The Fuzzy End of the Lollipop (5/5)
A Justice League: TAS story
by Merlin Missy (mtgat) and Constance Eilonwy (dotsomething)
Copyright 2004
PG-13


"Molly? Molly!" There was no answer. Oracle swore.

"What happened?" Robin came up beside him. Batgirl stood at the ready a few
paces away.

"It's Flash. I need the two of you to finish up here." He indicated the unconscious
crooks at their feet. Then he pulled out his grapple, found a rooftop in the
direction of where they'd left the Batmobile, and fired. "I'm going after her."


"Oracle to League. Flash is in trouble."

"Can you be more specific?" Diana sent back.

"She'd just broken into Roberts' files when someone discovered her. I'm already
on my way."

Somebody swore; Diana was sure it was John. "Be right there." The rest sent
affirmations. Diana stayed quiet as they started coordinating. The other five on-
world would be more than enough to extract Flash from her troubles. If they sent
J'onn in disguise, they might even do it without completely compromising her
cover.

The monitors kept silent watch. The last alert to come through had been a bank
robbery in Central City, but Lantern and Hawkman had given the robbers a bad
day hours ago.

Diana chewed her lip. Then she retasked a satellite to view the location of
Roberts' mansion in Metropolis. She told herself she was just being cautious,
scoping out the area in advance for the others. When the satellite was in position,
she zoomed into the area of interest.

The mansion was surrounded: men in black SUVs, men on foot, and everyone
was armed. Maybe two or three dozen; it was hard to tell in the dark. They were
lit only with headlights, and with the few warm lights placed strategically around the
mansion as security.

She slammed her hand on the alert button. "Watch out, everyone. It's a war zone
down there." Even as she spoke, she saw Ultrawoman fly into range. She was
greeted with gunfire.

Diana's breath caught. There was nothing she could do from here to aid them
now. Nothing of value to contribute. She flicked another camera view, and
looked at the landing bay. The Javelin was there, waiting for her.

She needed to stay up here, stay out of the way, stay calm. Her new body was
too unpredictable, too fragile. She could be injured. She could die.

Flash was in trouble, and their friends were headed into a fire fight to save her.

As Diana sprinted to the landing bay, she knew there never really had been a
choice.


Clark ducked the bullets spraying at him. Some caught his costume, took small
chunks with them. Perfect. Flash was inside, could be hurt or worse.
Bullet holes were not high on his list of priorities.

He dove, and the armed men below him started to key in that the woman they
were shooting wasn't backing away. The brighter ones started running.

Clark scooped up one of the vehicles parked outside the mansion and tossed it at
another. The resulting explosion scattered the men. He smiled grimly. Then he
saw the laser cannon, set up by the men who'd run, aimed directly at his chest.

He dodged the initial blast, but the second caught his arm and burned off the
fabric there.

Dammit!

This was going to take a little longer than he'd anticipated.


"So," said the voice in the darkness. "FBI? ATF?"

Wally intended to say, "What are you talking about and why does my head hurt?"
but it came out: "Hurmpfrlguh?"

"I said, which agency are you with?" The darkness was fading. A man's face
leaned over him, not an especially good-looking man, either. His nose looked
squashed, like maybe he'd been in too many fights, and he was fat.

"Hooyu?" Who are you?

His eyes focused further. Another man, just out of clear vision, held a needle and
was slowly pushing the air bubble out the tip. "Mr. Roussimoff, I can't guarantee
how the sodium thiopental will react with the diazepam. It may simply put her
back to sleep."

"Do what you can. She's obviously a spy. I want her pliable."

Pain. Pain. Pain in his arm. He could just move his head enough to see the
needle pull out again. Oh damn.

"Now," said the ugly man. "Whom do you work for?"

Thiopental? Isn't that truth serum? Wally didn't feel like telling the truth.
Didn't feel like doing much but laying here. He tried lifting his arm, found that to
be too much trouble.

"Which agency do you work for? I'm losing patience."

Wally lolled his head. "M'lassjob wazzatmacdonalls. Gofired." Now that he
considered the situation, it did not seem fair; he'd been let go just because he'd
believed the manager's "free food on breaks" policy. A lump formed in his throat
at the injustice of free fries.

"The serum may take some time to reach full effectiveness," said Needle Guy. A
noise from outside filtered through the haze in his head. An explosion?

Ugly Guy turned back to Wally. "It looks like we don't have the time right now
to ask you what I want to know. But you will tell me. Everything." Ugly
Guy brushed a finger over Wally's cheek, making his skin crawl. Then Ugly Guy
slipped his hand down and pinched Wally's breast through his dress. Wally
yelped in pain.

"I think, my dear, that you need to spend some time considering the variety of
exquisitely painful things I can and will do to you when we're finished here."
Ugly Guy slid his hand down more. Wally bit his tongue to keep from reacting to
the touches.

They had truth serum, and Ugly Guy had just threatened to torture him and maybe
even rape him to get information. While Wally wasn't a Fed, the secrets he kept
weren't things he wanted Roussimoff and friends to know. As his mind floated,
he tried not to think about anything else, 'cause he just couldn't deal.

"Sir?" Another guy had entered the room, ths one no beauty-prize winner, either.

Ugly Fat Guy — Roussimoff — smirked at Wally one last time and pulled away.
"Gag her and bring her. I can still use her."

Hands grabbed his hair, tugged his head forward. Ugly Skinny Guy gagged him
with a strip of cloth, someone else bound his hands, and he was dragged out of the
room — they were still in the study — and back towards Roberts' room. From
other parts of the building, he heard gunfire, and shouts, and some of the girls
were crying.

Roberts was an ass. Wally had no doubts about that, would be glad to see the guy
rotting in jail. Roussimoff, Wally'd be happy to send to Hell personally .
As soon as he could move any of his limbs.

Roberts was tied up in his own room, still in his bed. No gag. Wally was tossed
beside him. For what it was worth, Wally looked at him with the widest, most
frightened eyes he could muster. Roberts looked back at him, almost reassuringly.

Bats, please be on the way. No guarantees on that, though. He was pretty
sure the line'd been open when he'd gotten clonked, but his short-term memory
wasn't the most reliable thing just now.

"Molly, what did they do to you?" "Dread Boss" Roberts was concerned. Huh.

Wally shook his head, or tried to, to show that he was okay. Instead, his head
kind of lolled more, and his vision swam.

"How sweet," Ugly Guy sneered. "The two of you must be very close."

"Let her go," said Roberts. "She's just some dumb kid. She doesn't know
anything."

"She knows more than you think. She's a spy, you buffoon."

Roberts looked back at Wally, and there was a more calculating expression on his
face that Wally didn't like. He tried shaking his head, and was just as successful
as before.

"She's been working for me."

Whatwhatwhat?

Wally tried desperately to talk around the gag, to say something, to do anything.

"You kept asking me about Intergang last night. You lying little cunt,
when I get my hands on you ... "

Great. Now Roberts hated him, too.

"You won't have the chance," Roussimoff said smoothly. "Considering you're
about to die. I just wanted you to know how badly you've been betrayed before
you died." There were more screams from outside, closer. Roussimoff ignored
them. He waved to one of his goons, who aimed his gun at Roberts.

