She had survived then and she'll survived now.
Sara's past triggers her once more, this time its her stay on the Amazo that keep her from sleep. She can feel Ivo's breath on her, as if he was still here, lurking behind her, waiting to take her back. No words can heal that kind of trauma, but maybe Ava can starts by listening.
Trigger warning :
I deal in this OS with the trauma of rape, and though I don't describe it, I still talk about it. If this subject is triggering for you, please, don't forget to take care of you first and foremost. You're not alone, there are people to help you, and you are strong enough.
(See the end of the work for more notes.)
Sara never talked about it, to anyone.
It was something she carried alone, and she was fine with it. It wasn't as if she actively tried to hide it or anything. People who truly knew her or even just the general spark notes of her past probably already knew, or suspected it at least. So, it wasn't per se a secret, just something she kept to herself, it was hers alone to deal with. And usually she dealt with it just fine. It was a long time ago and she wasn't the same. She wasn't helpless and scared anymore; she wasn't new to the darkness of the world. It had shaped her into the woman she was today but it didn't burden her in her everyday life anymore.
For usually, she dealt with it just fine.
Until she didn't.
She had moments where it all came back to her. She didn't have a lot of triggers but she was still vulnerable to them and if they happened to appear when she was already down… well, she was only human after all. But it had been a while since her last "episode", she didn't know how else to call them. Last time, she didn't even knew Ava. She couldn't really recall a lot about this "episode" for it was pretty hard on her and she made sure to drink enough not to remember it.
But this time, it didn't fall on her all at once, like it did most of the time. No, it took its time to build, to quietly tore her apart.
It all started at the end of a pretty hard anachronism in the 19th century. Human trafficking and all that shit. All the Legends were spent after eleven days on it, but when they finally dealt with it, they just needed to get out. Out it in the modern world, the world they fought so hard to preserve. So they went to a bar in Star City and drank, trying to lift their spirit before the night. Ava was with them, because Sara needed her at her side. No one chased darkness better than her. It went well for a while, however it didn't last, because when did it ever last? A woman came. She sat not far from them and asked for a scotch. She didn't seem to enjoy it but kept forcing herself to sip on it. She couldn't tell why, but Sara felt attracted to her, compelled to observe her, read her story in her tired eyes and trembling hands. And then she saw it. Bruises. On her wrists, her neck and her right temple. Different states, she presumed the newest was on her neck, not as easily covered by makeup as the others. She watched the woman drained her glass and asked for a refill. The woman was lost in her mind, not looking at anything but her glass as if it contained all her problems and their solutions. She drank it and when she reached for her purse, Sara put the bills next to her, signaling to the bartender that it was on her. The woman's eyes jerked on her, fearful and suspicious, like a wounded deer caught in the lights of slowly approaching car. She only nodded to her before turning back to the Legends, not wanting to overwhelm her. The woman left without a word, letting the shadows swallowed her.
Sara didn't sleep that night. She left Ava alone in their bed, not able to stand her arms around her. She went in the living room for a moment, thought about serving herself a drink, but changed her mind. She put on her leather jacket and went out, not bothering with her phone. She walked to the nearby park, forced her way in, and let her feet carry her. The night around her was thick and cold. She tried so hard to keep her mind blank, focusing on her breathing. But his voice kept playing in her ears. She could almost feel his breath on her skin, on her neck, on her lips… She threw up in a nearby trash before collapsing. She was so tired of all this mess, of the mess she was, the mess she will always carry with her. She thought back to that woman at the bar. She thought that maybe she should have stopped her, or followed her back home. Found out the piece of shit that thought she was his to hurt and ripped his heart from his useless body. She clenched her fists. What a fine world did they preserved, she thought bitterly. She sat there for a couple of hours, alone and cold, in the dark, with the permanent whisper on her skin before leaving. She couldn't let Ava woke up her alone. She couldn't worry her more. It was her mess, and she dealt with it just fine.
She could do it.
Over the next week, it get worst, as it always did.
