On the Waverider, the Legends began to fall into routines. With each battle they fought they grew more comfortable by each other's sides and within the halls of the ship. They wandered into the kitchen at night when they couldn't sleep and bargained for shower time in the mornings and fell into each other in the library when they put on a movie after a hard mission. They stopped thinking of Star City or Central City, Pittsburgh or New York, and longed for their rooms on the Waverider instead when things got tough. They shifted and settled and carved space for themselves amongst the others; the Waverider became their home, the Legends part of their family. Time passed, and with the haphazard way they moved through it, they stopped bothering to keep track of it.
All of them, that was, except for Martin Stein. Martin kept track of each twenty-four-hour period that passed, perhaps not meticulously or regularly, but he kept track nevertheless. It wasn't too much effort, he relied on Gideon mostly, but he always kept the number in the back of his mind. It had been a month, and that was nothing, but then it had been two months, then three.
Their missions in that span of time simply hadn't needed Firestorm. They'd been stealth missions, or in crowded cities in a time before Firestorm could be seen, or simply not that dangerous. It wasn't too big of a deal, Martin reasoned to himself as the months passed. He had time, there was nothing to worry about, and Jax was only a room away. It was nothing serious – surely they would merge on the next mission (or perhaps the one after that).
Martin kept track of the time because he had to, but not the time that had passed since he'd seen Clarissa or the time he'd spent on the Waverider or even the time since the Legends' last fiasco (surprisingly few and far between, these days). No, Martin kept careful track of the time between merging with Jefferson, because if he didn't then the team might very well have a nuclear explosion on their hands that would end not just Martin's life, but the lives of anyone else in the vicinity.
There were days that he managed to not think about it, and days (and even weeks) following merges where it was entirely unimportant, and irrelevant, but Martin could never truly forget the impending timeline of his own potential death. He could never truly forget that each day that passed without merging, his physical body became that much more unstable.
He could ignore it most days though, and it was fine, and it wasn't really an issue, not with Jax by his side. So when several months had passed without the need for Firestorm, Martin was well aware of the coming deadline. He felt fine though, he hadn't yet experienced any of the faint nausea or dizziness or headaches that he'd ignored the first time around, too caught up in grief for Ronald, and he still had probably a couple weeks at least.
Keeping all this in mind, Martin wasn't overly concerned when he woke that day, did the math in his head, and realized how long he'd gone without merging. He'd talk to Jefferson about it perhaps that day or the next (even if he had no idea of how to start such a conversation) and maybe in the meantime they'd run into a time anomaly or two that needed Firestorm to help set things right.
Sure enough, shortly after he'd had breakfast that morning, the alert sounded and Gideon informed them of a time anomaly in the 1300s that required their attention. The group gathered on the bridge, and Martin smiled warmly at Jefferson, who smiled back in greeting. The young man had been working out with Sara that morning, so they hadn't run into each other yet.
After some discussion about the time period and location on the planet they were traveling to, they strapped into their seats and plotted a course. Martin paid no more mind to his deadline: perhaps Firestorm would be needed, perhaps not, but either way his conversation with Jefferson could wait until after the mission, when no more lives were in danger.
They parked the Waverider in an open field near the town the anomaly had emanated from – somewhere in Central America in the fourteenth century (modern political borders didn't matter in this era) – and, as had become their usual, they all left the ship but for one. It's was Mick's turn to stay back and watch the Waverider, though Gideon did most of the monitoring.
(They all typically used their shifts for downtime, to work on personal projects or relax in the empty halls, even if they didn't say so to each other. Martin himself usually worked on his most current science project in the labs, putting on whatever music he was in the mood for and allowing himself to sing along).
None of them would exactly blend in with the local population, so they'd constructed clothes typical of European travelers, never mind that Europe hadn't exactly found their way to this portion of the Americas yet. Still, they would do the best they could under the circumstances, and trust in the translation technology.
