Disclaimer: I do not own LOT or any of its characters. They all are a gift from Our Lord and Savior Beebo. Praise be!
Like (way too) many things in her life, it begins with Ray's ramble.
"So, long story short, Mick's plan did work. Nate finally went home with a girl tonight. Who knew threatening to blow the ship up is all it takes? I mean, I've been trying to be his Yoda for weeks, I even-"
"This is short?" Zari interrupts, her eyebrow twitch the only sign of her irritation while her mouth is busy chewing a donut, but Ray knows her well enough to notice that. He purses his lips shut, skates past the next five sentences in his head, and begins again.
"Anyways, he met her dog at her place, and then her cat, and all these animals"- a sigh involuntarily escapes his lips at the all too familiar end of the sentence- "reminded him of Amaya. He's a mess, Z. He called me. He's currently sitting at a sidewalk crying. I've gotta go pick him up. I'm borrowing the jump ship."
"I'm coming with you," Zari announces immediately, shoving another donut into her mouth and taking two more to go.
"Oh, no need. I can pilot the ship really well," Ray assures almost convincingly. In his defense, Sara is the one with the most Waverider crashes under her belt, and she's still the captain.
Zari rolls her eyes. "Yeah, I'm still coming."
Ray gets that annoying look of comprehension on his face that makes her want to punch him. "Oh, I see. Of course. You wanna be there for Nate too."
Of course she does. He's her friend too. But she's not gonna say that out loud to someone who is sure to bring this up in future. "Shut up. I just don't want you idiots to blow holes on the ship again. I already do enough repairs around here."
"That was just once," Ray protests. "Wait, how do you know that?"
"Jax," she replies curtly. "Now come on."
"Wow, you weren't kidding about the mess part" are the first words out of her lips when she sees Nate crouched on a sidewalk with red, puffy eyes and a red, bloated nose.
"Poor guy," Ray comments briefly before turning his full attention to Nate. "Hey buddy!"
Nate looks up with tear glossed eyes, and even though he's sober, manages to sound slightly drunk. "Ray. Zari. Thanks for coming to get me, guys."
"Of course." Ray perches himself next to Nate and places a hand on his shoulder. "That's what friends are for."
Zari chooses to stand with her arms crossed over her chest, keeping her feet in check so she's not tapping them incessantly. It's not impatience- it's the worry she feels. Nate really hasn't been taking this well.
"I know it's all for the timeline, but man it sucks," Nate manages to say in between sniffles.
Ray hands him a bunch of tissues- the best friend does come prepared. Ray can be useful at rare times, Zari notes.
"She was so perfect." Nate blows his nose noisily and Zari cringes a little. "I'll never find someone like her."
"Sure you will, buddy," Ray assures.
"Really?" Nate asks, sounding like a scared little kid. It breaks Zari's heart. The only other time she has heard Nate like this was when he was high, and that was actually fun.
Ray flashes him a bright, genuine smile. "Yeah. I speak from experience."
"You never told me about your break-ups," Nate points out. He sits up a little straighter, showing he's serious about listening to the one part of his best friend's life that he has no clue about.
"Do we really need to know about Ray's love life?" Zari asks, because, even though she is really, really curious, she can trust Ray to make this a long, long, long story.
Up until this point, Ray had decided to keep the details of his past to himself. Not because he didn't want to talk about it- of course he did, talking about feelings is very healthy- but because he knows such a heavy weight can bring down the people he shares it with.
But maybe Nate needs to know there's always hope, no matter how dark it gets.
Ray begins, with a fond smile on his lips. "My first serious girlfriend, well, fiance, was Anna. We met in college. I knew the moment I saw her that she was The One. We were really happy together. We had our own little house in Star City. My parents loved her, my friends adored her. We were planning for a June wedding at the Hamptons."
"That sounds so perfect," Nate notes, his sniffles subsiding now that he's distracted. "Why did you break up?"
A wave of somberness washes over Ray's features. Zari notices how his usual smile fades. "We didn't. She was murdered. Right in front of me, actually. I couldn't do anything to save her."
Zari finds her heart clenching at the thought of this happening to somebody as cheerful and optimistic as Ray. "That's so depressing. I had no idea you'd been through so much." She sits down, next to Nate and away from Ray because she's not sure she can look at him now without bleeding sympathy through her eyes.
Nate doesn't have words. He just places a hand on Ray's knees, mentally noting another reason why some people mistake them for a couple.
"I've dealt with it," Ray assures after a moment. "It's actually why I decided to become a vigilante."
"So it wasn't a boy scout thing then," Zari concludes.
"Well, not entirely. Anyways," he shakes off the heavy feeling in his heart and resumes his cheerful tone. "After a while, Felicity and I started dating. She's so much like me- smart, nice, kind of a geek. She's just adorable. She made me so happy. I was gonna ask her to move in with me. But I got stuck in atom size during an experiment and everyone presumed I was dead." He dismisses it with a wave of his hand. "So she took over my company and started dating Oliver."
"They're married now, right?" Nate asks, following it up with another question before Ray has a chance to answer. "Hey, isn't he Sara's ex?"
Zari wrinkles her eyebrows in confusion. "I thought he was Sara's sister's ex?"
"He's..." Ray cringes inwardly, "dated both of them. It was a long time back."
