teeth. The smell of rotten flesh wafts into her nose, and that’s what kicks up Zari’s instinctive fear. She grasps for Charlie’s hand, warm and solid in hers. She lets her tug her into the opposite direction of the vehicle, to a crappy little house. And sure enough, a zombie pops up its head behind the car. Before it reaches them, they slam the door.
“Bloody fucking hell, nothing can ever go right,” Charlie hisses, pulling her hands from Zari’s. “We shouldn’t have separated from the team in the first place, I’ll never bloody understand why—” She’s breathing too fast, Zari notices, leaned against the metal door of the shed. “I—you—fuck.”
She jerks her hands from her sides, slamming them, almost, into her face, her nails burying into her forehead. “Shit, I’m sorry, Z, I—” Someone slams at the door from outside, the crash echoing through the room, and Charlie flinches, startling away from the door like she’s been hit.
She stumbles, crashes against the sharp edge of the table beside the door. Her only reaction is cursing, but there are tears in her eyes, and Zari’s body moves without her permission. Her hands go to Charlie’s hips, so gently, steadying her, keeping her in place. Her balance is off just the slightest bit, a result of her sudden movement, and she’s faced with Charlie all of a sudden.
It’s so clichéd, and it’s inappropriate, and this doesn’t happen, it doesn’t, but—
Time slows down.
There is only the scent of Charlie’s hair, oddly sweet, but also smoky and slightly metallic; they haven’t exactly had time to shower. There’s the bit of perspiration at her hairline, and her body is solid under Zari’s hands, and it makes her feel so real—of course Charlie’s real, but she’s also always a bit above. A bit beyond. A bit of a mystery, not in the way of a dream, but in the way of someone closed up, someone that’s always just a little hidden.
There’s her skin, brown and smooth and oh, it looks so lovely to the touch, and—and there are the tear tracks right under her eyes. They’re barely perceptible, but they still manage to move something inside Zari.
And her eyes.
Zari looks up from the way she’d been staring at—not at Charlie’s lips, of course not, maybe just the dip of her chin, the lines around her—fuck. Zari looks up, and right into Charlie’s eyes.
Her instincts tell her to move forward, and she’s going to. She really is. Charlie’s lips look so soft and just a bit defiant and her eyes lock right into Zari’s like they’re seeing her, and Zari can’t even begin to imagine what Charlie sees, what she thinks of her. At that moment, she’d give anything to find out.
She’s going to move forward. She’s going to kiss Charlie, right here and then.
There’s a crash at the door and a snarl and Charlie leans towards her just enough, so their noses are touching.
Her eyes flit away from Zari’s for a split second.
Maybe the hinges of the door are giving in, or maybe the undead’s faces are pressed up against the glass, watching them, but anyway, they’re not so close anymore. Before she even knows what’s happening, Zari feels Charlie gently taking her hands in hers, moving them from her hips, untangling their bodies.
A whine escapes Zari’s lips, needy and embarrassing, but it’s so worth it for the half of a moment that Charlie smiles, grins, like she knows exactly what Zari is thinking. There is still something so scared in her movements, so weary, but it feels like they’ve come to an understanding.
“How do we get out of here?” Zari asks, trying desperately to sound composed. Focused on the task at hand. Yes.
She looks to her left, where a zombie’s face hits the pane teeth first, and yes, yes, she’s focused on their problem now.
Charlie hesitates. “Do you think they’re after me?”
Zari can’t take her eyes off the window, a shudder running through her. “ What do you mean?”
“My—” Charlie looks directly at her, holding her gaze until she’s forgotten the monsters in the dark. “My sister, Atropos, this is her magic. It’s all over the bloody place.” Charlie bites her lip. “She doesn’t have use for any of you. Sure she wants to kill you, but who she really wants is me.”
Zari can’t take her eyes off her, and she notes, distantly, that the fingers of Charlie’s left hand are settling in between the knuckles of her right again, like pressure points, and that the skin there is raw and angry. “Those poor bastards would come after me first. I could distract them while you make a run for it.”
“Absolutely not!” There’s another crash at the door, and Zari takes Charlie’s arm, moves them farther inside the room. “I am not leaving you to die.”