The problem, as it turned out to be this time, was time pirates. The area was well known for its rich metal deposits, including gold and platinum, and the pirates had come to get rich without caring what the locals saw. And now that the news that the Time Masters were gone had filtered through the grapevine, they hadn't bothered to cloak their ship. (It seemed that they wouldn't need to interact with the locals after all – tracking down the time pirates wasn't a problem.)
"Rip, you and Jax try and dismantle the ship. Professor, you can go with them. Let Mick know if you need any help. The rest of us will head to the mines and stop them," Sara decided.
It was a good call – Rip and Jax knew the most about time ships, and now that Martin was thinking about it, Mr. Rory was sure to know a fair amount as well, having owned and operated one when he'd been brainwashed. Martin and Raymond had both picked up a fair a bit of information themselves, but he wouldn't be much use for hand-to-hand combat in the rugged terrain of the mine (over a mile away), and Raymond, with his suit and younger and more fit constitution, would.
Regardless, Martin wasn't going to argue. Firestorm wasn't likely to be needed searching the other time ship for trackers and booby traps, but the division of labor kept him and Jefferson close if the mission took a while.
It took them an hour to bypass the lock on the time ship without setting off any alarms and get inside, and four hours after that they were still combing the ship. Martin had searched the 'common rooms' for anything dangerous, reporting on the number of pirates (based on sleeping arrangements) to Sara. Rip had holed up on the bridge, wrangling with the computer, and Jefferson was going over every inch of the engine room. So far Rip had disabled a few subroutines that would have prevented them from flying the ship, turning on the cloak, and Jefferson had found a tracking device stuck where most people wouldn't have looked.
The time pirates might have been stupid enough to leave their ship out in the open, but perhaps that had simply been confidence on their part – it was very well protected. Either way, it had been five hours since they had approached the ship and in that time the other half of the Legends had apprehended three of the five pirates, and Nate and Amaya had had time to take them back to the brig on the Waverider and then rejoin Sara and Ray in their search for the other two. It was time for a break, as Martin's stomach frequently reminded him.
Jefferson and Rip were not hard to convince – Jefferson blinked up at him from his spot on the engine room floor, seemed to just realize how much time had passed, and bounced upward; Rip had been a bit harder to drag from the computer code in front of him, but once he'd realized the time he had stood as well, stretching.
Then Martin contacted Sara. "I doubt these pirates wish to be trapped in the fourteenth century," he told her. "They will eventually return to their ship."
"I know, we're already headed back," Sara agreed. "I'll send Ray over to join you, the rest of us will stay with the Waverider for the night in case they come for that instead."
Ah, the perils of time travel. While they were preparing to eat a late lunch, Waverider time, the sun outside was already setting. Martin hadn't even noticed the growing darkness.
With that settled, and with Rip having already set the proximity alarm, Martin led his two companions to the kitchen he'd found during his search. It wasn't nearly so large or as fancy as the one on the Waverider, but it had the same technology to produce most foods they asked for, even if it was slightly more limited in options.
Ray joined them before too long, and after lunch the four of them returned to scouring the ship. Even while night fell outside, it was just after midday to them, and it wasn't until the sun began to peak over the horizon the next day before they began to sleep in shifts. There was no sign of the two missing time pirates, but Rip finally managed to gain access to the flight controls, with Raymond's help, and Martin helped Jefferson scrounge up some spare parts that would be usable on the Waverider.
It took two more days for the time pirates to muster up enough courage (or perhaps just fear of being stuck in the past) to attack, and when they did so they went after the Waverider, possibly hoping to free their companions. With four to two odds, they didn't stand a chance.
All in all, it had been one of their simpler, more relaxing missions, and half a day after that they were floating in the time stream once more, having dropped the pirates off in the time period they were from (so they couldn't alter the past with their knowledge, or learn any more of the future than they should know) and ditched the time ship at the wasteland that had been the Vanishing Point. (There wasn't exactly a junkyard for time ships, and this way they knew where it was if they needed it.)