"The brooding Batman is a player? Who would have guessed?" Zari retorts. "What happened to your company, by the way? Cause where I'm from, there is no Ray Palmer Inc."
"It was called Palmer Tech," Ray supplies. "And it kind of met some difficult financial hurdles and went into foreclosure."
"Felicity burnt it down to the ground." Nate adds bluntly, without sugar-coating it. "He lost the girl and all the money. Man, how do you wake up in the morning and not kill yourself?"
Trust Ray to see the bright side of things. "Hey! I get to go on adventures through time and space!"
At this point, Zari knows they're not going anywhere anytime soon, so she takes out the donuts from her pocket and starts eating. Ray makes himself at home too, now sitting cross legged on the road and facing both of his friends. Nate fixes his hair.
"Speaking of which, I met Kendra on the Waverider. We started dating when her boyfriend died. We were stranded in the past for a while. I was going to pop the question, but the Wave-rider came back, and we had to focus on killing an immortal tyrant."
"How do you kill an immortal tyrant?" Zari asks, genuinely confused.
"You kill him at three different time periods," Ray explains, like he's talking about what's for breakfast on Tuesdays (It's always Pancakes with ice-cream.) "Anyways, Kendra still had centuries of past lives and history with her ex. It was really complicated. In the end, she left the Waverider with Hawkman."
"Hawk?" Zari interrupts again. "Hawk? Don't you mean chicken?"
Nate and Ray exchange a 'Are you kidding me?' look before directing it at her.
"What? Mick keeps calling them flying chicken people!" Zari defends. "I always assumed they were chicken!"
"Why would chicken be superheroes?" Nate asks, confused.
"We defeated a demon from hell with a giant blue 5 feet tall plushie. So shut up," Zari warns with a glare and a logic that actually does shut them back. "Back to you, Ray."
Ray shrugs. "That was my story."
"You have it worse than me," Nate comments. "Your love life is a total train-wreck. Mine's a scratch on the paint compared to yours. I'm so sorry, buddy. But at least you have Nora now."
Zari gets an odd feeling in her chest, one she's not sure she can (or wants to) assign a name to. She always assumed Ray is single, judging by how much time he spends with the team or doing the chores. She never expected there to be a girl in his life. She tries to sound non-chalant when she asks, "Who's Nora?"
"No one," Ray answers quickly. "That was supposed to be a secret!" He adds in a whisper directed at Nate.
And that's when it hits her.
"Oh my god. You're dating Nora frigging Dark? Are you insane?"
"We're not dating!" Ray assures. "And she's really not that bad once you get to know her."
"She's had a troubled life," Ray defends.
"No, I have had a troubled life," Zari corrects. "And I still did not go on to release a demon from hell!"
"Calm down, Z," Ray says in his best non-at-all-panicking tone. "She's not- we're not- Okay, I may have had a thing for her. But nothing happened! Nothing's going to happen! I promise! It's not serious!"
Nate wonders why Ray is freaking out. Sure, Sara will probably kill him if she knew, but it's not like Zari will tell her. The only person who knows besides them is Zari and she's-
"Oh," he says out loud when it finally dawns on him.
His teammates turn their attention to him, their argument paused.
"What?" Zari inquires when no one speaks.
"Nothing. Just thinking about life and love and how people really should take a chance while they still have a chance." He sends a pointed look in Ray's direction.
Zari crosses her arms again. "Are you encouraging him to ask Mallus' vessel out? Seriously?"
"Not at all," Nate says, and finally gets up, brushing the dust off the back of his pants. "This was a great night, guys. I feel so much better now. We should get back. Come on." With that, he leaves in the direction where he guesses his friends came from, the direction in which the jump ship should be cloaked and parked.
Ray stands up too, extending a hand to Zari to help her up, but she hops to her feet by herself, not wanting any contact with this demon-sympathizer-loving annoying goody-two-shoes.
"What's up with him?" She asks with an eye-roll.
"Who knows?" Ray answers with a shrug. He pauses, seems to go over something in his head, takes a deep breath, and finally turns to look at Zari. It's now or never. Well, now, or possibly a long time later when he won't chicken out again. No, it has to be now. He steels himself. "Look, I know this is sudden and out of nowhere and you have every right to punch me, although maybe not in the jaw, because I just got a root canal done and I think-"
"Ray!" Zari reprimands. "What is it?"
Ray takes in another deep breathe. Here it goes. "Do you wanna get a coffee sometime?"
Now, that she did not see coming. Sure, they've had their moments and they've shared some looks, and yeah, they have the occasional movie nights that turn into conversations till midnight. But she always thought it was just him being nice and welcoming to the new girl (not that he did these with Wally, now that she really thinks about it), she never imaginedthat he's actually interested in her.
Zari blinks. "Did you just ask me out?"
"No! Yes! No!" Ray winces, "I mean, maybe?"
With a lot of restraint, Zari bites back a smile. "You know, I like to have actual food on my dates. Donuts, cakes, pancakes, muffins. So, I'll tell you what? Clean my room for the next two weeks, and maybe you can ask me out again to a proper place."
It's Ray's turn to blink. "Is that a yes or a long cruel way to say no?"
Zari leaves him with a grin and a shrug.
And so, like (way too) many things in her life, the relationship begins with Ray's ramble.
A/N: There are so few stories for this pairing. I hope you liked it!