“I’m immortal, Z. I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, they seem like they care.” Zari hears how her voice shaking, but she’s too upset to steady it. She can feel her fingers digging into Charlie’s arm. “They’ll drag you off to who knows where until you’re vulnerable so they can eat you, or they’ll convert you, or—”
“Behrad needs you,” Charlie says, with finality, and Zari shakes with rage.
“That’s a low fucking blow,” she hisses. “Whatever you and my brother had, I don’t care, but I know you love him. I know I do. I know that I won’t let you take yourself away from him, I won’t let you risk even a little bit of yourself because we need all of you, and—”
Her hands shake too much, Charlie is too close, they—in, out, no, her throat is closed up with this helpless anger— “I need you, don’t you see that? I won’t let your sisters have this. I won’t let you give up. You’re going to fight this and you’re going to win and these jerks out there aren’t going to stop us, okay? I may not have been a member of this team for very long, but I know this is not how we do things. We do them together or not at all.”
Zari finally takes a breath. She takes her hand off Charlie’s arm and presses it to her heart, trying to calm herself down. She closes her eyes, turns away, in, out, she needs to calm down, cameras are rolling, Zari, you can’t care about her that much, you can’t care about anyone this much. You have a brand to uphold, Zari. You’re not upset, you’re not—in, out, and again. There’s a hand cupping her elbow again, her elbow that’s pressed into her stomach.
Charlie’s hand moves up her arm, until she’s on Zari’s hand, shaking on her chest. Zari’s eyes are still closed, a thin, useless protection against the images playing in her mind.
Her brother on the floor of the Waverider, and other her’s desperate, teary hope learning that he was alive. But that’s just a flash.
Zari isn’t made for gore, she really isn’t, and the next thing on her mind are the zombies.
Their hands on Charlie, their claws, their teeth sinking into her skin. A whole crowd of dead people on her friend or whatever Charlie is, tearing her apart. Even if her body would put itself back together again, it’s too much, it’s so much.
“Breathe, Z,” Charlie says quietly, laces her fingers more tightly together with Zari’s. “I know you can do it. You’re so brave, aren’t you? Breathe for me. In, out.” Her voice is so steady, and Zari’s whole body relaxes. She has no choice but to follow her instructions.
“In, out, in, out… yeah, Z, you’ve got it! I’m so proud of you.” There’s another crash at the door, and Charlie winces. Her voice remains soothing. “You’re doing so good. Open your eyes for me?”
And Zari would do anything for her.
She opens her eyes and her breathing is regular, and Charlie looks at her with not fondness exactly, but something more. Something she should be scared of but isn’t.
The third one is louder, and Zari presses into Charlie instinctively. Their hands and their clothes the only things between their bodies.
Suddenly Charlie’s lips are on her hair, Zari’s little hat long gone, and Charlie presses a kiss to her head and—is she smelling her hair? Zari’s thoughts don’t work right, their bodies connected like this—and then she says, “I think I’ve got an idea.”
“I’m sorry, what? You’re stopping your heart?” Zari takes a deep breath. “Maybe we’ll go with the first option. Thinking back on it, that seems less risky, actually.”
“But this makes sense,” Charlie insists. “I’ll be able to get you out of here more easily if they think I’m one of them.”
“Then stop my heart,” Zari says brazenly.
“You’re not a shapeshifter, Z.” Charlie’s amusement doesn’t reach her eyes. “I’m going to shapeshift my heart still and carry you out of here, alright? We don’t have enough time left to argue. This transformation will take a while.”
“But how will you breathe?”
“I just will, alright?” The emotion that bursts out of Charlie’s mouth seems surprising even to herself. “Please, I need you to have faith in me. This is bloody hard enough.”
She makes a beeline towards the cupboards, pulls her jacket down from her shoulders and lays it out on the ground. Charlie sits down cross-legged, palm on her heart.
Without the jacket, Zari can see her chest heaving, her eyes fluttering under the closed lids, her left hand fidgeting on the hem of her jeans.
She’s nowhere near calm enough to stop her own heart.
Zari walks towards her with careful, measured steps. She slips out of her coat as well, and spreads it on the ground next to Charlie. For a long moment, she just looks at her.
“I do have faith in you, Charlie.”
That’s enough to get her to open her eyes.
“Can we talk while you do this?” Zari bites her lip. She’s still so far from good at this, but the memory of Charlie’s gentleness lingers in her hair, her voice in her ears, and she has to try.
