This story is finished, but I'm going to post it in more easily digestible chunks, one a day. I hope you enjoy it. I hope people read it. I'd appreciate any comments, large or small, positive or negative.
Disclaimer: The characters belong to DC, though I'm not sure whether they'd ever have thought of using them in quite this way. No profit made, entertainment only.
I can't believe I wrote this.
There are several reasons for this disbelief, not the least of which is the length. Lately I've had a hell of a time getting anything over a couple of thousand words done, this one rounds out at about eleven and a half thousand.
Second is the genre; this is... well, it's not the type of thing I'd normally write.
Actually, strike that. It is, and it isn't. It is, at heart, a romance, and that's not something I tend to favour in my writing. On the other hand, it's a very 'Blinky' romance, full of darkness and heavy on plot. It's also a sort of an elseworlds, the DC name for an AU. I say sort of, because we see it through the eyes of someone who is from the main DC universe, thus certifying that the main universe is indeed still the main universe.
And speaking of the person we see it through the eyes of...
People who read this who happen to know quite a lot about the DC universe will no doubt wonder why the heck I've chosen Fauna Faust, a bit character who only showed up about ten years ago in the ill-fated second "Outsiders" title, and then as a villain, as a protagonist. To which I can only reply, "Well, I had this idea, you see..."
The idea is for a team, set in the DC universe and featuring DC characters. It's a team... quite unlike any other team out there, I can absolutely guarantee it. I have ideas for stories about this team. I haven't, however, written any of them, beyond a few notes. Usually I'm loath to include elements in my writing that rely in any way on something not yet written. And yet here I am, trying to justify it. The only thing I can say is that I really wanted to write this now, in this way, because I really thought it fit.
In any case, as with all of my writing, I don't believe you need to understand who the characters are and where they are at to enjoy this story. I always try my hardest to explain that within the context of the story, and I hope that this piece is no different.
I hope you enjoy it. I had a hell of a time writing it. Take that as you wish :-).
Oh, and thanks to Carmen Williams for betaing. It wouldn't have been half as decent without you :-).
The Piper and the Gunsmith
Fauna Faust jumped and looked up from where she was perched on a rusted sewer pipe. "My ankle's a bit sore. I think I twisted it a little while we were running away. Uh. Where's Piper?"
"Making sure we weren't followed. He'll be back soon; don't worry. We have the whole rescue thing down to a fine art."
"Thank you. I didn't know what I was going to..."
Her companion shrugged. "It's what we do. The Piper and the Gunsmith, fearless rebels on the side of good and righteousness, and all that jazz. And we're cute too." He nodded to her leg. "You can rest it now, anyway. This place isn't exactly cosy, but the government doesn't know about it, so it's a great little cubby hole." The Gunsmith yawned and sat himself down cross-legged on the grimy floor.
"I'm guessing it's about as cosy as sewers get. Do you and Piper live here?"
"We don't live anywhere, sweetcakes. This is a safe house, that's all. Staying still means someone might find us; we're smarter than that."
"Or evil minions of such. You know, I'm almost starting to believe you when you say you come from another world."
Fauna frowned helplessly. "I know it's hard to accept..."
"Hey, I didn't say I did believe you. No offence, but you could just be nuts." He hauled his pack off his back, pulled a gun from it and started to take it apart with expert precision, cleaning the pieces as he went.
"It's true! I swear I don't belong here. I mean, I don't want to be rude, but to me this place is really twisted."
He snorted. "Hate to break this to you, toots, but it's not exactly that wonderful to us either."
"I'm sorry. I just... I'm only vaguely sure about how I got here and I'm afraid I'm not going to get home. Right now I can't even think of any way to get home. And I'm tired, and I'm cold, and none of the animals here listen to me, and I haven't seen my friends since I woke up, which means I don't know whether they're somewhere here or still safe at home and probably trying to find me. And now I just got rescued by someone who looks a lot like one of my team mates, except he isn't, and he's teamed up with you, and the government's after me, which would be bad enough if the government wasn't apparently some kind of full-on evil Nazi operation."
