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[personal profile] daylight_darknight
Another fic that got a bit away with me. I didn't think it would be quite this long. You really don't want to know how much time I spent editing it. After this, I think I'm going to stick to shorter and more light-hearted fic writing for awhile.

Title: Brainwashing and Indoctrination.
Characters: Rip Hunter, Mick Rory, Leonard Snart
Rating/Warnings: PG
Genre: Angst, Drama, Missing Scene
Word Count: 7000
Spoilers: Up to and including episode 1x10
Summary: Before Mick rejoins the team, he and Rip have several things they need to discuss. Missing scene from the episode Progeny.

“Captain, I must inform you that two of the crew are attempting to use the equipment in the medbay,” announced Gideon, the A.I.’s voice echoing through Rip’s study.

“Which two?” asked Rip, distractedly. His focus was currently on the tiny tablet in his hands as he used it to search through the data he’d amassed on Savage, searching hopelessly for something he might have missed. In the back of his mind, he wondered how any of the crew could have gotten injured while they were flying through the temporal zone.

“Mr. Rory and Mr. Snart.”

The tablet fell to the floor with a loud clatter.

“What!?”

“Mr. Rory and...”

“Yes, yes, I heard you,” said Rip, hurriedly. “What I meant was how the hell can Mr. Rory be in the medbay when he’s supposed to be locked up in the brig?”

“Mr. Snart opened his cell ten minutes ago,” answered Gideon, impassively as if she were delivering a report on the local weather.

Letting out a tired groan, Rip rubbed his forehead wishing his fingers could deaden the pain growing there. “Why didn’t you tell me that at the time?”

“You indicated that the crew should have free access to all areas and to inform you only of possible medical emergencies or threats to the ship.”

“You and I need to have a serious conversation about what does and does not constitute a threat to the ship,” said Rip, glaring up at the ceiling.

This was the last thing he needed, another disaster to plague his already disaster filled mission. Some days he really missed being a Time Master. Things had been a lot less chaotic when he’d worked for the Time Council, had made a lot more sense too. Of course, there were a lot of things he missed from back then.

Recalling the recent threats Mick had made concerning his life and the lives of the rest of the crew, Rip checked his revolver and quickly headed out of his study in search of their escapee.

“I don’t suppose you know why Mr. Rory and Mr. Snart are in the medbay?” he asked Gideon as he hurried down the ship’s corridors.

“Mr. Snart was injured during an altercation, after which Mr. Rory escorted Mr. Snart to the medbay.”

The lines on Rip’s face deepened into a frown. It seemed the more he learned the more confused he became. What the hell was going on? “Are you telling me that Rory beat up Snart, and then took him to the medbay to get fixed up?”

“That is correct.”

Either their work to reform Mr. Rory was starting to pay off and the man had had a change of heart or Mick had some plan Rip couldn’t conceive of in which case they were dealing with an imminent threat to the ship. After all they’d been through, Rip didn’t have the optimism left to trust to the former, but he decided to wait until he had assessed the situation himself before he called in the rest of the team.

As he neared the medbay, Rip slowed down, making sure his steps fell silently against the metal floor. The door as usual had been left open. He kept one hand on the revolver in his holster as he reached the entrance and peered inside.

Inside the medbay, Snart sat in the chair at the far end of the room, leaning back against the headrest, his nose bloody and numerous darkening red marks covering his face. Mick stood nearby grumbling in frustration as he poked at the medical display screen on the wall. Neither of them seemed particularly happy but at least they weren’t trying to kill each other.

Cautiously, Rip stepped into the room.

Mick’s head immediately swung towards him even though Rip was sure he hadn’t made a sound. “Hunter,” he said. “Great. You can show me how this damn thing works.”

Rip narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Mick and glanced between him and Snart. “I don’t suppose either of you would like to tell me what the hell is going on?”

Snart gave an amused snort, and then winced as the action pulled at his injuries. “Mick and I had a little heart to heart,” he said, his voice rough.

“Right,” said Rip, skeptically, drawing out the word. “And that’s how you ended up like...” He gestured at Snart's injuries.

“We take our discussions very seriously,” Mick replied.

“I see.”