Charlie looks at her, long and hard, and nods. “I need to concentrate to begin, but we’ve got about fifteen minutes afterward until it’s done. We’ll talk then.”
Before Zari can answer, Charlie already takes a deep breath. She braces her elbow on her knee and, very slowly, lowers her other hand from her heart to the hem on her jeans. Her fingers move up her leg slowly, and she starts to chant, quietly, in an unfamiliar language.
There’s a hum in the air and under Charlie’s skin, and it begins to light up from beneath, like something waiting to be awakened. All noise stops; the growling and hissing and crashing fades into that low hum. Charlie’s hands move up her body, just above the fabric, and gradually, the whole of her begins to light up.
Zari can suddenly see Charlie’s heart. It’s the only part of her that isn’t lit up, a dark spot in her ribcage. It’s still beating, and suddenly, Zari understands that the noise isn’t a hum at all, it’s the steady beat of Charlie’s heart. It mixes with her chanting, her singing.
She doesn’t know how she notices, but the dark spot in Charlie’s chest slows down. It’s so minimal that no machine could pick up on it, but it’s there. The shift is working. That’s good, but it feels like Charlie is dying, like Zari is standing by to watch as she kills herself.
Her heart slows down again. A quiet stutter.
Charlie opens her eyes, and the glowing and the hum disappear. Zari knows it’s still there, but it’s in a dimension of power that she will never access again.
Charlie’s heart is slowing down by the minute. It will stop completely in a while. Zari wonders if she’ll notice; she wonders what it’ll mean.
The glow under Charlie’s skin is gone, and suddenly, she collapses. She falls back to the cupboard, pressing her back into it so hard it must hurt. Her hands scramble by her sides, as if looking for something to hold on to, and her eyes are wide and dark.
They’re staring at a point in front of her, open and afraid. Her whole frame presses up against the cupboard. She’s shaking so badly, and her hands are still scrambling and Zari can’t move, but she does, and she reaches out and she takes one of Charlie’s hands.
Charlie flinches, then holds on more tightly.
“Fuck,” she mumbles. “I—”
“It’s working, Charlie,” Zari says quietly, so as not to startle her more. “I could see it.”
“Yeah?” Charlie looks at her, and there is something so young in her expression suddenly. It’s absurd, because she’s lived a larger number of years than Zari could even imagine, but it’s true.
“Yeah. You did it.”
Charlie nods. “I didn’t think I could,” she says quietly, her hand in Zari’s clammy and warm. Zari holds it delicately against hers, the only thing she feels like she can do.
There’s another crash against the door. It’ll hold until the shapeshift is done, she tells herself, it will simply have to, and until then, she’ll have Charlie’s hand in hers just like this—she won’t let her deal with this alone, with this hurt of hers, this obvious trauma or whatever it is.
Zari knows how to hold herself up with delicacy, with grace, but she doesn’t have that same skill with her words. She can censor herself, she can say things she doesn’t mean, but her words aren’t delicate. They’re blunt, not careful, and right now, they’re probably not careful enough.
“When was the last time you did this?”
“Diving right in, are you?” Charlie mumbles. A shudder runs through her body as her heart slows down another beat. The stabbing in her chest is bearable, but with the pain comes the assault of memories, and Charlie can’t help but cry out. It’s muffled through her gritted teeth, but Zari perks up.
She stares at Charlie like she’s trying to find something visibly wrong, something that she can fix, and it does something to the thing in Charlie’s chest—not her actual heart, the one she’s shifting into a full stop, but her heart. One of the few things that stays the same as she shifts through forms.
Zari looks at her like she wants to save her, and Charlie thinks that she’d love her in any form she’s in. It’s a weighted word, love, that much she’s learned, and she’s not sure what it means yet in relation to the woman in front of her, but she’s sure—one way or another, she loves her.
“Shit, does it hurt?”
“No,” Charlie lies, and her heart thumps against her chest a little slower than the moment before. She closes her eyes, but there’s no escape.
She’s—she doesn’t know how old she is, age is a human concept—but she’s younger, and she’s hiding. Not in the way that she has been the past millennia, living her way through history. But the way that she used to.