Wally forced all his strength into his arms. He managed to move them just off his
lap, and down again. The movement caught Robert's attention.

"If she's yours, why did you tie her and gag her?" Wally had to give the guy
credit; he wasn't stupid.

Roussimoff shrugged. "She already told me everything. She has outlived her
usefulness. Besides, I think this is far more fitting: the lovers die together."

"We weren't lovers!" came Wally's indignant response. It came out as a muffled
"Grr grrrr grr!"

Roussimoff twitched his hand, and suddenly the goon was aiming at Wally. I
thought he wanted to interrogate me,
came the last rational thought before
pure panic set in. Later, when his brain was free of the drugs, he would recollect
that the gun was aimed at his shoulder and conclude that Roussimoff no doubt just
wanted to wound him in front of Roberts, and would use the new wound as a fun
and educational means of pumping him for more information.

Just now, though, all Wally saw was the gun barrel, and the goon's finger
tightening slowly on the trigger in the weird slow-motion way things sometimes
went into for him.

Damndamndamndamndamndamndamn. Our Father who art in the United
States of America ...

A batarang knocked the gun away. As the goon grabbed his hand, a solid punch
broke his jaw. Wally saw a lithe, dark figure spring through the room, dodging as
another thug drew his weapon, then landing a kick to the man's ear that sent him
sprawling. The face was completely covered, which was creepy, but Wally had
never been so glad to see anyone in his life.

He made a noise, saw the dark figure twitch at the sound.

Roussimoff punched wildly at Bats, found his arm pinned up behind his back.
With a roar, he ducked and then kicked her, hard. There was an "Oof," very
quietly from behind the mask. She regained her footing almost instantly, but now
Wally could hear her breathing harder.

He felt something moving, saw Roberts struggling beside him. To his great
surprise, Roberts got his hands free and with a shout, launched himself. At
Wally's neck.

Wally squealed under the gag, and then couldn't make any noise at all as the wind
was crushed from him. He heard a loud thump, but saw nothing through the
growing blackness in his vision. He head pounded, and he was starting to fade.

The pressure ceased. A moment later, the gag was ripped off him, and he drew
big, wonderful gulps of air into his burning throat. As his vision returned, he saw
Roberts sprawled in a heap next to him in bed.

"Are you all right?" demanded the woman in black.

He nodded. "Even as a girl," he wheezed, "you're a big scary freak." This, sadly,
came out sounding like: "Eengrl yubgscrfrk."

A green field materialized around them a half-second before bullets sprayed in
their direction. Roussimoff had recovered from whatever Bats had done to him,
and had murder in his eyes. GL extended the field to cover their exit. Bats
grabbed him under the arms, and dragged him out while Roussimoff screamed
behind them. John formed a green fist from the field and punched Roussimoff.

"Is she okay?"

"She'll be fine," said Bats. Then she stared more closely at Wally, taking all of
her into a glance. "I think she's been drugged." Wally nodded loosely. The
adrenaline rush from almost dying twice was losing the fight with the drugs in his
veins. He hadn't felt this relaxed since that one weekend his freshman year.

"Here," Bats said. "Take her. She can't walk on her own." She dumped Wally
into John's arms.

GL didn't have time to get out a "But!" before Bats was halfway down the hall,
batarang in hand, aiming for lackeys.

Wally looked up at John. "You're my best friend, you know that?" became
"Yurmabessfrennodat?"

John rolled her eyes. "This is why we don't go out drinking together." Wally
slumped happily.


Shayera held her mace in the air. The man in her grip cowered as she snarled. As
usual, as always, she wanted to beat the hell out of someone deserving, and once
again, she was going to have to hold herself back because the rest of the League
shared some dotty illusion that one should leave one's enemies alive.

The guy whimpered once more, then passed out. Disgusted, she threw him aside.

At least she was allowed to beat up the supervillains when they came her way.
That was something.

"Hey, hon?" She turned her head. John floated down the hall with a woman in
her arms. "Can you watch this a minute?" She passed the sleeping woman off
into Shayera's confused arms. "Thanks!"

"What the — ?" She looked closer. Flash?

She swore, then put Flash over her shoulder as she went down the hallway. She
didn't have to look far for more trouble. From inside a room, she heard someone
trying to shout for help.

The door and its hinges really didn't have much of a chance.

There were four men in suits with weapons, and two very frightened-looking
young women — hardly more than children — in not very much at all. Someone
aimed a gun at her and she spun out of the doorway just in time; the bullets hit the
wall opposite the door, spraying them both with plaster and paint chips.

She could easily go back in and pummel the men senselessly, but it would mean
either using Flash as a shield, or dumping her here. Neither seemed a good idea.

Diana flew down a hallway catty-cornered to the one she crouched in with Flash.
"Hey 'Apollo!'" Diana turned. Shayera tilted her head. "Some guys are being
very impolite to two women in there. Lend a hand?"

Diana smirked. Shayera raised her eyebrow, and then backed off to give him
room. She didn't like it much when men acted inappropriately around women,
but Diana got really pissed off. As he neared the room, more bullets flew,
and bounced harmlessly off Diana's bracelets.

"I've got them," he said. Shayera grabbed Flash and headed outside.

She saw J'onn drop two more guys into the pool. "Hey, J'onn, can you find a
place to put this?" She handed Flash over before he could object. "Thanks, bye!"

She spun in mid-air, just in time to deflect a damn laser bolt aimed at her head.
The cannon was going to have to go. If that destruction happened to be in an
exceptionally violent manner, the others couldn't object much, right?

She raised her mace again, shouted, and charged.


The crooks rapidly discharged all their ammo at Diana; not one of them had
noticed the bracelets, had put two and two together. She glowered at them, taking
in the room, the two dead men beside the bed — Roberts' she was sure — the
looks of terror on the too-young female faces beside them, the reek of pot and the
stubbed-out joints on the carpet.

She wanted to shout at the men, scream at them that they and their ilk were why
her mother and sisters had hidden themselves away from the world for thousands
of years, that they were all she believed of the worst of men. She came closer,
and one threw his gun at her — one always did. She picked him up, threw him
headfirst out the window and did not bother to see where he landed.

The room pitched, then righted itself. Diana shook it off.

Another man tried to crawl past her and got a kick in the solar plexus he wouldn't
forget soon.

The other two watched her in fear, and then looked past her.

"I'm not falling for — " The room did much more than pitch this time. It turned
upside down, spun around, and the ceiling seemed the be the floor. A tremendous
invisible weight throughout her limbs seemed to want her to be on the ceiling.

The first shot grazed her leg. There was no second shot.

By the time her head cleared enough to notice that she had, somehow, fallen to her
knees, a dark shadow was atop the shooter, beating his face into the carpet. The
shooter scrabbled for purchase against the form, grabbed the face, pulled. Diana's
vision blurred again.

"Di — Apollo." Oracle was kneeling beside her, pulling the mask back on
hurriedly. Another thug was whimpering in pain on the floor clutching his crotch.

Diana rubbed her eyes with her fingers. The dizziness subsided and did not return.
"I'm fine."