They were always of two kinds : memories played again and again in the night or nightmares made up by her twisted mind. She dreamt of hands, so many hands, on her, fighting to find the best way to enter her skin. She dreamt of a tongue, running over her tights while she was attached to a bed. She dreamt of her enjoying it, asking for more when she only wanted to die. And of course she remembered. She remembered the experience in itself, but also the feelings. The feelings of being utterly powerless, of doing what she needed to in order to survive, of deserving it, of asking for it. She would wake up drenched in sweat, a soundless scream falling from her lips. And for a second, she was scared of Ava, for she didn't recognize her. It went away as fast as it came, but she knew Ava saw it. Sometimes she would let her hold her for the rest of the night, sometimes she would go trained or drink.
As the second week rolled, Sara knew she would have to talk to Ava soon. If her girlfriend was always patient and understanding with her, she saw the worry in her eyes each night, and the pain during the day when she wouldn't let her touch her. Physical contact was getting hard for her, and by hard she meant repulsive and scary. So she dropped Ava's hand whenever she took it and aimed for her cheek whenever they kissed.
"Sara" Ava started one night in their bed "what's going on?"
She kept pretending to read her book, hoping Ava would drop the subject, but of course she didn't. She took the book from her hands, put it on her nightstand and faced her. Her eyes were soft and caring, so full of love.
"Babe, talk to me please."
Sara sighed and made the effort to take her hand. It was easier if she was the one to initiate touch.
"I'm sorry Ava, I just… I have a lot in my mind."
Understatement of the year.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Ava asked.
"I can't, not now" she breathed, her words small and scared.
Ava brought her hand to her lips and softly kissed it. Sara had to suppress her flinch, but Ava still felt it and her face fell.
"Please, Sara, tell me what you need me to do. I feel like, I'm not helping at all but hurting you." Her voice broke. "I can't stand the thought of hurting you, babe."
And the self-hatred was back, her long-time friend. She was so selfish in her pain, so self-centered. She had to be better, for Ava. She sat straighter in the bed and linked her fingers to Ava's.
"I'm sorry, I never meant for you to feel that way" she apologized earnestly.
"No it's not, babe. I will talk to you, I swear. Not now, but I will."
As she said the words, she realized for the first time that she truly meant them. She didn't know when, but she felt that she could see herself talk about it to Ava. Something heavy lifted from her shoulders and she felt better, she felt she could finally breathe without crumbling inside. The whisper fainted a bit and she smiled, she smiled sincerely for the first time in weeks. Ava saw it and smiled back at her, content with the knowledge that Sara felt confident to talk to her about whatever troubled her whenever she felt ready.
"I love you so much" Sara said, aw evident in her voice.
Slowly, she cupped her cheek with her other hand and brought her face to hers. As Ava closed her eyes, she kept hers wide open, not daring to let her beautiful face leave her retina, and kissed her lips. It was a bit weird to kiss that way, but she didn't felt brave enough to close her eyes yet. They kissed softly at first, but then Ava moaned and deepened their kiss. They hadn't made love for a while, she realized, since before the anachronism in the 19th century. Almost a month. She could feel Ava's need in the way her tongue battled with hers, even though she didn't force anything. Sara guided the hand she was holding to her waist, tentatively, testing her own reaction. Her skin prickled a bit, but nothing too bothering. Ava pressed herself against her, and it was fine. She could do this. Maybe she needed it, needed to be reminded of how it felt to be loved. She welcomed her girlfriend against her body and let her own hands traveled along Ava's skin, swiftly removing her tee-shirt to palm her breast. Ava groaned and let her head fell to her shoulder. Sara pinched her nipples the way she knew pleased her and she felt her hips moved against hers. It was still fine. She knew Ava's body, knew its curves and with the light on and her eyes open, she knew she could do this. She moved back her hips and they fall into a nice rhythm, slowly building the tension. But then Ava kissed her neck and she froze. Immediately feeling her stiffness, Ava stood back and looked at her with worry.
"Are you okay Sara? Do you want to stop?"