She’s in that endless room, in a corner where it’s night. There’s a sky above her, the constellations of stars meaningless but beautiful. Her hands are shaking from how much she spun today. She wouldn’t have to use her hands, but Atropos insists that she do. Atropos insists that they use actual strings, that she cut them herself. Every time she does, every time she kills another human being, there’s blood on her hands.
Charlie’s sister is a psychopath. The concept doesn’t exist then, of course, and neither does this language, but it’s true. Atropos thrives on suffering the way that humans thrive on art.
She discovers the concept of blood in that time, and she loves it; loves the redness on her hands, the thought that she just cut someone’s veins open. She describes the way every single of them died, bored if the cause had been natural, thrilled if it’d been gory.
Charlie remembers the feeling of the thread under her fingers, the grounding physicality of it. Every human life since the beginning had passed through her fingers. She’d loved them, all of them, and they’d died right in front of her.
Lachesis is always bored. Sometimes she goes down to Earth, and in the years to come, there’d be a war, a political crisis, a series of betrayals, an oppressive dictatorship. She loves manipulation, mending humans’ minds to her will. She measures their lives like they mean nothing to her, and they don’t.
Charlie hasn’t talked to her since she’d gotten away, but she can still hear her voice in her ear. She could never be enough for either of them, and what sounds to her own ears like a child’s worries is the only reality she’d known for years.
Atropos’ hands are always bloody. Sometimes, she goes down to Earth, and thousands of people die. She loves tearing out people’s throats more than she does cutting their threads, but she resents their chaos, so she only visits them every couple of decades to remind them of their helplessness to the cold edge of her knives.
Charlie isn’t allowed to go to Earth, at first.
Centuries pass. She loves weaving; it’s the only thing she knows. She hates weaving, because it’s the only thing she knows. Her sisters are her only company in that endless room.
Charlie doesn’t think she will ever do anything right, doesn’t think she will ever escape. She clings to what she knows of the humans’ lives, and tries to forget what she knows of their deaths.
Bile still rises in Charlie’s throat when she thinks of begging Atropos to stop telling her about them, as she pleads with her sisters to let her go down to Earth, to stop hurting them, to let them be their own people the way she can feel in their threads; she knows the humans have more in them than these violent lives, but they’ll never get to decide on their own.
Charlie is Clotho then, of course, and she’s not helpless. She’s not a child, most of the time. But she’s their little sister.
She knows that know.
She can’t be. She can barely stand to be their sibling, but she isn’t their sister. It’s strange, she thinks, because gender is such a human concept, but it’s also one of their more violent ones, and she’s not—she didn’t think of it like that then, but gender isn’t something she feels comfortable with, not like that.
She’s not a woman and she’s not their sister, and she’s known this from the beginning. They have, too. But they’d have done anything to make her feel small, to make her feel like she’s theirs, like she will never know anything apart from them.
She can’t dive any deeper than this—can’t examine why they are this way, and how it started. She can barely stand to remember them without feeling like she’s burning from the inside out, a ghost of Atropos’ powers.
Memories don’t work that way. They don’t work as she needs them to, and Charlie’s eyes are closed, and Zari’s hand in hers is the only thing that’s keeping her tethered to this reality.
Because her heart is slowing down, and she’s done this once before.
She’s younger, in that endless room, in a corner where it’s night. She can’t see the blood on Atropos’ hands here, can’t hear Lachesis’ voice. It’s a few centuries before she finally manages to make her way to Earth. Things get better once she knows the humans, and they get worse because she knows them; they’re so real, and they deserve to live their lives freely.
Atropos and Lachesis’ grip on her had loosened once they hadn’t been her whole world anymore, her only reality, and then she’d done the worst thing she could. The bravest thing she could. She’d stolen the loom.
Atropos was right; she’d stolen everything they had, and she’d known exactly what she was doing.
But right now, she’s trapped in that memory, a time before she’d made it to Earth. She’s younger and it’s night in her corner of the endless room. She can hear her sisters looking for her. They know as well as she does that her heartbeat is the same in any form she’s in.
She can’t let them find her. Can’t let them drag her back into the harsh light, not again.
Charlie looks at the constellations above her, and she stops her own heart.
“My sisters,” Charlie says. She opens her eyes. They’re the most beautiful thing she has ever seen, Zari thinks, and the deepest. “The last time I stopped my heart was the first time, too. I was—it was so long ago. We lived in an endless room, outside of everything you know. I was so tired of them, and I tried to hide. Just for a day.”