Deciding explanations could wait until he had tended to the wounded, Rip moved to Snart’s side though he made sure to keep Mr. Rory in sight at all times, still uncertain as to the man’s intentions. He placed the medical cuff on Snart’s wrist, and then looked over the scan Gideon had done of him. Along with the bruising on his face and a broken nose, Leonard also had several cracked ribs, internal bruising, and a strained knee that was already starting to swell. Mick had certainly done a thorough job. Rip adjusted the chair so Snart was lying down and hit the button that would send a painkiller along the tube attached to the cuff before setting Gideon’s regeneration systems in motion. He focused them on the cracked ribs to start off with knowing that they were the most critical and undoubtedly the most painful.

Blue light flashed down from the ceiling travelling along Snart’s body. “Fracture to the 8th, 9th, and 10th rib on the left side,” Gideon declared. “Beginning cell regeneration.”

Snart squinted up at the light. “Here we go again,” he muttered. He looked tired, but the lines of tension on his face had softened indicating the painkiller was doing its job. “Doesn’t this quick healing stuff ever bother you?” he asked making Rip wonder if Gideon had missed a concussion.

“Frankly, no,” said Rip as he went over the medical display ensuring that the regeneration was working properly and that Leonard’s vitals were stable.

“I think it makes things a little too easy, a little too neat and tidy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Pain is a good reminder,” said Snart with a shrug. “Not to mention scars.”

“Well," said Rip, gazing down at him. "I’ll be sure to have Gideon leave some of the superficial bruising as a reminder of your most recent stupidity. It’s for the best anyway. Overuse of the regeneration process can be taxing on the body as you may recall from when Gideon replaced your hand.”

Snart let out a huff of air in response. He must have still been in some pain or he would have responded with something much more witty or scathing, most likely both.

“You’d think with all the reminders he has he’d have stopped doing stupid things by now,” observed Mick.

“Right back at you,” was Snart’s retort.

Rip glanced from Leonard to the looming form of Mick noting that despite the banter they seemed to be avoiding each other’s eyes. They might not be trying to kill each other, but things were obviously far from mended. And speaking of Mick Rory... Now that Snart’s injuries were being taken care of Rip really needed to deal with their, apparently former, prisoner.

“We’ll talk later about just how asinine your recent actions were,” Rip said to Snart, “but for now...” He tapped the medical display once more dosing Snart with a sedative.

Leonard blinked slowly a couple times and said in a slightly slurred voice, “Did you just...” but Gideon’s sedatives worked fast and what else he’d been about to say was lost as his eyes fell shut and he drifted into sleep.

“You put him out?” asked Mick, raising an eyebrow.

“He’ll heal quicker that way," Rip explained. "Besides I thought we could use some privacy while we had a little chat.”

Mick folded his arms over his chest, a dark look appearing in his eyes. “Oh, yeah?”

Rip grimaced. At least the hardened expression was an improvement over the manic grin Mick had taken to sporting recently. The mad gleam in his eyes had made Rip wonder if the Time Masters had broken something in his head. Mick had always been slightly off kilter but whatever the Time Masters had put him through, and what that was was still a mystery to Rip, seemed to have pushed him over the edge. If they had pushed him that far, would it even be possible to pull him back?

“I’m not sure if I should be railing at you for what you’ve done to Mr. Snart and throwing you back in the brig or if I should be thanking you for not killing him.”

“You could try throwing me back in the brig,” said Mick with a snide curl of his lips.

Sensing the implied threat behind the words, Rip felt the sudden urge to reach for his gun. He knew that despite his training and experience his odds against Mick in a straight hand to hand fight weren’t good. Pushing the urge aside, he said, “Can I ask why you didn’t kill him?”

For the first time, Mick’s stony expression faltered and he looked away. “Turns out vengeance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Frowning, Rip studied Mick, trying to understand what was going on beneath the hardened facade. He no longer seemed to be under the Time Master’s control, at least Rip hoped he wasn’t, but he was different. The fire that always burned at Mick’s heart was still there, but it no longer burned so wildly or out of control. It had become a single, intense flame, burning steadily beneath his skin.

“Then can I assume from that, and the fact you’re not trying to kill the rest of us and take over the ship, you’ve had a change of heart?”

Mick snorted. “I don’t have a heart.”

A wave of frustration washed over Rip as he grew tired of the lack of straight answers. “You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little wary of this sudden change,” he said, bitingly. “Considering your recent actions and your threats, I need to know if you’re a danger to my ship or my crew.”