One of the women shouted, "Look out!"

Against all logic, one of the remaining men in the room had grabbed a lamp to
hurl at them. Reflexively, Diana's hand shot up and caught it. She tossed it to
the woman who had shouted.

"Here. Use this." The woman grinned.

"Diana?" Oracle said, sounding unexpectedly uncertain.

"I'm fine," Diana repeated, looking into the blank, dark area of Oracle's full face
mask. It was unnerving. A faceless woman. The odd thing was, that when she
was a he, and wore a mask that covered only the top half of his face, the
face was just as unreadable.

Odder still, even after Oracle had helped Diana to her feet, Oracle's hands stayed,
gently holding on her shoulder and her arm.

The thug who had thrown the lamp made a wild, desperate rush at them, as if he
knew it was helpless but he couldn't figure out what else to do. Oracle and Diana
stepped to either side at the same time. Diana grabbed him by the collar of his
sports coat, and pitched him out the window. Oracle nodded silently and left her
side to zip-strip the man on the floor.

The last conscious man looked up at her from the floor, looked at the other women
— one of whom was making thoughtful motions regarding the lamp and his head —
and dove out the broken window.

"Did they harm you?" she asked the two women. They shook their heads. "Then
go. And hurry." She glanced into the hallway; the man who'd tried to shoot her was
also becoming intimately familiar with Oracle's zip-strips.

The smaller of the two, the one with the lamp, smiled at her. "Who are you?"

"That doesn't matter," she said.

"But we want to thank you." There was meaning in that. The woman, no girl,
was short and blonde and very pretty, and all she saw when she looked at Diana was
a large, well-muscled man who'd just rescued her. Diana sighed inwardly, and those
same muscles reminded her of the price she was paying for their use.

"Then do so by returning to your homes, and," she paused, "finishing high school.
Now go."

They made their way out of the room past the heap on the floor.

Oracle asked, "Are you injured?" Injured? Oh yes, her leg.

Diana looked down. "It's a scratch. It damaged my clothing more than me."

There was a shout from down the hall. They shared a glance, and went to
investigate.


J'onn formed another arm to hold onto Flash as he flew. Her thoughts were
jumbled and sluggish, possibly drugged. She barely stirred as they flew over the
battle. Despite Hawkman's hurried instructions before he went ballistic on the
laser cannon, there was no good place to put her.

He sent out quick thoughts: Oracle and Diana were inside; Green Lantern had just
exited, nine men in a bubble to be deposited elsewhere; Ultrawoman was just
coming into view.

It's Flash, he sent as Ultrawoman began registering confusion. Ultrawoman
nodded, and then pointed. Several men had broken ranks and were running for
the tree line surrounding the mansion. With Flash still tucked against his back
with the additional arm, J'onn swooped in from one side while Ultrawoman
came in from the other. They gathered half a dozen men between them, then
J'onn morphed into a giant sand slurg to frighten them as Ultrawoman grabbed a
garden hose from near the pool and flew around them several times to tie them
together.

Ultrawoman wiped her hands on her costume, then flew off into the house before
J'onn could manage to hand Flash to her.

J'onn thought a rude word, but did not transmit it.


John had created a bubble in the middle of the front yard. As thugs were tied up
or tossed out windows by the others, he gathered them into the pile. He started
humming as he sent out constructs to gather more fallen crooks. So far, no
casualties on their side, and not a bad night all around.

J'onn landed beside him and dropped Flash gently at his feet.

"Here. Since you're standing in one place, watch over her."

"Can't you — " but J'onn was already off. John glanced over, saw the hosed-up
men in the side yard near the pool, and pincered them up and towards the bubble
with the rest.

Flash let out a little snore, and shivered in her sleep.

"At least you're okay," John mused as he floated a struggling man across the lawn.

"You little bitch," spat a guy coming from around the other side.

John whipped his head around, careful to keep his concentration also focused on
the bubble. The man was maybe in his early forties, still young-looking, well-
polished, or would have been without the bruises over his face and the
unadulterated hatred in his eyes. Which were focused on the slumped figure at
John's feet.

Flash's eyes rolled open. "Oh," she said, and fell back asleep.

Roberts?

The guy had found a gun somewhere, was loading a clip into it as he walked,
mindless of the fighting, and fleeing, still going on around him. He was wearing
the remnants of a well-made smoking jacket and nothing else.

"Cold tonight, huh?" John said.

"Gonna get you," he replied. John focused another shield around himself and Flash.
He could take the guy out without much problem, once he had the other group of
men inside the big bubble.

"Roberts!" bellowed another man, from the front door. The second man
spotted Roberts and started firing. John yanked the tied-up thugs the rest of the
way and dumped them inside. The second man fired wildly; his left arm was
hanging limply at his side. He missed Roberts by a mile, spattered shot over the
force bubble.

"They cover each other," Flash said clearly.

"What?"

"They always do," she said, and started snoring again.

More gunfire, and John was sick of this. He made giant pliers and plucked the
gun from Roberts' grip. The other guy laughed, and took better aim at him as
Roberts hit the dirt. John directed the pliers to the second man, but didn't need to;
Apollo body-slammed him from behind, knocking him senseless to the front
stoop.

Roberts smiled tightly, then pulled a pistol he'd stuffed in his waistband and shot
at Apollo.

At some point, people were going to understand the whole "deflecting bullets with
bracelets" thing, but apparently tonight was not that night. Roberts emptied his
clip, then stood there slack jawed as Apollo flew towards him.

While he was distracted, John gave him a smack on the back of the head that sent
him to night-night land.

"I had him," Apollo said.

"I know." He dropped the force field. "Can you do something with this?" He
prodded Flash with his toe.

"She looks comfortable there."

"She's in the way. And she's going to get frostbite in that outfit."

There was a scream from the doorway. Another guy stood there, clutching his
hand in pain. Ultrawoman appeared, eyes cooling from red back to normal.

"Watch your backs, people." She frowned at the man. "Rialto, don't tell me
you're already out."

"Huh?"

She decked him. "I am rapidly losing faith in the penal system in this state."
Flash snickered.

John took the opportunity to leave Flash with Apollo and gather up his prisoners,
plus three more. He'd seen a pool house in the back that looked entirely too
empty not to fill with mostly-dazed scum.


Apollo looked down at the again peacefully sleeping Flash. "I can't carry her and
fight. Find a warm place and put her there." Then he flew past Clark back into the
house.

Clark picked up Flash. "And I can?" he asked of no one at all.

"Hiya," said Flash.

"I need to find a spot for you to take a nap."

"Okay." She closed her eyes again as Clark scanned the area for someplace safe.

"They cover each other. We don't notice 'cause it's never us."

"Who?" He wasn't really paying attention. Whatever dream Flash was having
had to be better than this.

"Diana n' Hawkgirl." Ah. That dream.

Flash gestured limply. "There's guys. Always guys. Hurt 'em. Could. Not us
though. So they cover. Jussincase." Okay, maybe not that dream. "We
don't have to be afraid," she said, and finished the last word mid-snore.

Clark found a suitable spot. "Sleep it off, Flash," he advised, and shut the door.
Flash would be all right for now. He heard more gunfire, this time in the basement,
and went to do some good.