Tears drip down her cheeks, and she wipes at them roughly. “I couldn’t face them.”
“Why not?” Zari asks carefully, her other hand joining the one that’s already holding Charlie’s, almost unconsciously tracing a pattern on the back of her hand. She scoots closer, lowers her head on Charlie’s shoulder. There’s something that tells her this is a story better told unobserved.
She feels Charlie stiffen, but then she melts into her like it’s exactly what she needs, and Zari relaxes, too, a tiny bit proud.
“They weren’t… good people,” Charlie says. “They weren’t… weren’t good to me.” She breathes deeply, and Zari wonders how she even does it, what keeps the blood pumping through her veins. “They were controlling. Lachesis is the manipulator, the critic, the mind twister. Atropos is a straight-up psychopath.”
She goes on about the endless room, about the stars, and Zari draws swirls on the back of her hand, through the raw spaces between her knuckles.
The small ache in her chest spreads through her body slowly, like liquid, and it lights up every part of her. She hurts for Charlie, for this room that’s always too big and too small, and the doors that only ever open for her sisters.
“I stopped my heart,” Charlie whispers, moving on and on with her words like she has to, like if she’ll allow herself to pause, she’ll never start again. Zari is acutely aware that she may well be the first person to listen for centuries, not because no one had been willing to, but because Charlie couldn’t bring herself to trust anyone this much.
She doesn’t know what makes her different. She really doesn’t. But there’s no place she’d rather be at that moment, with the undead snarling on the other side of their door, time running against them, and her sitting next to a god, next to Charlie, hearing her pour whispers into the dark.
“It didn’t work.” Charlie scoffs, her voice bitter. “I woke up, and I was dying. I didn’t even know I could die, but somehow, I’d managed to. Atropos found me.” Her grip around Zari’s hand tightens painfully. “She dragged me back to Lachesis. They took care of me, nursed me back to health. There was a five-day period where humans were born without a fate written into their palms, without their lifetime already measured out.”
She shudders, the slowing of her heart, ironically, moving faster by the minute. “Of course, that wasn’t allowed. As soon as I was awake and breathing, Atropos cut their threads. A few thousand children, bleeding out, just like that, and it was my fault.” She’s shaking all over now, even though they’ve got the crappy heating turned to a maximum. “They were even worse afterwards.”
“It wasn’t,” Zari blurts. She carefully moves her head from Charlie’s shoulder, turns to her. The lines around Charlie’s eyes, her mouth, seem to have deepened like it’s been years. “It wasn’t your fault, you know that, right? It was theirs.”
Suddenly, Charlie sags, her body folding into Zari’s arms. Her eyelids droop and the trembling stops.
“Charlie?” Zari’s voice goes up as she tries to hold up Charlie’s limp body. This is how Behrad looked, she thinks suddenly, lifeless on the floor with unseeing eyes.
She lowers Charlie to the ground. I woke up, and I was dying. Why did they think this was a good idea? They could’ve done zombies, could’ve done claws and teeth, but this—she’s suddenly so aware that there’s an apocalypse happening around them. She’s so very lonely, and the crashing on the door isn’t a background noise anymore. Zari will die here, in this room, with Charlie in her arms.
She can feel the burning in the corners of her eyes, and moves her hand to Charlie’s chest, to where her heart is supposed to be—beating and dark and beautiful and alive—and she feels nothing under her palm.
This can’t be it.
This can’t be—
Charlie’s body is moving. Zari’s hand is still on her heart, and there’s not even a flutter, but she’s moving, and she’s alive, trembling, but alive. She untangles herself from Zari’s arms, so slowly, like she didn’t just stop breathing, like she’s not still half-dead, and Zari finally cries.
She can’t help herself. The tears run down her cheeks, the built-up stress finding a release, finding safety in the lingering warmth of Charlie’s hands.