“I could be,” said Mick, his voice low and menacing as he took a step towards Rip.

Rip managed to stop himself from flinching and taking a step back. He didn’t, however, manage to stop his fingers from twitching in the direction of his gun.

Mick must have seen this because with a speed Rip wouldn’t have accredited him for, he reached out and grabbed Rip’s wrist holding it in a grip so crushing it was sure to be black and blue by the next day.

This time Rip did flinch, his heart racing in his chest.

“Scared, Rip?” said Mick with a sneer. “Want to know how much of a danger I am? I could take down this team. I could destroy your precious ship. I could kill you right now if I wanted to.”

Rip swallowed convulsively, but refused to let his nervousness show, meeting Mick’s anger with some of his own. “If you try anything, Gideon will alert the rest of the team and they’ll stop you.”

“And by the time they get here you’ll be dead or at least very broken.”

They stared at each other unmoving, not even blinking.

There were a dozen tricks Rip knew which might get him out of Mick’s grip, some he had learned from the Time Masters, some he had learned long before he'd ever joined them, but reminding himself that he owed this man, that he had let him down before, Rip pushed past the instinctual fear and anger that was trying to overwhelm him and looked at Mick, really looked.

Rip had known men like Mick when he was still a child living on the street, large, brutish men who were more interested in using their muscles than their brains, who were cruel because they enjoyed being cruel. When he was a child Rip had quickly learned to avoid them because If he didn't he would be sure to lose the day’s takings as well as gain some bruises and broken bones of his own, but was Mick really that sort of man? Had Rip ever given him the chance to prove otherwise? Had anyone? Gazing into Mick’s eyes, he realized the man standing in front of him didn’t look cruel. He just looked tired as if he’d been fighting so long he couldn’t remember what he was fighting for.

“You could kill me,” Rip said, standing his ground, his voice and gaze unwavering. “But I don’t think you will.”

Mick glared at him and for a moment the pressure on Rip’s wrist increased painfully; then suddenly, Mick let go and backed away.

Rip let out a sigh of relief and rubbed his sore wrist. “If you really wanted us dead, you’d be working on taking over the ship,” he said, “not tending to Snart.”

“Maybe I just want him healthy so he can watch as I kill you all,” said Mick, but it sounded like even he didn’t believe that excuse.

Rip shook his head. “You may have been intent on killing us when you got on this ship, but you’ve changed. I’m not complaining, believe me, but I am curious as to why.”

Mick turned away and began restlessly pacing the other side of the room. He stayed silent, his jaw tight, but his eyes flickered in the direction of Leonard who still lay sleeping under Gideon’s healing blue light.

Rip raised his eyebrows. “Was it Snart?” he asked. “What exactly occurred between the two of you? Why on earth did he open your cell?”

“Because he’s an idiot,” Mick growled “He proposed a deal: we'd settle things with our fists and if I killed him, I'd get to take the jumpship and go.”

Rip’s eyes narrowed. Something about that didn’t seem right. “That’s insane,” he said. “Mr. Snart can more than hold his own in a fight but compared to you...”

“He’s a scrawny little wimp?” Mick suggested wryly. “Snart’s always been the brains while I’m the muscle. He knew that. He’s never been able to take me in a fight, not without surprise and a weapon in his hands.”

“Then why...?” Rip began and then a cold realization hit him. “He wanted you to kill him.”

Mick’s fists clenched and he began pacing even more furiously than before but he didn’t deny Rip’s statement.

Rip stared down at the sedated thief. In sleep, Leonard’s face, usually so tight and guarded, had softened making him look quite unlike his usual self. “Actually, I can’t say I’m that surprised.”

Mick’s head swung towards him in a move so fast it must have been painful. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The guilt,” said Rip, simply. “It’s been weighing him down ever since we found you, before that even. He tried to hide it but it’s there. Trust me. I know a thing or two about guilt.” Rip’s own guilt he knew would be with him until the day he killed Savage and saved his family.

Mick stared at him, the incomprehension on his face giving him an almost childlike appearance. “Guilt?”

“He was forced to choose between the team and his closest friend, and that choice left his friend to endure numerous hardships. Of course, he feels guilty. What did you expect?”

“I thought...” Mick began but he seemed at a loss for words. “I didn’t...”

“Did you really think he just dumped you in that place and forgot all about you?”