Afterwards, they all met outside.

Ultrawoman cocked her head to the side. "I just heard sirens. Time to go."

"I'll stay," said J'onn. "Someone should explain to the police."

Oracle bent over the laptop one last time, then ejected a disk. "Here. This
contains all the information they should need to arrest Roberts."

"You're just giving them the info?" asked Hawkman.

J'onn took the laptop. Oracle's face was completely covered once more, but
Diana could sense the smile as the disk went into a pocket of her utility belt.
Oracle would be hunting later.

"Ah," said Hawkman.

"Who had Flash last?" asked Lantern.

Ultrawoman raised her arm. She told J'onn, "She's sleeping it off in the hall
closet just inside the door."

"I'll get her before I leave."

"Reconvene at the Watchtower for debriefing," said Oracle. "Lantern?"

John nodded and formed a force bubble; the five of them stepped inside, and were
over the trees as the the police arrived beneath them.

"You know," said Ultrawoman. "I never saw you do a construct of tweezers
before."

"First thing that came to mind."

"I liked the tennis racket," said Hawkman. John grinned. The three of them
began going over the battle point by point, not waiting for the debriefing.

Diana let out a sigh and sat down on the floor of the bubble, watching the sky
grow darker as they left the atmosphere. Oracle sat beside her.

"Are you all right?"

"Tired," she admitted. "And hungry. I can't imagine how Flash does this every
day." At least the dizziness was gone.

In a very low voice, Oracle said, "As the person who's paid her food bill for the
past week, I can't say I understand either."

Diana smiled.

"Tell me," said Oracle with that same hush, "since you left Themyscira, has
anyone ever ... disregarded you as a warrior?" In any other instance, Diana would
have tried to read the face asking the question, but Oracle's mask gave nothing
away.

"On occasion. I believe Hawkgirl has encountered it more often than I. No one
has ever made that mistake twice, for either of us."

Oracle released her breath; such a thing would have gone unnoticed from any
other, but from Bruce it was loud as a gasp. Diana tilted her head. "You could
take off your cowl, you know. Nobody here knows who you are when you're
female. Brynne." Diana had only gotten a glance of her face without the mask.

"I like it."

"That was you in Metropolis Monday, wasn't it? With Superman?"

Oracle nodded.

Diana had a near-perfect memory. She recalled a face not entirely unlike Bruce's
own, dark hair with a bit of curl, astounding blue eyes. At the time, she hadn't
had been able to give the woman much thought, but now, Diana had little problem
remembering her. Brynne had been quite attractive.

These were unusual feelings. She liked her teammates, certainly, regarded them
all as her friends. As a rule, that's where it stopped. The men were, well, men,
and her only (normally) female teammate ...

She glanced to the front of the bubble again. The three of them argued over who
had thrown a particular lackey through the patio door. Hawkman was
demonstrating how he'd picked the man up — rather impolitely based on the
looks of sympathy from Ultrawoman and Green Lantern — then tossed him
through the glass. As Hawkman moved, he brushed against Lantern's arm, and she
smiled fondly back.

Diana was both astounded and amused that they believed no one else knew.

Far too much time had passed since Diana herself last felt that giddy sensation in
her stomach, since she had played at secret kisses and surreptitious rendezvous.
When she had come to Man's world, she had accepted that she was unlikely to
find the companionship to which she was accustomed. Even Audrey, who was
her closest friend, was content to stay merely her friend. For all that Diana might
wistfully consider otherwise from time to time, she did not push for more.

And now ...

Oracle was silent beside her. That was Bruce's gift, to become part of the
shadows.

She wondered what it might take to coerce Brynne into the sunshine.


Maggie was never certain precisely what happened at the Roberts mansion. Sure,
the men they rounded up claimed, later, that they'd been attacked by metahumans,
but none of them could describe their attackers well. She got a few vague
descriptions that sounded almost like the pair the papers were calling Apollo and
Ultragirl, but the Martian Manhunter was the only hero-type she saw
hanging around. While he tended to spend his time with the Justice League, he told
her they were on a deep-space assignment and couldn't be reached.

Maggie bet herself privately that most of the damage was done by either side, with
a last-minute clean-up effort by the Martian to allow some metahuman blame to
go around. She had a list of weapons and possession violations as long as her arm
to press charges against all the parties involved.

They'd found nineteen women in the house, some hangers-on of Roberts, most
in training for street work whether they knew it or not. The oldest was twenty-six,
and her self-admitted job was finding new faces for Roberts, hooking them on whatever
Roberts was selling this week then coercing the girls into turning tricks for more. The
oldest woman was going to see an extended list of charges on her rap sheet. The
youngest ... Maggie was personally making sure Roberts was in prison a good long
time.

The women would be sent downtown with everyone else, would get fingerprinted
and photographed and allowed to spend the rest of the night sleeping at the
station, all courtesy of taxpayer expense. In the morning, the ones who wouldn't
have possession charges filed against them or weren't still in the hospital for
observation would walk free. Maggie was betting Vice would meet more than
half of them again within the month. It burned her stomach and robbed her of
sleep, but there was no budget for a rehab program.

Both Roberts and Roussimoff were unconscious. This, she mused, was not a bad
thing.


J'onn watched quietly from the sidelines as the police rounded up, and in many
cases carried off, all the participants in tonight's festivities. He had given the
laptop to Inspector Sawyer, with instructions on how to access the necessary
information. In her mind, he read the words "evidence tampering," but she took
the computer anyway. She was certain there would be other usable data inside,
and J'onn had agreed.

The police vans were beginning to pull away. He needed to retrieve Flash and
head back to the Watchtower.

He rendered himself incorporeal to glide through the remaining police officers,
and went to the closet where Flash was sleeping. His eyes adjusted instantly to
the dark, so when he did not see her immediately, he knew it was not his vision.

Nevertheless, he called out, "Flash?"

He opened his mind carefully, looking for tendrils of Flash's odd mind. However,
if she was still asleep in a different room, he would not necessarily know she was
there without being physically much closer.

He glided out of the closet, and found Inspector Sawyer standing there.
"Inspector?"

She jumped. "Didn't see you come in. Was there something else?"

"Yes. There was a young woman asleep in this closet earlier."

"We rounded her up with the other women and sent them downtown for processing.
Van left about ten minutes ago."

"Oh."


Bruce, er, Brynne typed something into the computer, and the display
changed while Clark stood beside her, watching her work. The glow of the display
washed over them, giving their skin and dark hair a greenish tint for a moment.

"So ... you've been in Gotham the last few days, mostly?"

You kept disappearing when I needed you to be here. Who do you think you
are, thinking you can go off wherever you want, whenever you want, when we're
dealing with a crisis like this? Something must be wrong, more than with the rest
of us. What is it? Let me help you.

click clack Brynne typed something else, kept on working. "Hm," she said, in
what was probably meant to be an affirmative.

Clark could translate in his own head: Yes, I went to Gotham, not that it's any
of your business.

"What you were doing there?" His tone was carefully, politely disinterested.