But there were downsides to relaxing missions, mainly that they didn't require Firestorm, and Martin's deadline was growing ever closer, so he went looking for his partner. Jefferson wasn't in his room or the engine room, on the bridge or in the kitchen, and Martin finally located him training with Sara. Well, it had been a few days since he'd gotten the chance to do so. Martin didn't want to interrupt.
He waved from his spot in the doorway and backed out. He'd try again in an hour or so. In the meantime, there was an interesting book he'd been trying to find the time to read...
A knock on his door interrupted Martin from his novel less than an hour later, and he looked up to see Jefferson standing in his doorway wearing training gear, and sweating no small amount.
"You were looking for me?" the younger half of Firestorm asked with a frown.
"Yes," Martin moved to stand, but a sudden dizzy spell caught him off guard and he braced himself on his chair. He blinked, and when he came back to awareness Jefferson was at his side, holding his arm with a concerned look on his face.
Martin blinked again and shook off the younger man's support. "I'm fine," he said, both seeing and feeling Jefferson's concern. "Must have stood up too quickly." Before Jefferson could say anything, he continued. "I was hoping to work on transmutation this afternoon, if you have the time."
Jefferson took a step back, but the frown didn't leave his face. "Mind if I shower first Gray?"
Martin easily shook his head. "Of course not."
Jefferson shot him one last concerned look, then left.
There was a moment's silence, then Gideon spoke. "Professor..." she started.
"I'm quite all right Gideon," Martin interrupted, guessing what the AI had been about to say. She helped him keep track of the days, after all, and the ship was under her protection. "There's no way to tell if that brief dizzy spell was a result of my increasing instability or not and regardless, Jefferson and I will eliminate any future risk today. Neither the ship nor anyone on it are in any danger."
Gideon didn't respond, though whether that was because she agreed with him or not Martin couldn't say.
He wasn't worried though. Symptom or not, the math said he still had probably close to a month before the more serious side effects (namely, fainting and bursting into flames) would occur, and Jefferson had already agreed to work on Firestorm's transmutation abilities. Martin took his seat again, and returned to his book.
"Man, it's been a while, hasn't it?" Jax asked after his shower. He and Gray were on their way to the to the cargo hold to train and he was exited to work on transmuting matter from one form to another. They'd mostly stuck with water, but they'd also done that thing with the jelly beans that had been really cool.
Gray offered up a small smile, which was a bit odd considering that he had been the one to suggest training in the first place, but maybe he was just distracted by that book he'd been reading. It was odd too though, because even though he'd lightened up over the years, Gray never really stopped pushing Jax to learn anything that would help him protect himself in the field. (With Ronnie's death in the back of both their minds, Jax didn't think that tendency of Stein's would ever fade).
Suddenly, at the thought of the Firestorm that had come before him, Jax froze in place. "Wait, how long has it been?"
"Some time," Gray answered vaguely, "we're going to fall out of practice. We need to be able to work quickly in the field."
And that was more like Gray, pushing him to improve, but Jax had long since learned when Gray was avoiding a question. He could feel the faint anxiety emanating off the older man, and ran through the mental math in his head. No, that couldn't be right. Time was fluid on the Waverider, moving in and out of eras as they did, but Jax wasn't that bad at keeping track of it.
Still, had they really gone that long without merging? His mind went back to Gray's dizzy spell earlier.
"Gray," Jax said plainly, not caring that they were standing in the middle of the hallway, where anyone could come across them, "how long has it been?"
Gray's smile was gentle. "Not too long," he said, and he didn't mean that it hadn't been a while – he meant that it hadn't been long enough for him to start dying.
"Gray!" Jax exclaimed sharply. He could feel his frustration growing, both at himself and at his partner. How had he not realized? Why hadn't Gray said anything? "Why do you always have to be so, so... so reckless!"
The other man frowned. "It's not recklessness Jefferson, no one was ever in any danger-"
Jax crossed his arms and spoke, cutting Gray off. "Gideon, what's the definition of reckless?"