It was Ava, she knew Ava, she loved her. It was Ava, but on her face, different eyes were watching her. It wasn't her hands on her body. Sara blinked a couple of time and Ava was no longer facing her. It was him. He was back. How could he?
"Sara, do you hear me? "
His voice made her body recoiled far away from his touch. She fell out of bed with a scream, hurting her head against the nightstand. She crawled against the wall and closed her eyes.
"It's not him, I'm not there" she mumbled to herself. "I escaped, Nyssa found me, she saved me."
Lost in her head, she didn't heard Ava nor did she saw her tears. She didn't know what to do and didn't dare join her girlfriend on the floor lest she scared her more.
"Nyssa saved me, and I joined the League" Sara kept speaking to herself, her voice trembling.
Her hands scratched her skin, her arms, her legs, her neck. How could her own body became so uncomfortable? She needed to get out of it, out of this jail of flesh and bones.
"I joined the League and left it to go back to Starling. I'm with Oliver, it's not him, it's not him."
She let her head fall against the wall and thumped it a couple times. Her skin was raw.
"No, I'm not, I left again. It's not him, it's not him. Who?"
Ava had slowly approached her and sat in front of her, careful to leave enough space not to crowd her.
"Sara, it's me, Ava, you're at our apartment. Can you hear me?"
She froze for a moment, before opening her eyes. They were wild, filled with fear and doubt. Ava felt like someone ripped her heart out of her chest. Sara inclined her head on one side and the other, testing the reality of what she was seeing.
"Ava?" she repeated, unsure of herself.
"Yes my love, it's me."
She reached out a tentative hand, brushing her hair. Her lips let out a deep sigh and Ava could see the wildness faint in her eyes. Her Sara was coming back.
"Ava" Sara whispered with more steadinesses.
They stayed silent for a small eternity, staring at each other without daring to blink too long. Sara calmed her breathing and felt a bit more grounded, recognizing the bedroom in Ava's apartment. But all of her senses weren't back and she still smelt salt and sweat and his cologne in the air. She could still feel his fingers on her skin.
"Can I touch you?" Ava finally asked, broking the silence.
It was too soon, she wasn't fully back. Sara jumped to her feet, her face ashen.
"No, please, don't. I can't… no… you just…"
Words were tumbling out of mouth, not making any sense but she didn't seem capable of more.
"It's alright" Ava said, trying to convey a calm she didn't felt. "Just tell me what you need."
Sara closed her eyes, before opening them again when she felt nauseous. Her hands were still scratching her arms, starting to draw blood.
"I need a fucking shower" she declared before leaving the bedroom, leaving Ava alone, lost and scared.
She removed her clothes harshly, threw them far away from her body and entered the shower. Only turning the hot water on, she stood under the stream and prayed to drown.
She came back almost an hour later. She had scrubbed every inch of her body and when her skin stung too much of the hot water, she switched to fully cold. She felt that she had successfully erased every trace of him on her and she had used Ava's bodywash, letting the familiar scent ground her more. She spend a while combing her hair, brushing her teeth until she felt ready to face the woman in the other room. She owned her an explanation.
She entered the bedroom carefully, fearing Ava's presence as much as her absence. Facing her would be hard, but not having her around would be ten times harder. But of course, she was there, sitting crossed legs on her side of the bed. She couldn't find the courage to watch her in the eyes, so she focused on her neck and joined her, sitting on the mattress against her pillows. The silence hang heavy between them; none of the women knew how to break it.
"He raped me" Sara finally blurred out.
She heard Ava's shaking breath and went on.
"On the Amazo. You probably read it in my file, though I'm not sure what it really says about my stay on the ship."
"Only that you've been taken there after the Gambit sunk and before joining Oliver on Lian Yu."Ava said, forcing her voice to be steady for Sara didn't need her panick on top of her own. "It says that you've been working alongside a man named…"
"Ivo" Sara finished in a whispered.
The need to burn her skin came back but she clenched her hands in tight fists.
