Title: Voice Lessons/ Memory Wipe
Recipient: Illmantrim
Author: Clannadlvr (fic writing site: www.livejournal.com/users/clannadlvr_fic)
Featured Character/Prompt: "Atom II (Ray Palmer) (JLA) -- mourning, he remembers the good about Jean."

Summary: Ralph Dibny reflects on the changes in his life since Sue died./ Mourning, Ray Palmer remembers the good about Jean.
Rating: PG-13 for subject matter
Spoilers: All of "Identity Crisis"
A/N: I got inspired to take a little detour on this story at first. "Voice Lesson" is a Ralph, the Elongated Man, p.o.v... While "Memory Wipe" is the companion story told from Ray Palmer's perspective. Both are included below.
The very first line of the first half of the story, "Voice Lessons," echoes one from "Identity Crisis" issue 1.

***
"Voice Lessons"
***

The only thing I never joke about is Sue.

That's always been the case. I could rib Ollie about that bald spot he's hiding under his Robin Hood hat...I could make a well-meant crack about Zatanna's choice of hosiery. But when it came to my lady, my Sue, every word was filled with love and devotion.

That was then.

Now, after months of sleeping on one side of a half empty bed because my mind and body refuses to give up its training and move to the center, I can't even talk about her.

I can cry over her- sometimes I feel like that's all I've done since the day I lowered her, and the child I'll never get to know, into the ground.

I dream about her. The way she looked that day before I left for work. Her jet black hair pulled into a messy top knot, a pleated flowing denim skirt, a purple turtleneck that had seen just enough washings, faded to a shade somewhere near indigo...without even a stitch of makeup, she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. She still is- I close my eyes and drift into sleep and the only thing I can see is my lovely wife, the woman who chose butter pecan over chocolate and vanilla. And for a while, in my dreams, I feel like I can start to breathe again. Like everything's all right and that when I wake up in the morning, both sides of the bed will be filled.

It usually only takes about twenty minutes for my sleepy memories of her to turn into the nightmare that happened on my unbirthday.

I hear her over my comm piece, her voice quaking in fear. I barely feel the cold snap of air against the burning of her hands as Firehawk flies me home, but it's still there, brushing at the edge of my terror. And then there's the drenching wet of the security system that falls on me as I race through the house, cursing myself for my inability to find her and to tell her that everything's ok. And then I reach her. I smell burning flesh and death. I cradle her in my arms...and scream in silent agony.

Then I wake up. Get myself some coffee. Muddle through the day. Drink to fall asleep, just to repeat the experience of the night before.

There's hasn't been a night since the day she died that I haven't loved and lost my wife in my dreams.

I cry. I dream. I hate.

Most of the time, the black feeling of rage that washes over me it directed at exactly the right target. Jean Loring. Enough time has gone by that my hands barely shake when I think her name. They still quiver when I hear it. And I can't speak it.

I can't speak about either of them. It's the only commonality I'll ever let Sue and Jean share.

Maybe there's one more...even if it's fleeting. There are moments, just moments, when I think I hate Jean a little. That maybe I hate her for leaving, for taking our baby with her. And then I hate myself even more for feeling something so disgusting and so right all at the same time.

The others try to convince me to open up...to share the feelings I have inside. They've heard my cries and wails, seen my tears and the determined look I had on my face when we worked to find her killer. But they haven't heard me speak about what's going on in my head, the endless cycle of hate and love that I know they can see eating away at me. Bruce's eyes bore into my own, as if by sheer will he can see if I've become a candidate for Arkham. Dinah hugs me and I can feel her fingers as they surreptitiously check for cracks and fractures. Ollie tries to bring up the good times we've had together, in the hope that I'll tell some cheerful anecdote about the woman I loved.

But I certainly can't joke about her. I definitely can't talk about her.

But I can talk to her. Oddly enough, it was Ollie who suggested it. At first, I brushed him off, telling him he'd read one too many self-help books while sitting on the john. The intended arrow veered easily away from its target- I couldn't fool Ollie.

So he mentioned it again. And again. And again, in the way that only someone as annoyingly persistent as Oliver Queen can do. Miracle of miracles, his advice started to sink in. Still, I couldn't be sure Sue would want to listen to anything I had to say. I'd let her down. I didn't protect her.

I let her die.

So I told her as much. I said all the things to her that have been burning in my brain, all the words everyone else seemed to want to pry out of me.

But they weren't for them. The words were for her.

At first, nothing seemed to change. The beer still flowed, the bottles of the cheap stuff filling the trash can, sandwiched between pizza boxes and take out containers. But now...my house isn't as empty and silent as before. There's a little speck of life...an atom, if you will, for all the irony of that metaphor.