Mick didn’t answer. He didn’t need to answer. The answer was there in the bewilderment and shock on his face.

How had they screwed things up this badly, Rip wondered. How had he.

“He’s been moping about the ship ever since you left,” Rip explained. “Of course, I thought at the time it was because he’d been forced to kill you as I'd ordered hm to not...”

“Quit that,” Mick snapped, interrupting him. “I know you didn’t order Snart to kill me.”

“What are...”

“You didn’t order Snart to do anything. You really think if you had, he’d have listened?”

Rip winced at being caught out. The reason he had lied was in hopes of directing some of Mick’s anger away from Snart and on to himself, not that it had worked, but the truth was he might as well have given the order. He certainly hadn’t done anything to stop Snart. In fact, he’d felt relieved when Leonard had volunteered to ‘handle’ Mick and had gotten them out of what seemed like an impossible situation.

“As Captain, I bear responsibility.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mick said dismissively with a wave of his hand. “It was still Snart’s choice to maroon me.”

“Because he felt he had no other choice,” countered Rip. “He was trying to protect the team. And if he had known what would happen to you, he’d never have done it. Frankly, I'm surprised he hasn’t tried to steal the jumpship and go back to rescue your younger self.”

“Causing a temporal paradox which could wipe us both from existence,” Mick added. “Yeah, he’s just dumb enough to do something like that.”

Rip blinked having to remind himself that Mick would of course understand all about temporal paradoxes now. His mind was still trying to reconcile the fact that Mick and Chronus were the same person.

“Regardless of what he did,” he said, “it was obvious he regretted it and he wasn’t the only one.”

The look of confusion was back on Mick’s face.

“The whole crew bore some of that burden of guilt and loss. Jax spent days hounding Snart for what he’d done. Kendra hawked out three times. Sara used her bo staff to demolish several rather important containers in the cargo bay. Martin nearly blew up the lab because he couldn’t focus on his work and Ray went around looking like a kicked puppy.” And Rip? He had buried himself in his work as usual trying to ignore the fact that something else had been added to the increasingly long list of things that weighed on his conscience and chiding himself for becoming too attached to the people who were supposed to be his coworkers not his friends.

Mick shook his head as if he still didn’t get it. “Why the hell would they do that?”

“Because we'd lost a member of our team,” said Rip, softly.

Mick just stared at him, his expression hardening once more. “I’m not a member of the team. I’m not sure I ever really was.”

“That’s where you’re wrong," Rip insisted. "You were a member of our team and you can be again.”

“Really?” said Mick, raising an eyebrow, a flicker of his old fire flashing in his eyes. “Is that what you want? I seem to recall you telling me the only reason you recruited me in the first place was because you wanted my partner. You really want a ‘serial arsonist’ with the ‘IQ of meat’ on your team?”

There was nothing like having your own failings thrown in your face, brought into sharp relief with all the consequences visible in full technicolor glory. Rip looked away, ashamed, guilt surging once more, because that was the truth of the matter, wasn't it. Not only had Rip failed to prevent the loss of his teammate, he had pretty much caused it. Blame his short temper or his inborn prejudices, it was still Rip’s fault. Though Mick had already been surly, displeased with his position on the team before they ended up in that pirate’s brig, it was what Rip had said there that had pushed him over the edge. Mick may have still left the team if Rip hadn’t said it, but it was doubtful that it would have been in such a spectacular fashion.

“I must apologize,” Rip said finding himself unable to meet Mick’s eyes. “I was wrong.”

Mick crossed his arms over his chest. “Yeah, you’ve been wrong about a lot of things. Anything specific you want to own up to?”

Rip had never been comfortable with admitting his failings. It was too much like admitting a weakness and showing weakness was a good way of ending up dead, but he took a deep breath and said, “I may have not seen your worth when I first recruited you, but you proved yourself a valuable member of the team on numerous occasions by fighting valiantly at our side and protecting the other members of the team.”

“Even if I do have the ‘IQ of meat’?”

Rip grimaced. Mick really wasn’t going to make this easy for him. “Those were careless words born out of frustration and anger. I'm sorry. Clearly, I was mistaken.”

Mick let out an unimpressed huff of air. “You know I’ve been called worse. My favourite is dumb as petrified dog shit but that was from my Dad. I would have expected better from my so called captain.”