"That's one way to put it, I guess I did work with him. In fact, I learnt a lot with him." She let out a bitter laugh, her eyes fixed on Ava legs. "He found me after the Gambit. I was so weak of hunger and dehydration; I didn't realize what was going on. He took me aboard on the Amazo and took care of me for a while. He truly saved my life."
There was confusion in her words, because he truly did save her, without him she would have die. Did that mean she owed it to him? She frowned her brow, lost in her doubt.
She started with surprise and looked at Ava. She was still here, love still in her eyes. She exhaled and slowly took her hand in hers without breaking their eye contact. Her skin was so soft and warm. She could do this, she could tell her.
"After a couple of days, he started taking me with him in the lab. He taught me things and was kind of nice, if not condescending. I knew only him so I drank his words and clung to him. The first time he kissed me, I was scared but realized my options were limited so I kissed him back." A sob shocked her body. "Why did I kiss back?"
"Sara, you couldn't know. He should have never…"
"Please" Sara interrupted. "I need to tell it all."
Ava nodded though tears ran on her cheeks.
"He took me to his bed the same day and I realized the mess I had put myself into. I… I said no and struggled with everything I had but… he still… I said no, Ava, I swear I told him to stop."
There was an urgency in her pleading that broke Ava all over again.
"I believe you, baby, you said no."
Sara nodded vigorously and her left hand finally stopped scratching her leg.
"I was weak back then, didn't know how to defend myself. When he… after, he told me he loved me and that he would protect me. He said the other men on the ship had been looking at me and that I was lucky I had him. And I was in some way, I was lucky to have him, I guess. After that, he took me to bed multiple times and sometimes I would fight or just, lay inert and let him… I… there was one time… I was afraid, he was starting to get busy and I was left alone more often and the other men were getting handier… so, I…"
She could no longer see Ava for tears were drowning her face. She had never said it out loud, to anyone or herself. It was a deep anchored shame that she had carried alone for so long, letting it go in the open was scary. What did it say about her? What would Ava thought of her?
"You can tell me everything, Sara" she said, as if reading her mind. "I love you and nothing, especially not that part of your past, could make me love you less."
Ava wanted to take her in her arms, press her against her chest with so much strength that nothing in the world, past, present or future could ever reach her. But she saw and understood that Sara wasn't ready yet for more contact between them. She respected that, no matter how pained I made her. She hoped her words would be enough for now, she hoped Sara could read the sincerity of her love in her eyes.
"It's just us, and I love you. You can tell me anything and everything." She added.
"I asked him to take me" Sara finally confessed, her face ashen, her whole body trembling.
As the words left her, she crumbled into Ava arms, holding to her while letting for the first time all of her pain out. She cried, mumbling incoherent words of guilt and pain. But Ava hold her close, Ava told her she loved her. Ava was there.
The stayed that way a long time and though Sara's sobs ceased she didn't move. Ava was starting to think she felt asleep but then she spoke again.
"It's been a long time now, and I'm okay. It doesn't burden me everyday or whatever."
"Will you look at me, babe?"
Ava needed to have this part of their conversation eye to eye. She waited for Sara to take her time and they both slide under the sheet, facing each other on their side. Sara was so small in their big bed, she felt the impulse to take her back. But she had things to say.
"Thank you for telling me this, baby. I heard you, I believe you, I love you and I can assure you, it wasn't your fault."
Fresh tears came to Sara and she could see her prepared herself to contradict her but she didn't let her.
"It's not your fault, Sara. You were just a girl whose world had been shattered and he used you, he abused you knowing that you didn't have any choice left. You didn't owned him anything because he rescued you from the sea, and you didn't deserve anything he has done to you. He is a monster, he is a beast… he is a rapist."
Sara closed her eyes at the word, but reached for Ava, putting her hand on her heart.
"He raped you" Ava went on "and being his victim at the time doesn't make you anything less in my eyes, and you're not his victim anymore. You survived and became this incredibly strong and thoughtful person. You became the woman who fights for every woman, who saved the world and time multiple times. You became the woman I love. What he did to you does not define who you are, you're so much more than that."