If I let on that I am at all worried about you, or care, you'll close yourself off
even more and tell me nothing so I'm going to pretend I don't care, and ask in the
most uninvasive way possible. Not that I'm very good at subtlety.

"I had some ... personal matters to take care of."

Since you are prying so persistently, but I know you mean well, I'll throw you
a bone. I went home to be with my family. Because I wasn't as fast anymore,
because I was suddenly weaker, vulnerable, a liability. The people I trust most
could help me be an effective warrior again. They're the only ones I can safely
show my vulnerabilities to.

"You could have told us, you know."

Wait, aren't we your family? Don't you trust us? Why didn't you ask the
League for help? We could have retrained you.

"Told you what?" clickety-clack beep

Look, I threw you a bone, be grateful and shut up. I'm now going to pretend I
have no idea what you're talking about.

"Nothing. Nothing."

Uh-oh. I pried too hard and spooked you. Sorry, backing away now.

There was a pause, filled with the spinning of the computer drives and the deeper,
softer background hum of the Watchtower's running systems.

"You know, Hawkman was wobbling all over the place at first. Had to learn to fly
all over again."

Except ... Look, we all had trouble adjusting. Hawkman couldn't fly anymore
because his ... her ... center of gravity was different. Her breasts were gone and
her muscles grew. And you can just imagine what Diana went through: she's an
Amazon and then suddenly she's a man? And John ... John was a wreck, and we
all know why.

Another series of keys pressed, and the display changed again.

"If you were having trouble ..." Clark watched Brynne's fingers move deftly over
the keypad, "Adjusting, I mean."

Why do you think you're invulnerable? It's like you expect yourself to be more
than human.

"I wasn't."

I'm going to outright lie to you because you're treading dangerously close to
the thin emotional ice and I don't want you to go there.

"Sure. Because everything was fine for you. We all went through adjustments,
but you had no trouble at all."

You stubborn bastard.

Brynne again made the small sound of affirmation.

Yup. That's me. Deal.

For a few more moments, he stood next to her, then sighed and turned to go.

Before he walked away, he said, "I understand, you know. My first instinct
was to go home, too." He took a few more steps towards the exit, his steps
tapping on the metal floor, then stopped again, lobbing one last volley before
leaving. "You're not as tough as you look. You could have come to us."

I've got you figured out. This change was upsetting on levels far beyond just
new physical limitations, so you needed your family — the folks you've known
the longest. I get that. I wanted to go home to Kansas, badly. You think you're so
tough, but ha! You see, I'm onto you, you're actually vulnerable. What I don't get
is, if you were feeling like that, why didn't you ask us, your friends, your brothers
in arms?


Bruce was alone. He whispered aloud: "No, I couldn't."

Because I couldn't come to you and it's something you will never truly
understand, Clark, because you can bend steel and stop bullets with your chest. I
need Kevlar to keep me alive; I have to rely on smoke and mirrors and agility and
brainwork. I'm already the weakest physically. I'm the only human in a group of
people who can fly, who can create matter out of nothing, who can run faster than
a speeding bullet. And if I let any of you see that I was one bit less effective a
fighter than I was before, it would be over. Not because I'm afraid one of you
might turn and crush me one day. It's not that. It's because if you saw that
vulnerability, the team wouldn't be effective anymore. Because of how we all are.
Because I'd be that way myself — you'd all start trying to protect me instead of
letting me do my job. So no, Clark. I couldn't.

I'm sorry.

J'onn beeped from the Javelin, and Bruce donned his mask — the attitude he
always wore around these powerful beings no matter what physical mask covered
his face — and answered the call.


The lift doors opened.

"Copy," said Oracle at the control panel as J'onn cut the connection. She turned
in her chair to coolly acknowledge the others. "The police took Flash away.
She's probably still asleep. One of us will have to go by in the morning, after
she's slept it off, and straighten things out."

"Where's J'onn now?" asked Diana.

"Headed back in the Javelin."

Diana was about to ask where Ultrawoman had gone, but then Ultrawoman flew
down from the Crow's Nest, and the expression on her face forbade further
questioning.

"Flash's in jail?" Lantern asked. Then she amended, "Again?"

"No giant gorillas this time," Ultrawoman reminded her.

"I'm sure that'll make her feel much better."

"C'mon," said Hawkman, grabbing her arm. "I'll buy you a cup of coffee in the
mess while we wait for J'onn to get back." Lantern let him lead her off. Diana
watched them go.

Then, for the moment, it was simply the three of them. Diana spent her time in
the company of all her coworkers, this was true, but there was something special
about those rare times she was alone with both Superman and Batman, or
Ultrawoman and Oracle as they were now. The two men literally came from
different worlds, and they were opposites in practically every way. Superman was
almost insanely optimistic; aside from the Demon, Batman was the greatest cynic
she'd ever met. Superman sported a myriad of special powers and strengths,
granted to him by the light of Earth's yellow sun; Batman's powers were of night
and mystery and concealment. And yet, although they often quarreled like
siblings, they also joined side by side like those same brothers in their fight
against evil.

When she was in the room with the two of them, she felt a peaceful balance, a
kind of rightness with the world. And also ...

Oracle removed her cowl, and slicked back her sweaty hair with a hand.

Also, they knew one another's secrets, and there was a comfort in that knowledge,
another confederation. Diana raised an eyebrow at her.

Oracle grumbled, "The full face mask gets hot."

She hid her grin. Her memory had not been playing tricks on her; Oracle was
very pretty, despite her current split lip. As a bonus, Diana had already
come to know the soul inside the shell, and she had to admit, Bruce was more
worthy of a compatriot, and friend, than she had previously believed possible in a
male. Old prejudices died hard. Diana would not mourn this one.

Ultrawoman sighed deeply. "Hopefully the evidence Flash collected will be
enough to bring down Roberts. Roussimoff will have plenty of problems on his
own." There'd been a total of three dead before they'd arrived. Roussimoff was
the prime mover for the deaths, would in a good world be sent to prison for them.
"I'd hate to see either one walk on a technicality." She frowned. "And Flash is in
jail. I knew I should have grabbed her before we left."

"She'll be fine," said Oracle, although Diana was not certain Oracle meant it for
Ultrawoman or herself. "Things could be far worse."

"Oh really?" said Ultrawoman, and there was just enough mocking in the tone to
let them both know she was playing with Oracle.

"Yes," said Oracle calmly, not letting herself be baited. She counted on her
gauntleted fingers: "Someone could have died in the attack. Roussimoff could
have discovered Flash's secret identity while she was drugged. On a larger note,
Mxyzptlk could have just spaced him, and all of us, rather than merely switching
us like this."

"And?"

Oracle paused, and raised another finger. "John could be pregnant."

Diana opened her mouth, and then shut it tight. Ultrawoman reached over and
moved Oracle's last finger back down to her palm.

"No. Just, no."

There was a clapping sound. It was lazy, calm, almost bored. Oracle's head shot
around to locate it. Diana went on alert, fists bunched. Ultrawoman was craning
her neck around, x-ray vision presumably already activated.

pop

A curvy redhead floated a few inches above the ground. She brought her hands
together in slow applause. "Very nice. Very nice. Thank you."