Rip gave a sigh of exasperation. “I’ve apologized. What more do you want?”

“You insulted me.”

“And you betrayed me, tried to take over my ship, and attempted to kill my crew!” Rip snapped because it still stung. He may have helped instigate it but the betrayal had still stung. If Mick had been successful that day they’d all be dead, either killed by the pirates or left to die in the far reaches of space, trapped on a ship without a time drive, and that was something Rip would rather not think about.

Mick tilted his head to the side and seemed to consider things for a moment; then he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Then I guess we’re even.”

“That’s hardly...” Rip began angrily but he bit his tongue reminding himself that it was his temper that had got him into this mess in the first place. Besides, taking Mick back on the team meant taking him back as he was and he wasn’t the sort of man who apologized. “Fine, fine; then are you willing to join the team once more?”

Turning away from Rip, Mick let his gaze fall on Snart once more. “I don’t know what I want,” he said, his voice strangely quiet. He began slowly pacing the room again, his voice regaining it’s more usual aggressive tone. “Things were a hell of a lot simpler before you recruited us on this insane mission of yours. Before it was all just snatch, grab, and burn. Snart and I were in it together. We did what we wanted. We didn’t have to worry about things like consequences to the timeline, or the welfare of teammates, or the fate of the whole damn world; then you went and corrupted Snart, corrupted both of us these ideas of yours as if we were some big damn heroes, making us soft. Now it’s all mixed-up and complicated. And it’s all your fault.” He sent another dark glare Rip’s way as he added the last.

Rip met his glare unmoved. “I’ll apologize for insulting you. I'll apologize for how I’ve treated you. I’m not going to apologize for showing you the importance and the benefits of being part of a team and fighting for something greater than yourself.”

Mick just huffed once more and continued his pacing. “I thought I’d found simplicity again when I became Chronos; then is was all about vengeance. I just had to focus on killing you guys. I didn’t have worry about all that other crap. But I finally got my chance and...” He waved a hand in the direction of the prone form of Snart.

“And you found,” Rip continued for him, “that killing someone isn’t quite as satisfying when they want you to do it.”

“Or when they’re so pathetically apologetic,” Mick added turning to gaze pointedly at Rip.

Rip rolled his eyes but let the insult pass. “Yes, well, unfortunately, life is rarely simple.”

“Tell me about it.”

Rip took a step towards him clasping his hands together as if in supplication. “I can’t promise to make your life any less complicated than it already is but you do have a place here with the team." He gazed at Mick, earnestness in his green eyes. "All you have to say is you'll join us.”

Mick stared back at him, his face completely unreadable; then he took in a long, tired breath and let it out. “Fine. I’ll rejoin your little superhero group. It’s not like I have much choice anyway. The Time Masters will be after me now and I stand a little more chance of avoiding them if I stick with you guys.”

That was the answer Rip had been hoping for and he knew he shouldn't try to push his luck at this stage, but he had to ask. He had to know for sure. “And you’ll...?” he began.

“Tow the line?” said Mick, obviously having already anticipated the question. “Not kill you in your sleep or take over the ship or betray you to the Time Masters? Be a good boy? Don’t worry. I’ll behave as long as you do the same. I’ll even give you my word if that’s worth anything to you.”

It actually was, Mick was many things but he wasn’t a liar, and it was a great relief to Rip to know that Mick was finally back on the team. Yet there was still one worry that lingered in his mind.

Rip cleared his throat. “There is one other thing,” he said, hesitantly. “I’m not precisely sure what the Time Master’s did to you, but we need to make sure there are no lingering effects.”

The lines on Mick’s forehead deepened. “You think I might still be brainwashed and not know it?” he said, clearly not liking the idea.

“I’m not sure how you broke your conditioning and it’s possible there might be some remnants left over,” Rip explained. “Gideon was able to do a surface scan of your brain while you were in the brig and it didn't show anything, but she can only do a thorough scan here in Medbay.”

"And this scan will show if something's not right?"

"It should," said Rip. He gestured to the unoccupied chair. "If you'll just take a seat."

Mick stared down at the chair but remained standing.

“It won’t hurt,” Rip promised.

Mick shot him a look but he finally sat down, his broad shoulders making the chair seem surprisingly small. “What are you planning to do if it turns out my brain is still messed up?”