“You’re a fucking jerk, Charlie,” she says, with all the anger that she can muster, which is none. “We could’ve found another way. You didn’t have to, to—dig up all those things you’ve been through, you could’ve left without me, you—”
She looks at Charlie, and she’s breathless. And Charlie looks back at her, maybe half-dead but alive, and there’s a smile at the corner of her lips, and it’s so inappropriate given the situation, and—
They move forward at the same time, their lips crashing together too harshly, too quickly. Zari allows herself a breath. Her hands move to Charlie’s sides, cupping her face, the soft skin warm under her fingers. She feels Charlie’s hands moving to cup her elbows, and by now it’s so familiar that she wants to cry again.
She’s kissing Charlie. It’s soft. Her lips are soft on hers, slow and deliberate, and it transforms that tingling ache into something else. It feels beautiful. It feels good, and for a moment, they move like this, move together gently.
A crash at the door interrupts them, because of course it does. It’s the zombie apocalypse after all.
“I’ll protect you, love.” Charlie grins, and it’s somehow obnoxious despite the tear tracks on her cheeks, despite Zari’s light pink lipstick smeared on the edges of her teeth. It’s obnoxious and Zari loves it.
“Bridal style, honey?” she asks, and Charlie smirks, nods, presses another kiss to her lips, lightly. She scoops her up into her arms just as the door flies from its hinges.
Zari presses herself against Charlie and hopes for the best.
It may not be the best, exactly, but it’s close enough.
Charlie moves through the mass of dead bodies like she’s invisible. The zombies don’t care for her, don’t care for her halted heart. They are, however, very much obsessed with Zari.
They step out into the masses and Zari is suddenly sure they won’t make it.
They’ll have been good enough, her last moments on Earth; her body is still tingling pleasantly, the ghost of Charlie’s lips on hers, and she feels—she actually feels protected in Charlie’s arms, or at least she feels like she’s part of something, of whatever they are. She’s not alone. If she dies here, now, she has hope that the rest of the team will make it, that Charlie will, and that they’ll bring her little brother back.
The smell of rot wafts into her nose again. They’re surrounded by the undead, their decayed bodies, bared teeth, clothes soaked in blood. The zombies hunger after her, but they aren’t attacking yet, thrown off by Charlie, whose heart sounds like their own, but Zari just knows that it won’t hold until they’re safely away.
The first one, old and frail-looking if it weren’t for her sharp teeth, charges at them. Zari readies herself for anything, for death, as far as she’s able, but instead of running, Charlie steps up into the zombie’s face.
She growls, or maybe it’s more of a snarl—either way, it’s terrifying. It doesn’t sound like anything her throat should be able to produce.
But it works.
The zombie backs off, saliva flying from her mouth as she hisses at them. Several others follow her example, but Charlie gets up in their face every time, gets them to back off without touching a hair on their heads.
The undead follow them until they’ve reached the car. Charlie places Zari on the floor gently, and they scramble to close the door—Zari gets into the driver’s seat, and they’re good to go.
Charlie’s skin is glowing again. She’s breathing hard, braced against her seat as she undoes her magic. Her skin is glowing, and she takes Zari’s hand off the wheel gently, moves it to her heart. It beats steadily under her palm, and it’s only now that Zari relaxes, that she believes.
They’ve made it.
Their quest isn’t done quite yet, but Zari feels it in her bones that they’re going to find the team easily, that they’re going to save her brother. After the day they’ve had, surely nothing else can go wrong.
It’s a dangerous thought to have. But Zari has a fate by her side, a god with her lipsticks smeared on the corners of her mouth. Charlie, who smiles so brightly it lights up everything in her vicinity, Zari included, Charlie, whose heart is beating steadily under her hand.
“How’d you know what to do out there?” Zari asks.
Charlie smirks at her—she smirks, and ugh, Zari is classier than that, even as she feels a blush spreading across her cheeks.
“Their language is simple.” Charlie’s eyes dance. “And I told them you’re mine.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Zari says quietly. “We could have found another way. One that didn’t bring up all those memories.”
Charlie leans forward and kisses her, while she’s driving, while it’s dark out, while the world is a lonely, dangerous place to live in. She kisses her like it counts, and like it’s fun, and she kisses her like love, and that’s fucking terrifying.
“I needed to,” she whispers into her lips. Zari can barely remember the start of this day, when she’d been so happy that Charlie had revealed something to her, had talked about her band or the nineteen seventies. “I haven’t… I haven’t talked to anyone about my sisters since I left, not the way I did with you. I needed to get you out of there, but I also needed someone, I suppose, to listen.” She gently nudges Zari to look back at the road.