She let that sink a moment and gathered her strength to go on.
"I don't know how it doesn't weight on you every day, but I know that it's normal that it still troubles you from time to time. You cannot control what triggers you. But I want to help you, Sara. So you have to tell what I can and cannot do. You set the boundaries, and I'll follow them. If you need to cry, I'll hold you or just sat beside you; if you need space I'll give it to you; if you need to feel clean I'll prepare a bath for you or go in the shower with you; if you're lost I'll ground you. Just tell me, my love, let me help you."
They were both crying now but it felt good, more cathartic than wild. Sara was exhausted, yet she took a big breath, let it sunk in her lung and prepared herself to talk again. She used to never talk about it because she dealt with it just fine. However, she realized she could deal with it better than fine, and she didn't have to do it alone.
"When we went to the bar with the Legends, after the human trafficking mess in the 19th, I saw this woman. Someone was hurting her, probably her husband according to how she rolled her ring on finger. She seemed so exhausted while she drank, not really here, probably still there in her mind, still caged with him. She was hurting and yet, she went back. She didn't know anything better, thought he was if not the best, at least the less worse for her. I guess that's what triggered me?"
She shifted a bit, wanting to go on but not knowing how.
"And what did you felt then?" Ava quietly asked, offering her exactly what she needed.
"I heard him first. What he used to tell me when… when he took me. And then I felt him on my skin every time someone touched me. I couldn't tell who it was, when it was, just that he seemed to be everywhere on me."
"Even when it was me?" Ava asked though she already knew the answer.
"I'm sorry" Sara whispered, the guilt pouring in her heart.
"Don't be, it's okay." she assured her. "Why did you kiss me then? Did you only did it to avoid this conversation?"
Sara let out a humorless laugh.
"Partly" she confessed "it's easier when I'm the one initiating the touch, so I thought that if I was in control, I could give you that."
"Give me what?" Ava pressed on.
Sara blushed, embarrassed by her reasoning.
"It's been… we didn't have sex for a while because of me and… I didn't want to hurt you, so I thought I could make you feel good."
"Oh Sara, I don't need to have sex, I need you to be alright, to feel safe and loved. I don't want you to do anything you're not ready to, just because you think I want them."
"Stop being sorry, my love. You've done nothing wrong, Sara."
She wanted to reply something but a huge yawn stopped her and made Ava laugh softly.
"We can sleep now, babe. We have tomorrow and all the others tomorrows to talk."
Sara hummed sleepily and rolled closer to Ava, nestling her head in her girlfriend's neck. Ava tensed and stayed as still as possible. Was she allowed to embrace her, or would it be too much? Could she kiss her hair?
"Hold me tight, please" Sara mumbled, already half asleep. "I want to feel you, only you."
Ava finally relaxed and fully spooned her girlfriend, dropping tender kisses on her brow.
It was going to be alright.
They could do this together.
When they woke up, Sara got scared and fell again of the bed, but once she gathered herself she returned to Ava's arms and talked to her. It took three more days before she could kiss her with her eyes closed; two more days before she let her initiate physical contacts; a whole other week before they made love again.
But time didn't matter for she knew Ava would wait for her. So she took her time, talking, crying, learning to let heal the scars of her past. She felt lighter, better, but also stronger.
She had survived the Amazo and Ivo, and she'll survived whatever came next. She was strong enough to do this, her past couldn't stop her from facing her future.
Angst, again. Does it surprise anyone ? xD
It was hard to write because I wanted to do this right, not to invalide anything or go to quick. Nothing is solved here, not really, and that's the point of this series "What is sleep?". Sara's traumas won't go away just because she is a badass, nor just because she found Ava. She'll still have nightmares, still be triggered. There is quite a lot of dialogue in here because I wanted to say a lot things, not letting it be "implicit" or anything. I hoped i've got it right and you enjoy your reading, let me know ^^
Until next time mates !