Oracle touched her ear. "Intruder alert!"

"Please," said the floating woman. "Your ... comms? Yes. I've disabled them
for the time being. No need to disturb any of the others. The speedster is
sleeping, the shapeshifter is en route, and the lovers are otherwise occupied. The
three of you will be sufficient."

"Who are you?" Diana demanded. Sufficient?

"Miss Gsptlsnz," she said, and curtseyed.

"Mxyzptlk's girlfriend," Ultrawoman explained.

"Sad and pathetic, but true. It seems my dear love muffin has caused you some
grief. He's been watching you from our dimension, laughing his little purple
pants off."

"I'll bet," said Ultrawoman. "What do you want?"

Gsptlsnz floated in thought a moment. "Honestly? His attention back. It's a
woman's job to decide when her man has had enough fun and needs to get back to
work. Mxy's done. He just doesn't know it yet." She smiled, and Diana almost felt
bad for Mxyzptlk.

"So you're going to change us back," said Oracle.

"Probably," said Gsptlsnz, "but first, I want something from you."

"Here it comes," said Ultrawoman.

"The next time Mxy comes to play, send him right back home. I've asked him to
stop coming here."

"He promised to stay away from Earth," Ultrawoman replied.

"Then we don't have a problem. You send him home before he causes any
trouble, I don't have to sit around watching him watching you shower."

"He what?" asked Diana, and then Gsptlsnz raised her hand idly.


Shayera brought two cups of fresh coffee to the table. The coffeepot was fast, and
had to be with Flash on the team. John accepted his gratefully, and took a drink.
He was probably drinking too much coffee these days for his own good, and yeah,
maybe he needed to find out what kind of effect caffeine had on a human
woman's system.

Not that he spent a lot of time around human women, mind you.

Shayera stared out the window while he drank his own coffee. He was getting a
small but definite showing of beard going — John was going to have to teach him
how to shave. And wouldn't that be just one more checkmark on the list
of three million or so events that he never thought would happen in his life?

"What are you thinking about?"

"Home." A smile quirked on his face. "Thinking about the people who would be ...
surprised to see me like this." He shrugged. "Nothing new."

The tables were wide, and John was a little shorter than he was used to being, so
he had to get up on a knee to lean far enough. His somewhat precarious
positioning, coupled with his care to not spill hot coffee on either of them,
resulted in a more clumsy kiss than he'd intended. His forehead bumped against
the mask. His lips brushed more jaw than anything, and Shayera's mouth had
been just that far enough open that he kissed John's upper lip wetly, then grasped
it in his teeth and bit.

Warmth hit like an avalanche, and he fell, stunned. Coffee splashed to the floor,
their cups clattering and rolling away. His mind tore in half, was rejoined.
Nausea came and went like a memory, and then he could think, he could see, and
the first thing he saw ...

She held her hand to her head, eyes closed. "Shayera ... " Her eyes snapped open.

"John?" The changes he felt, he saw in her welcome gaze back.

J'onn's voice shot over the comm, "What just happened?"

Superman's voice — his normal voice — responded: "We got paid a visit by Miss
Gsptlsnz. It's over. It's done."

Shayera touched her ear. "Did she fix Flash, too?"

"Affirmative."

That was a relief. Although it would cause a lot of questions when he
woke up, John was sure.

The comm went quiet. They looked at each other again. He had bruised his
elbows collapsing, and there was coffee cooling on his butt and down his leg, but
the only thing he could think to do at this moment was reach over the table and
hold her, hold her.

He would have to go back down to the planet and help Flash sort things out, get
him some clothes, that sort of thing. In the morning.

Right now, John had an armful of Thanagarian female, and really, Flash could
wait.


Alfred was waiting for him when he arrived back at the Cave. His eyes widened for
a moment as Batman exited the Batmobile.

"It is good to have you back, sir."

"Thank you, Alfred. Where's Robin?"

"He is on patrol this evening with Batgirl. At last contact, they indicated they will
be 'calling it a night.' I expect he will be home any time."

The choice was, did he go out on patrol himself just before daybreak, make his own
sweep just to reassure himself that all was well in his city, or did he trust that his
partners had done an adequate job? He reached into the car and pulled out the now
too small costume. The faceless cowl stared back at him.

"This will need cleaned," he said. "We'll put it away for now." Alfred took the
outfit from him wordlessly. "I'm in for the evening."

"Yes, sir."

After Alfred left, he shed his uniform — his regular uniform — and took a
quick shower. He heard Robin's arrival as he finished, heard Tim start the water in
his own shower as he dried off.

He needed to go through the data he'd collected as Oracle. But he also needed to
inform everyone that the Batman was back.

The phone rang four times and went to the machine: "This is Dick. Leave a
message."

"It's me," he said. "Things have returned to normal." He needed to thank Dick, for
coming when he needed the help, for retraining him, for a lot of things. He stared at
the phone, and then the answering machine beeped to indicate the end of the
message space. He placed the phone back in its cradle, almost hit redial, didn't.


It was late, or early, or whatever, when Barbara got back to her apartment. She was
bone-tired, she wanted a shower. At least it was now technically Saturday and she
could sleep in for a bit. Mmm. Sleep now. Shower later.

She yawned, then decided to check her email before collapsing. She clicked on her
desk lamp.

The box was next to her computer. One end had been opened. She didn't count
how many were gone, because that would have been too weird even for her life.

The Post-It stuck to the top said simply: "I won't need the rest of these. Thank you. B."

"Huh." She pulled off the note, folded it carefully, and put it away inside her desk,
then sat down and turned on the computer. Kara was going to love this.


Not for the first time in his life, Wally woke up wondering where he was. Smell of
urine, graffiti — turn head — bars. Jail. He lay there and did a quick mental round-
up, hard to do through the fuzz living in his brain just now.

He was pretty sure gorillas had not been involved.

Things felt ... Things felt. His head cracked up and looked down his torso.
His torso.

"Oh thank God!" Right voice, too.

Okay, torso was his, clothes were not. Clothes looked like standard issue, albeit
tight, jail togs; he had a not-entirely-clear memory of a police matron helping him
out of the ruined dress he'd worn last night. To the party. Where the League had
shown up to save him after a lot of badness.

His head hurt, and he was hungry, but mostly, he needed to accommodate Nature's
interests in the matter. Never had he been so glad to unzip someone else's pants.

To be fair, he mused as he stood there, it wasn't like he made a habit of unzipping
anyone else's pants, certainly not another guy's pants, and ...

Wally stopped thinking. It was just easier.

He looked down. "Little buddy, let's never fight again."


As he walked out of the precinct house, GL waited for him at the bottom of the
stairs. John was back to normal, too, and currently in his civilian clothes. He had
on dark glasses against the bright sunlight.

"You're a sight for sore eyes, man," Wally said. John gave him a half-smile, which
was all he was going to get for a reply. They started walking. "Any reason why you
guys left me there last night?"

"J'onn was going to pick you up, but the police got you first. How did you get
loose? I went in to explain things but they said you were already being processed
for release."