“Yeah, okay.” Zari breathes, in, out, and she hears Charlie do the same. They breathe in sync, in silence, until they find the team.
“Get in, losers,” Zari says, her hands itching to pass the driver position to someone else, to lean over and kiss Charlie again—she’s not needy usually, but this situation is more than unusual, and there’s something hiding in the way Sara holds onto Ava’s hand, something that makes her want to do the same. “We’re going looming!”
The pub is dusty.
It’s the first thing she notices, that it’s dusty, but it doesn’t smell like rotten flesh, or metal, or blood, and honestly, her standards have been higher, but she’ll let it slide. Charlie takes a beer and gets her a glass of water and a snack, and the team sits around the table, drinking, sharing stories, waiting for the charger to decide their fates.
“I’m pretty happy,” Sara says, and Zari’s first instinct is to agree. The team hadn’t blinked as she’d taken Charlie’s hand in hers on the table. It’s still resting there now, and Charlie seems more at peace than she did a few hours ago.
It would be unrealistic to think that she’s not scared, that there aren’t so many things that her sisters could still do to her. But when she smiles, there’s still that bit of lipstick on her teeth, and… it’s like a reminder that whatever happens, she’ll have her family. She’ll have Zari.
“Same,” Ava says, and Zari recoils from her own agreement—the guilt is like a slap to her face, but she focuses on her breathing and imagines, for a moment, that Behrad was here with her.
There’d be another chair around the table, another glass of water. He’d be comfortable here, with his family, with Zari and Charlie and the others. Zari has to believe that the image will be a reality, maybe even without an apocalypse raging outside.
“You know, if Behrad were alive,” she says, Charlie’s smile in her peripheral vision, “and we were together and happy, I don’t know. I would use my talents to make the world a more inclusive, better place, I guess.”
“I believe that,” Charlie says, looping an arm around her shoulder, kissing her cheek.
Zari blushes, and the team cheers. Charlie laughs. She’s so beautiful like this, confident under the low light, just existing. With her like this, it’s hard to believe there’s anything out there that could hurt them, anything at all.
They’re around them, under them, above them.
The undead are everywhere. Sara is already gone and who knows what’s happening to the rest of the team—Charlie can’t think about that now. She and Zari are fighting back to back, fists and totem and desperation, but they’re losing—they’re losing and Charlie can’t think, can’t breathe, she can’t lose anyone else to her sisters.
“It’s charged!” Finally, the green light. A zombie lunges at Zari’s throat, and Charlie’s fist meets its face with an audible breaking sound. It goes down, but it’s back up again and—
“Charlie, you have to go.” Zari spins around to face her, blasting the zombie away from them as she does. “I know—I know you can face them, okay? I’m so—” Zari is sobbing and it scares both of them, because a few minutes ago, they’d had hope, and now this is all that’s left. “I’m so sorry, but you have to go. I know you can fix this.”
“How?” Charlie asks when she really means no, I can’t. She punches another one of the zombies and it goes down only to reveal five more ready to charge at them.
“You got away once before, you can do it again.” Zari’s fingers shake as she unclasps the totem from her wrist, and she closes Charlie’s hand around it.
“Come with me,” Charlie pleads as she rips the time courier from its charger. “Zari—”
“Keep this safe for my brother and me.” Zari leans forward and presses a kiss to her lips, quickly, and then pushes Charlie towards the counter. “I’ll clear the way, you go. We’re with you, okay?” She’s so brave, caught in the battle, but she looks terrified. Charlie pushes the button on the time courier. A portal opens.
She jumps over the bar counter, runs towards the portal, through the zombies, through the chaos. One of them grabs her shoulder, but she shakes him off. She reaches the portal.
Charlie’s feet already meet the Waverider’s floor as she turns back around, just in time to see Zari fall.
Charlie tastes tears. They’re bitter on her tongue. There’s a wet noise, and looks to her feet, to Astra’s body on the ground. She’s standing in a pool of her blood.
The portal closes.
She’s fully here now. She’s on her own. She’s with them.
Charlie steels her shoulders. She can feel every inch of skin where Zari touched her. She can still hear her voice in her ear. She can see the team gathered around the table.
She belongs only to herself now, and to her family, and she’s going to fix this.
All of it.