Still, I dream. I cry. I hate. I drink. Oh, do I drink. But I also talk. And for a few moments every evening, right before I stretch my arm across her side of the bed to snap off the light, everything seems to come into focus. I forgive myself a little each time I tell her about my day. The villains apprehended. The disasters averted. I even repeat the silly stories Ollie tells me in his gruff-man-like way, an obvious effort to give me comfort that I know Jean would appreciate.

So, no, I can't joke about her, can't talk about her. But I can talk to her. And as for jokes?

Maybe tonight I'll tell her the one about the super hero, the doctor, and the duck who walk into a bar.

*** Title: Memory Wipe ***

Sometimes I wonder how Ralph does it. How he gets through the day.

Ok, not sometimes- all the time. I mean, seriously, he bawled his eyes out for days straight after Jean died, went into a deadly controlled rage as he looked for her killer, and now, only a few months later, he seems to be getting on with his life. From what I've been able to find out from this distance I've traveled, he actually seems to be getting better. Rumor has it that Ollie had something to do with Ralph's "recovery," but whatever he did...it's got me curious. How can I still be stuck in the past while Ralph moves on?

I mean, for god's sake, he's the one who lost the wife, who found her brutally murdered in their home

I'm just the man whose ex-wife killed her.

That's who I am now. No more Atom. That gig's been retired ever since I found out that my alter ego's technology served as the murder weapon. The only good that suit is for now is keeping me away from all the people I let her hurt. So, no more Atom. Instead, I'm the ex-husband, and lover, of the woman who ended the life of Sue Dibny. No, not "ended the life." Killed. Murdered. Trampled. Snuffed out. Executed. No petty euphemisms need apply.

Problem is, I can't seem to reconcile that Jean with the one who's in my memories.

As much as I try to scrub thoughts of her from my brain, I can't. I try to avoid anything that would trigger a thought about her. Before I left a few months ago, I packed up all of the lingering clothing I still had from our marriage and gave it to the Salvation Army. I stopped eating pea soup and turkey sandwiches for lunch- Jean used to make them for me when I went off on a mission. And I especially haven't visited our house- her house, the one she got in the settlement- since I dropped her off at Arkham.

I suddenly realize that this sort of "spring cleaning" is probably what most couples do when they divorce. Not me. I hung on to so many reminders of our life together after the final papers were signed. Wiping my life clean of anything to do with Jean Loring? Well, it only took my ex turning into a murderer to make me get out the dust rag.

But even throwing out every picture of us happy and smiling together, cutting into shreds every sock she darned, still can't block out certain images...

...the hopeful gleam in her eyes when she told me she was signing her patents back over to me...

...the saucy look she threw my way as we negotiated the terms...

...the tears in her eyes and the blood seeping from her lips as I cut the rope from the door and brought her back to life...

...the way her eyes rolled back into her head as I rediscovered a body which had for so many years been denied to me...

My stomach turns as I realize that for half these memories, she'd already taken on the role of a murderer.

In some ways, these thoughts are okay. They make me hurt and, guilty as I am, it feels justified. Right. I can't bring myself to speak to Ralph, or anyone else in the League for that matter, but maybe this emotional martyr crap I've been going through will be something I can give to him....to them...

That is, if I could keep my thoughts safely to moments tinged with regret and disgust.

But my mind betrays me all too easily.

Instead of remembering the events and circumstances of Jean Loring in the death of Sue Dibny, I find myself moving back toward earlier memories. Purer ones.

...watching as she tossed back her head and laughed at my awful lawyer jokes, my style of flirting actually hitting its mark...

...feeling her soft skin under my hands for the first time and reveling in the way our bodies moved together...

...wondering what Maui looked like even after we'd been there- our habit of taking vacations where clothing truly became optional and the sites were ignored...

...soaring with heady disbelief and love as rings were exchanged and vows made...

In my microscopic hideaway, I realize that it's the good memories of our life together that hurt the most, that threaten to cut me to the quick. And with that remarkable sort of clarity that comes when you've removed yourself from the world and can finally see the big picture, I realize why Ralph is doing better than I am.

He loved Sue, a woman with a good heart and a beautiful soul, whom he knew completely and cherished for all that she was.

I loved Jean, a woman with a fractured heart and a desperate soul, whom I never knew completely and never bothered to really try.

With that realization, all those memories from my marriage to Jean become tainted, more closely resembling the moments we shared together just a few months ago. That first taste of her lips now seems a little bit rancid and those first touches rendered callous and incomplete. Even the rings seem to leave scorch marks on remember fingers.

It's a version of the story I find I can live with. Jean Loring, murderer. Ray Palmer, accomplice. Both now safely locked away from society.

And some people say sad stories can't have happy endings.

***