"Oh. Yeah. I played dumb. Told them I thought I was supposed to be in the drunk
tank. They couldn't find Molly, I didn't match any descriptions for the goons from
last night — Feds came for them at dawn by the way — and they couldn't find any
charges to hold me on. I got a 'drunk and disorderly' lecture and a change of
clothes since they, ah, lost whatever I came in with." Wally sniffed and
wrinkled his nose at the less-than-hygienic shirt and pants.

"I brought you these," said John. He'd had a bundle under his arm. "Figured you'd
need them."

"Great! I'll change back at the apartment."

"About that. Batman says he's cancelling the lease tomorrow."

"Damn. Nice place."

"You got much there that's actually yours?"

"A few things. Why?"

John shrugged. "Gonna help you move."

They walked a while in silence; the apartment was about ten blocks away, and the
morning was chilly but not cold.

"Too bad about the apartment. I was thinking, now that we're back in fighting
form, maybe I could invite over some of the girls in my building for a little party."
GL glowered at him through his shades. "Don't worry, you'd've been invited.
Some beer, some tunes, some babes, it would've been great."

"Didn't you learn anything from this past week?"

"Like what?"

John sighed deeply. "Think."

To his own surprise, Wally thought. And thought some more.

"Oh."

"Mm hm."

"No party."

"No. And the next time you see Hawkgirl and Diana?"

"Lot of apologizing to do. For, um, almost everything I've ever said to
either of them. Possibly bribe their forgiveness with chocolate."

"You may just live to see thirty, hotshot."

Wally grinned.


Home was ...

To be honest, this was not home. Home was far, and forbidden. This was merely
her apartment, and it was exactly as she'd left it days before.

Diana spread open all the windows to let fresh air to course through the rooms and to
allow sunlight filtered through a proper atmosphere to warm her bones despite the
winter air. Her own bones.

She removed and folded Apollo's clothing. She considered disposing of it, instead
placed it in the back of her closet. She might reuse the fabric on another outfit. If
nothing else, the costume served as warning that nothing could be took for granted,
and also a reminder that nothing could not be endured or overcome.

On her loneliest days, the latter was a welcome reminder.

On this day, she would luxuriate in a bath. She would have bath oils, and
she would have soft music, and she would have dimmed lights, and she would have
a glass of wine, and she would have her own body to soak.

But first ...

Diana found her matches on the table. Then she lit the candles at her altar one by
one, murmuring her gratitude to the gods.


J'onn left Superman near Metropolis and watched him fly away as the Javelin rose
again above the trees. They had taken the day shifts together, had just been relieved
by Lantern and Hawkgirl for the evening shifts; any concerns he might have had at
their, ah, attention to their duties were quickly allayed by the briefest touch to
Lantern's mind. Tonight they were focused on their work.

He did not like to pry. His abilities allowed him far more intimate knowledge of his
friends than he desired as it was. He remembered those halcyon days, though, when
the sun painted the world in new colors because he looked out through a lover's
eyes. Above all else sometimes, he missed that perspective, that joy, and so while
he did not mean to tread deeply in John's mind, he could not help taking the softest
touch from time to time, and recalling what it was to feel that way.

The Javelin purred under his fingertips.

Mars was still at a near orbit to Earth, although no longer at its nearest. The course
he plotted would take no time at all in a craft designed for both intrastellar and
interstellar travel. It would be minutes, and he would still have the Javelin ready for
Flash's use in the morning.

He could walk on the red sands again. He could find the location where his home
had stood, could close his eyes and pretend he heard laughter from another room.
He did not, could not dream, but he could imagine.

And as every other time when he had considered making the journey, he replotted
his course, to leave the Javelin where Flash would know to retrieve it at daybreak
and from there to go ...

He held his hand over the button that would finalize the new, safe course. An age
passed before he could force himself to press down.


She perched, and John hated using that phrasing but it was true, in the Crow's Nest,
looking over the monitoring systems. He flew up, landed beside her.

"So," he said.

"So," she replied, not looking up at him.

"Are we going to talk?"

"I'm on duty. Shouldn't you be getting a nap?"

"Not sleepy," he said, and then she did look at him. He could tell she was trying not
to smile.

"Then go do something useful. I'm sure there's a gizmo around here that needs a
tune-up." She turned back to the console. He slipped his hands onto her shoulders,
starting rubbing her neck with his thumbs. "That wasn't what I meant." He started
to pull away. "I didn't say you had to stop."

At some point, he would have to stop. His thumbs were already cramping
from the awkward angle. He could go nap while she took the first watch, and she
would wake him and then rest as he took the second. When Flash arrived in the
morning with the Javelin, John would ring up a bubble to take them both back to the
planet.

First, he would make them pancakes; he'd discreetly gotten rid of all the eggs in his
'fridge immediately after the first time he'd tried to make her breakfast. He
considered taking her on a tour of his old neighborhood, showing her the high
school he went to, the music store that used to be the comic book store. He also
entertained the thought of just not leaving the apartment at all, unless there was an
alert.

John wondered how hard it would be to accidentally disable their comms for a few
hours.

She bent her neck to let him work on a knot, as she continued to click through the
monitors they had in place. His fingers slipped forward an inch.

Make that several hours.

"Did you say something?"

"Uh uh." He stopped the neck rub, and then floated up.

"Off to sleep?"

"Not yet. I need to go work on the comms."

"Ooookay." That was definitely her Humor the Boyfriend voice. He liked it.

John grinned, and went off to his work.


Lois had spent the day chasing the story on the Mayor, only to watch it fizzle as an
aide stepped forward in the afternoon and claimed full responsibility for the whole
thing. She still had the story, but without the Mayor's name attached the piece
would get second or third page status in the Sunday edition. Meanwhile, one of the
weekend second-stringers had picked up the Intergang bust on his police band, and
had snagged the story. Added to both of these, Clara had stood her up for lunch and
had yet to so much as call, email, or show up on the news saving a busload of nuns
in Australia.

She decided to call it an early night. She had things to do at the office, hopefully
always would, but she was tired and grumpy and it was Saturday. On a day like this
had been, bubble baths were mandatory.

An hour after arriving home, sufficiently pruny and well into the latest murder
mystery from her favorite author, she padded out of the bathroom in her slippers,
and headed into the kitchen for some chamomile tea to take with her to bed. The
plot of the novel, involving missing heiresses and a family law firm, had dislodged
the events of the day from her mind, so that when she initially saw the silhouette on
her balcony, she was convinced it was Jenkins, the family butler, come to avenge
his mistress' death.

It really had been a long day.

Superman held a brown grocery bag in his arms. "May I come in?"

She glanced down at her bathrobe, noticed for the first time that it was getting ratty
around the hem, then shrugged. "Sure."

He followed her into the apartment, then went past her to the little kitchen table. He
set down the bag, and pulled out an envelope, which he gave to her.

"What is it?"

"Ultrawoman told me to give you this."

"Oh. How is she?"

"I think you'd better read the letter." He folded his arms.Lois,

It's safe to tell you now that I wasn't entirely honest with you, but it's
not safe enough to tell you everything. Not yet. Perhaps never. Let's
just say that there's an alternate dimension involved.