“Then we fix it,” said Rip as he went over to the medical display screen and began inputting the parameters for the scan. “If Gideon can’t do it, then we’ll find someone who can. We’re not abandoning you, not again.”

Mick only grunted in reply but his posture in the chair became a touch more relaxed.

Once Rip had the scan properly programmed, he set it in motion.

“Beginning total neurological assessment,” announced Gideon as the blue light shone down on Mick.

Mick’s nose crinkled as his face took on a disgruntled expression. “How long is this going to take?”

“Just a few minutes,” said Rip. “In the meantime, it might help if you told me everything you can remember about what the Time Masters did.”

For a moment, Mick was silent and Rip started to think he wasn’t going to answer, but then Mick began to speak, his face guarded, his tone flat and void of emotion.

“After the bastards found me, they left me in this place that was half prison, half hospital. They left me there for a good long while. I was in bad shape. Being marooned isn’t exactly great on your health. You know what it feels like to starve, Rip? Really starve?”

It wasn’t something that you forgot even if you were, like Rip had been, rather young at the time. “Yes, I do,” was all he said.

Mick raised his eyebrows in surprise but thankfully didn’t ask Rip to elaborate. “Anyway,” he continued, “apparently, the only reason they fixed me up was because they wanted me to be nice and strong for this induction process of theirs.”

“Induction process?”

“They perform it on all their potential bounty hunters. You hadn’t heard of it?”

Rip shook his head. He, of course, knew of the Time Council’s bounty hunters and assassins, Chronos, the Hunters, and the Pilgrim being those with the best, or depending how you saw it worst, reputations, but he’d always assumed they were just an elite group of specially trained soldiers brought in to do brute force work against time pirates and temporal criminals when the Time Captains' more subtle methods hadn’t worked. He’d heard rumours about special augmentations and powers such as temporal micro-manipulation, but he’d never heard of any induction process.

“They take you to this small room and strap you down on a chair kind of like this one.” Mick patted the chair on which he sat.

Suddenly understanding Mick’s earlier hesitation to sit, Rip winced in sympathy.

“Then they turn on the machine.” A haunted look crossed Mick’s eyes. “It’s supposed to erase your memories, eliminate every tiny ounce of personality and put in only the stuff the Time Council wants until you’re nothing but a mindless drone who’ll do anything they ask. It feels like someone’s set fire to your brain. Most people don’t survive.”

Mick grew silent and Rip let him gather his thoughts. A queasiness had been growing in his stomach with every word Mick spoke. He had known something fairly bad must have been done to Mick to turn him into Chronos, but he hadn’t imagined something like this. He hadn't wanted to. The idea that there were factions among the Council that would condone such a thing was unsettling to say the least. It was something he would really rather not think about.

“It almost worked on me, almost,” Mick continued after a moment. “For a long time, it was like I was hidden deep inside my own skull and couldn’t get out. I couldn’t really feel anything or even think my own thoughts, not when they started training me or when they first sent me out on missions, but there was still a spark of me left, a spark of anger and hatred, and I held onto it. I held onto it until the Council gave me the mission to kill you, and then the spark ignited and everything started to come back.”

“I suppose your quest for vengeance was good for one thing then,” Rip said, wryly. “It seems like your hatred for the team is what helped keep your mind intact and broke through the conditioning.”

“Huh," said Mick. "What do you know.”

Rip glanced at the medical display but the scan wasn’t finished yet. “What sort of training did they give you?”

“Oh, they didn’t give me a proper academy training like what you got or stuff my brain with..." He waved a hand. "...that temporal science crap if that’s what you’re wondering. They stuck to the nitty gritty. The time travel basics: how the time stream works and how to navigate it, how to fly a timeship and fix it if it crapped out on you, along with some special weapons stuff.”

“Still, that should come in useful.”

Mick smirked. “Yeah, it looks like you won’t be the only one who knows a thing or two about time travel anymore.”

That was something that would certainly take some getting used to. Part of Rip still couldn't quite believe that Mick Rory, who enjoyed slouching in a chair with a beer in his hand and staring at a flickering flame for hours, was Chronos, the Time Council’s most fearsome bounty hunter. He’d heard stories of Chronos for years, most of them the sort of tall tales passed from captain to captain, stories of Chronos sweeping in and coldly eliminating his target along with anyone else who got in his way.