The Gunsmith managed to tactfully ignore the rest of her rant and zero in on the very end. "A what operation?"
She blinked. "You don't know what Nazis are? Okay, this is worse than I thought. Or maybe it even makes sense, I don't know. Look, there are still superheroes here, right?"
"Depends on what you define as a superhero and why they're so much better than a normal hero."
"People with powers. You were floating on air back then..."
"Anti-gravity boots. Don't go on an obscenely dangerous rescue mission without them."
"Oh. Well look, are there people with powers? Metas? And magic people? There is magic, right?"
"I don't know much about magic, but there are a few of your...metas? Is it? There're a few of them around. Fewer that are free. The government doesn't like them; too scared of the power. There's a special camp outside of Gotham where the government keeps the ones that aren't killed flat-out. God knows what goes on there." The reassembled gun was placed neatly on the ground, and he pulled another from the pack. "Pity, really. A few more would make the whole rebelling shtick a damn sight easier."
"Couldn't you rescue them?"
"From the camps? Hell, we can't even get people out of the normal ones, and that one has extra tight security. Not a chance, in other words."
"You said something about how you escaped from the camps, though..."
He looked at her curiously. "I would have thought that was obvious."
He frowned, sizing her up. Then he moved his hand upwards and tapped the stylised G that was seared around his eye. "You seriously don't recognise this, do you?"
"It's a tattoo?"
"It's a brand. It's around the eye, which means it comes from the camps. Means I come from the camps. A guarantee that I can't go back to 'normal' society, at least without a damn good make-up job everyday, and you have no idea how much trouble getting the resources for that is." He abandoned his cleaning and leaned back against the wall, looked at her thoughtfully. "That's one of the biggest problems with freeing people from the camps. What do they do after? We can't look after a bunch of weak and half-starved escapees, they'd just slow us down and get everyone caught. Breaking in and out of those places is near impossible, and once they're out, keeping them alive is impossible. Everybody loses in the end."
"Oh. I mean, I don't really know what to... I mean, that's just...just shitty."
He let out a bark of laughter. "I think that about sums it up, yeah. If you do come from another world, at least it teaches people to identify shittyness."
"Strangely enough, I kinda figured it out on my own." She sighed and abandoned the uncomfortable pipe, sliding down to the floor. There was silence for a few seconds, and the Gunsmith went back to his cleaning.
"Uh, G? Is it?"
"Just G is fine. Technically it's Giovanni, but no one calls me that anymore."
"Sure, okay. G. That's actually what I was going to ask. I mean, I assumed that the tattoo stood for your name, especially with the P that Piper has. But if it's from the camps..."
"It stands for Gypsy. And no, I'm not an actual Rom. I was a Carney, travelled around with the circus. The government started cracking down on 'itinerants' and we all got tarred with the same brush. They said we were going off to do more 'productive' work. Nice of them, hey?"
"Geez. And... umm... Piper's?"
"He got put in the camps because he was gay. Use your imagination, sunshine."
"I don't under... oh."
"Charming, isn't it?"
"Charming." She bit her lip and silence reigned again. Then she blurted out: "How do you live like this? I mean, seriously. Always on the run and knowing that any good you do is only a drop in the ocean. And you can't even have any sort of life and... I couldn't do that. I don't understand... I mean, you smile! How can you smile?"
He was smiling now, looking at her in what looked like amusement. "I'm a sunny kinda guy?"
"I like smiling."
"That's not an answer."
"You seriously want an answer?"
"I wouldn't have asked otherwise!"
He stretched and shifted position. "This life isn't as bad as you make it out to be. I mean, you may not be particular to running, but I'm used to being on the move. That's one reason."
"There are lots of reasons?"
"Three main ones. Second, well, you know what it feels like to con yourself into a government holding facility and waltz out with their prisoner while the bastards stand around oblivious?"