I loved talking with you. I feel as though we got to know each other
well during my short stay, and I only wish we could have spent more
time together. I doubt that you will ever see me again, and while I
know I'll miss our late night conversations, I hope my own absence
will leave you only with good memories.

I must be brief now, but I thought you ought to know, Superman
thinks the world of you. He speaks of you fondly, and often. I know
he wishes he could spend more time with you, too. Don't let him
know I told you. He'd be embarrassed, and probably start stuttering
or something.

Be well, my friend. I will never forget you.

Clara

Lois put the letter back into the envelope. Superman hadn't moved from where he
stood.

"Where'd she go?" She hadn't known Clara very long, but she felt as though she'd
known the other woman for years. Lois didn't like the idea of never seeing her
again, especially without having had a chance to say good-bye. It hurt a little, and
Lois was surprised at the pain.

"Back where she came from, along with the others."

"Apollo?"

"And a few friends, yes." He wasn't being entirely honest with her. Imagine that.

"You ever going to tell me exactly what was up?"

"Not planning on it."

"Fine." She was used to secrets from him. "So, what's in the bag?"

He grinned — and he did have the goofiest grin she'd ever thought about kissing
away — and pulled out a half-gallon of cookies n' cream. "She told me you had a
weakness, and since everybody already knows mine, I thought, maybe ... " He
pulled out two plastic spoons from the bag, and stood there awkwardly.

She debated with herself momentarily. Again, long day, and Lois had just lost a
friend, probably forever if she knew anything about alternate dimensions. Which
she didn't except for that one time, but that wasn't the point. The point was, Clara
had gone home, and Superman was standing in Lois's kitchen with ice cream.

Fondly and often, huh? There were worse ways to end a day.

Lois grabbed one of the spoons. "How do you take your coffee?"


Later
"Hey, baby, want a date?"

Candi was cold, and she was wet, and leaning onto the car was just getting her
colder and wetter. She bit her teeth closed to keep them from chattering. Spring
rains sucked.

"Why don't you get in?" The guy was young. He smiled at her. Now was the part
where she needed to do some negotiation, but the rain pounded harder and she was
tired. Candi got in. The car pulled away from the curb, as the door locked.

"Hey, where're we goin'?"

"For a drive."

"Okay. My ground rules are: no weird stuff, no ... "

"Candace Neumann. Born October 17th, 1986. You're from Terre Haute. You left
home because your stepdad was a dick. You came to Metropolis because you
wanted to sing."

Candi froze. "How the hell did you know that?"

The guy sighed. "You used to, um, hang out with Wes Roberts. There was another
girl there. Molly. We're close." Candi remembered her. Molly was a dog, but
Tessi had said any girl looked good in the dark, and had fast-tracked her for the
street anyway. Nobody had seen Molly after the raid. Candi couldn't see much in
the dark, but she thought she saw a resemblance. The guy looked older than
Molly had. Sadder, maybe.

"Are you a cop?" She was more cold than scared. The guy flipped on the heater.

"No. Neither was she. We're just ... You need help."

"Let me out."

"I want to make you an offer." Now she was on more solid ground.

"Fifty."

"Can you type?"

"A little," she said, surprised. Maybe he likes his secretary?

"Then you can learn more. You can do data entry. Get your GED at night."

"Huh?" This was not going according to the rules.

"I know this man. He ... arranges things. People. I think maybe he's got
someone's nuts in a vise somewhere. Anyway. He says he's got a job for you, if
you want it. A real job. It won't pay a lot, but I promise you, as long as you show
up and do your best, it will always pay enough."

"Look, pal, I don't know what you're selling or preaching, but I don't want either
one. I don't need 'saving.'"

"I'm not here to save you." The rain pounded harder, made the windshield into
frosted, melting glass, beaten by the wipers. Very quietly, she heard him say, "This
time." Louder, he said, "I'm here to offer you a second chance."

"Let me guess. I'm supposed to be overtaken by gratitude now and give you one for
free? Maybe one for your friend, too?"

They drove on. Finally, he said, "This guy I know? He's a complete freak. There's
a girl we both know. She's tried to kill him, at least a dozen times. And still every
time he meets up with her, he tries to talk her into leaving her asshole of a
boyfriend. Because she deserves better." He looked at her. "You deserve better,
Candi."

She wrapped her arms around herself. She'd been called some bad things in her
life, and a few of them were probably true. She didn't get why someone telling her
she was worth more upset her so much, and she didn't like it.

"You don't have to take the offer. I can drop you off, and you can find another guy
tonight, and a couple tomorrow, and you can sleep your room and board for the rest
of your life. Maybe the next time Intergang gets rolling, you'll still have enough of
your looks left to get a spot as somebody's floozy again. Maybe one of these
nights, you'll have a client who gets mean, and the cops will be chalking your
outline in an alley. Or you can show up here tomorrow at nine a.m.." He handed
her a card. "Tell them your name. They'll be expecting you. Staci's already
working there. You can take your second chance. It's up to you."

"I don't need saved," she repeated.

"Because you're special. Tessi told you so, didn't she?" Candi didn't say anything.
"She told everyone that." Something in his voice ...

"She said I could stay at the house. I wasn't going to be like the other girls." She
probably told everyone THAT, too,
came a bitter little voice from inside her head.

"You don't have to be. You can be ... "

"All that I can be?" She threw in as much sarcasm as she could.

"Who you want to be. You're the only one who knows who that is. Think of this as
a chance to find out." He stopped the car and unlocked the doors. They were in
front of her apartment.

Candi got out. She wasn't asking how he knew where she lived.

The rain hadn't stopped. If anything, it had gotten colder. This was a bad spring all
around. Bird guys had tried to take over the world, and now it was unseasonably
cold and wet, and it just wasn't fair.

She wanted to say something to the guy. Maybe ask him how he'd like it if
no one ever thought he had a brain because he had boobs. How he'd deal if on
the one hand people said that if he didn't put out he was frigid and a tease, and if he
did he was just a slut and deserved whatever he got. How he'd be able to look
himself in the mirror when men saw him as something to use and other women
saw him as something to scorn if they saw him at all. She wanted to shout at him,
and nothing came out at all.

The guy nodded his head at her. For some crazy reason she thought he knew what
she was trying to say but couldn't. He drove off. She watched his tail lights vanish
around the corner.

Candi looked at the card in her fingers, then started to flick it away into the nearest
puddle. Instead she tucked it into her bra.

Rain pounded her hair and drenched her clothes all the way through. If she went
inside, went to bed, she could be up and dressed and at the address on the card
by nine. As heinous as her apartment was, the bed was dry and was warmer than
this, and she was tired.

Candi unlocked the front door to her building, and went inside.


The End
FUZZY END VOICE CASTING by mannoftalent:
Ultrawoman / Clara - Elizabeth Rohm
Oracle / Brynne - Claudia Christian
Green Lantern / Jane - Gina Torres
Hawkman - Adam Baldwin
Flash / Molly - Allison Mack
Apollo - Kevin Sorbo
J'onn Jonzz - Carl Lumbly
A/N: Remember, if you've read it all the way through, drop a comment. You don't
have to say it rocked your socks. Just say that you read it. Feed your authors, and
they'll write you more.