“How much do you remember of your time as Chronos?” he asked.

“Pretty much all of it,” said Mick, his eyes clouding with memory, “but it feels distant, like it was a different life, like it wasn’t really me who did all those things.”

“Do you remember the Red Raider?”

“Pirate time ship, right? You took her down and almost took out the Waverider with her. I was never sure if what you did was badass or batshit crazy.”

“Possibly a bit of both,” said Rip with a wry smile. It was one of the events that had led to him becoming infamous among time pirates, a last ditch act of desperation that had almost cost him the Waverider but had succeeded in catching one of the most notorious pirates of them all. “You came to pick up the remaining pirates while I fixed my ship.”

Mick nodded. “That’s right,” he said, gazing at him curiously. "What's that got to do with anything?"

“That was the first time I met you, or rather the Chronos you.”

Rip had only met Chronos a few times, and then always in passing. They’d never actually worked together. Each time they'd met he’d found the bounty hunter admittedly somewhat creepy, the large figure in black armour with the expressionless mask and cold, mechanical way of speaking. It had always disturbed him the way the mask seemed to gaze at him a tad too long. He was only now starting to understand why.

Mick snorted. “Yeah, I knew you before you knew me. Ain’t time travel trippy.”

"It certainly keeps things interesting."

There was a pause in the conversation during which Mick turned his gaze towards Snart. "He going to be alright?" He asked it casually as if he didn't care one way or the other, but Rip knew better.

Following Mick's gaze, Rip saw that Snart was still sleeping soundly. A glance at the screen where his vitals were displayed showed they'd remained stable, and that Gideon had finished fixing Snart's ribs and moved on to repairing the internal bruising. "He'll be fine," said Rip. "As I'm sure you're aware, Mr. Snart is a lot tougher than he looks."

Mick grunted in agreement. "You really going to lecture him about what he did?"

"I think I'll leave that to Miss Lance. He might actually listen to her. I'd suggest the two of you talk but given what happened last time..."

“Scan complete,” Gideon declared interrupting Rip and causing both men to jump.

The medical display screen had changed to show the results of the scan. Rip went over to look at it. A side by side comparison showed Mick’s neurological structure and brainwave pattern before and after his encounter with the Time Masters. The first looked normal. The second.... A coldness sunk into Rip’s chest and he swallowed, the queasiness he’d been feeling earlier multiplying a hundred fold.

“My God," he breathed.

“What?” Mick got up from the chair and stood by Rip, studying the screen though it was clear the results meant nothing to him. “What is it? Has my brain turned to mush? Do the Time Master’s still have a stick up my ass?”

“No, no,” Rip said, shaking his head, eyes still staring fixedly at the screen. “Based on your brainwave pattern, Gideon has determined that you are in control of yourself once more. The Time Master’s influence seems to have gone, but there is a lot of neurological scaring. It must be a side effect of the process.” It looked like they’d dug into Mick’s brain with a series of microscopic lasers and tried to rearrange it as they saw fit. No wonder Mick had felt like his brain was on fire.

“What the hell does that mean?” Mick demanded.

"Hmm?" said Rip, distractedly. He ran a hand through his hair trying to jolt himself free of the shock that had overcome him. “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s a lot like any other scaring. It will fade with time and shouldn’t have any noticeable effects on you.”

“Good to know,” said Mick, narrowing his eyes at Rip. “But if it’s such good news, why do you look like someone just ran over your grandmother?”

"Sorry, I just..." Rip backed away from the display screen and began tracing a path back and forth along the far side of the room wringing his hand. Apparently, it was his turn to pace the room. “I just can’t believe anyone on the Time Council would do something like this.” He crossed his arms over his chest, huddling inside his large duster. What they'd done to Mick was akin to torture. Something the Council was supposed to be against, at least, he'd thought they were. He'd been trying to ignore just how bad what they done to Mick had been, but now the undeniable proof was there in front of him.

“Just like you couldn't believe your old bestie Druce would ever lie to you?” said Mick raising his eyebrows as he watched Rip pace.

“He must be working with some small, corrupt part of the Time Council, working in secret. I can’t believe they’d agree to something like this. They’re sworn to protect the time line, to protect all life. They’d never resort to something so, so...” He gestured to the scan of Mick’s brain. “So barbaric.”

“Oh, I think the Council does whatever the hell it wants.”