"Without thinking or caring about the consequences of your actions," Gideon responded, and was it just Jax or did she sound a little smug?
"This is your life Gray!"
The professor didn't back down. "There is a difference, Jefferson, between not worrying and not caring. Of course I care about what happens to me, I simply wasn't worried."
Jax floundered for a moment, not sure how to respond to that.
"We cannot become Firestorm every day Jefferson, it simply wouldn't be practical. There are going to be stretches of time, some longer than others, where we don't merge. As I said, there is no cause for worry."
But all Jax could think about was waking up on the jump ship, the professor saving his life at the cost of his own. Separation for Martin Stein was a death sentence, and he was supposed to believe the other man wasn't worried? Sure, they hadn't really been separated since, but...
"You can't guarantee that nothing would have happened," Jax argued, "what if we had gotten separated?"
The professor raised an eyebrow. "Are we to live every day as though we might be separated at a moment's notice? That's no way to live Jefferson. I have faith in you, and in our team. I wasn't worried."
He stressed the last sentence, emphasizing it yet again.
Part of the problem was, Jax wasn't just mad at Gray for being so caviler with his own life – he was mad at himself for not paying attention to the time that had passed. Firestorm was a partnership, and he should have realized.
In Pittsburgh, they'd merged every week or so, repeating all the training and practice Gray had gone through with Ronnie, but by the time they'd gotten to the Waverider, they'd grown comfortable as Firestorm. They merged when they needed to on missions, and only occasionally for training. Sometimes that meant they merged three times in one week – but it also apparently meant they could go months without merging as well, and Jax wouldn't even notice.
He knew how much Gray needed him at his side in order to survive, but that was also the thing – he hadn't left Gray's side the past couple of months, they just hadn't merged.
"I'm not asking for every day," he finally returned. "Once a week though Gray – I can ask for that." He made it clear he wasn't taking no for an answer. And this time, he'd be keeping track too.
The professor nodded easily. "Of course Jefferson." He twisted and gestured in the direction they'd been walking before Jax had froze. "Shall we?"
Just like that, Jax's anger deflated somewhat, giving rise to the concern that he'd forgotten about. Right – they were arguing because Gray's life was in danger, because Gray was becoming more unstable as they stood there talking. A few minutes weren't going to make a difference either way, but it had been far too long already.
Gray rolled his eyes at Jax's pause. "I'm fine Jefferson," he insisted again, "as I said, we have weeks before the problem would have become serious."
The problem. Also known as Gray's instability, the timeline for his death. Maybe Gray'd gotten used to it, but it seemed as if Jax hadn't because his emotions were seriously conflicted.
He nodded once and followed the other man into the cargo hold, reaching for Gray and pulling him inside. The problem with being angry with Gray was that he couldn't avoid him, couldn't storm off in a huff and give them some time apart – not indefinitely at least, and definitely not now. He knew Gray could feel his anger too, but he wasn't sure if the professor could tell that half of it was directed inward.
Frustration and concern were an interesting mix of emotions to keep straight in his head.
"Shall we?" Gray repeated in his mind.
They didn't need words for Jax to know that he was talking about practicing transmutation.
Jax re-crossed their arms and stubbornly didn't move. "Once a week Gray," he repeated himself. He couldn't even insist that Gray remind him when too much time passed again, because that would mean that he hadn't been paying attention, and once again, half the blame would lie with him. Jax wasn't going to let that happen. But he also wanted to make it clear that if he did slip up for any reason, Stein more than had his permission to seek him out and merge.
He could feel Gray roll his eyes mentally through their link. "Yes Jefferson, I already agreed to that."
Now Gray was becoming exasperated, but Jax didn't care. He was safe now, and Jax was going to make sure that he stayed that way.
AN: I wrote this before season three, and thus the mention of the 'weekly bonding sessions', so it's even less likely than before to actually happen, but that's the whole point of fanfic, right?
Let me know what you think!