Rip swung back towards him, a furious intensity in his eyes. “You’re talking about the organization that has been protecting humanity for centuries. You’re talking about my friends, my mentors. Yes, they’ve obviously made some mistakes, but I’ve been trained by them and worked with them for most of my life, and I can’t believe...” Rip stopped because Mick was laughing at him. “What?” he demanded.

“You actually still believe that crap,” said Mick with a snort. “You dumbass sap.” He gazed at Rip, studying him. There actually seemed to be pity in his eyes which was even more disturbing than the laughter.

“I don’t understand."

Mick shook his head with disbelief. "You really don't get it, do you? Well, I guess as one of the Council's bounty hunters I got to see things a bit differently than your typical Time Captain."

"What are you talking about?" said Rip, growing increasingly frustrated by this sudden turn in the conversation.

“You’re one of the orphans they snatched, right?”

Rip nodded, still not understanding where this was going. “Yes, of course. As you obviously know, most Time Master are orphans taken as children from throughout the time stream.”

“But not just any orphans,” said Mick, raising a finger pointedly. “The Time Council likes a particular type of orphan. Let me guess, as well as being orphaned, you were also what? Homeless? Uneducated? Completely alone with no ties whatsoever? Probably sick or starving too. Ringing any bells, Rip?”

Rip’s lips thinned, but he didn’t reply, neither willing to reveal, nor able to deny just how right Mick was.

“You see,” Mick continued, “that’s what the Council does. It takes these vulnerable kids, puts them in this nice home so they feel indebted to them, and then begins shoveling on the bullshit. And when they’re all grown up, they give them the choice of whether or not to go to the Academy, but it isn’t really a choice, is it? All they’ve heard about for the past few years is how great the Time Masters are and they owe them anyway, so of course they go to the Academy where they get even more bullshit shoveled into them, like how to make tough decisions about who lives and who dies and how to avoid personal attachments.”

“That’s...” Rip began, but his words caught in his throat. What Mick was saying couldn’t possibly be right, could it? Just because the Time Council had turned their back on him, just because some of them used barbaric brainwashing techniques didn’t mean they were all evil.

“It’s, what do you call it...” Mick waved a hand in the air as he tried to recall the word. “Indoctrination! That’s it. Just a fancy name for brainwashing if you ask me.”

“The Time Masters have done great things,” Rip protested, almost pleadingly, but it sounded weak even to himself. “They’ve saved countless lives, prevented the destruction of the entire universe on occasion.”

“Yeah, but the question is how they’ve been doing it,” said Mick. “It doesn’t look like you never bothered asking and I can’t say I’m surprised. They taught you not to and you fell for their bullshit hook, line, and sinker. You’re worried about what the Time Council did to me. Maybe you should be more worried about what they did to you.”

It was like the world was being pulled out from under him and he was desperately trying to keep his footing. A lot of what Mick said made sense, and yet despite that, despite everything Rip had been through recently, there was still a part of him that insisted that Mick must be mistaken, that the Time Masters couldn’t possibly be so corrupt, because admitting that Mick was right would be like admitting that a good portion of his life had been a sham and a lie. It would mean he would have to rethink everything he knew, everything he’d ever believed in.

“You know they’re going to send the Hunters after us now, after me and you and the whole damn team, and they’ll be a helluva a lot harder to stop than I was.” Mick cocked his head to the side. “I wonder what the Time Masters did to them to make them like they are. They’re barely even human anymore.”

“I... we...” Rip closed his eyes for a moment and attempted to gather himself. “I need to inform the rest of the team about what’s happened. We’ll also need to talk to them about the Hunters. We can have a meeting as soon as Snart’s recovered.” He turned and began making his way out of the medbay.

“Face facts, Hunter,” Mick called after him. “The Time Masters are all bastards. It’s just bad luck you're not as much of a bastard as the rest of them.”

Rip’s steps quickened as if he were trying to escape Mick’s words. Head full of conflicting thoughts, he found himself going over and over what Mick had said unable to believe it, but unable to completely deny it either. He would have known if the Time Council was that corrupt, wouldn’t he? He couldn't have been that blind. They couldn’t possibly have hidden that side of themselves for so long. Mick had to be wrong. He had to be.

There was one thing Mick had gotten right though. Things had been a hell of a lot simpler before Rip had recruited Mick Rory.
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