"Really, really paranoia-inducing?"
"Hey, I like stretching my skills to the max for a worthy cause."
She looked incredulous. "You like doing this to get a rush?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Doing it just for the rush, I would have got myself killed years ago."
"So why haven't you?"
G's expression softened, and he shrugged in a way that was a little too casual. "I couldn't leave him," he said simply.
"Oh." Fauna blinked and found herself smiling a little. "That's kinda sweet."
"Sweet? I'm sorry, no. Sweet is shallow. We've been through too much to ever be shallow."
"I didn't mean..."
G offered her a light smile. "I know you didn't. It's okay."
"Right." She shuffled awkwardly. "So, um. Did you meet in the camps? I mean, you don't have to tell me if...if..."
Her companion finished reassembling the gun he'd been working on and aimed it at the far wall, checking the sights. "If what?"
"Well, you know. If it's too distressing or..."
He looked back at her, his expression unreadable. "Can I ask why you're interested?"
"I don't know. I just... The stuff you're talking about is so... And you seem so..."
"Sane? Which is good! I just... What was it like? How did you cope?"
G gave her a thoughtful look and put down the gun. "We still have plenty of waiting time. I'll tell you if you want. As stories go, it's not much different from the stories of thousands of other people who ended up at the camps."
"Except yours has a happier ending, right?"
A faint smile played across his face. "There is that, yes."
"I'd like to hear it, but only if you don't mind. I mean, you don't know me at all. For all you know I could be some kind of government plant that you were supposed to rescue and give all your secrets to."
"You're not." G grinned at her.
She found herself grinning back despite herself. "You're that sure?"
"Of course. I'm way too good to make a mistake like that."
She smirked. "Okay, now you're so just being an arrogant bastard."
G shook his head in amusement. "You wouldn't be the first person to say it. In all seriousness, though, there's nothing in this story that a government agent wouldn't already know, so I'm hardly taking any chances."
"So make yourself comfortable."
She gave the damp, dirty room a quick glance and wrinkled her nose. "Right."
He rummaged around his pack and produced a thin, tightly rolled cushion. "Here, sit on this. I told you, this isn't the most comfy of environments, but at least it's safe."
G held up a hand to stop her, and then leaned back against the wall, his expression fading into reflection.
She unrolled the cushion and settled down to listen.
"As I said, I grew up in a circus. My family were trapeze artists and acrobats. 'The Flying Jesses', that was our stage name. Guess my parents thought that 'The Flying Giuseppes' didn't roll off the tongue as well. It wasn't a bad life. It wasn't the best, most wonderful life under the sun, either, especially with the way the world started to lean as I got older. Still, I had food, I had a basic education and I had freedom. I also had my gadgets; I was a heck of a tinkerer even back then."
"What did you make?"
He shrugged. "Oh, nothing useful. No weapons, not like now. Practical jokes, sometimes gear to help out with the act. I started drawing up plans for stuff that was a little more... ambitious, but by that time the government had put so many restrictions on 'our kind' it was hard enough getting food for everyone, never mind parts for my contraptions.
"But in all, my life was fine in the circus. Hell, it was even a little boring. At about the time things really started to go down the toilet, I was half thinking of getting the heck out of there and making my own way."
"What were you going to do?"
"I hadn't quite figured that out. Rob banks?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?"
He looked perfectly sincere. "Why not? Could have been a challenge. In any case, it didn't matter, because the soldiers came soon after.
"Things hadn't been going well in America while I was growing up. Crime was getting worse. Terrorism from people both in and outside of the country was on the up. Some metas went nuts in Washington and killed off a few thousand citizens in one fell swoop, but it wasn't just people with powers. There's nothing much that a meta can do that a guy with a hefty fertiliser bomb or a hijacked airplane can't do.
"So the government decided to restore some 'order' to the country. The criminal element was obviously running rampant, and the good citizens of this fine country had had enough." G smiled bitterly. "One of the government's answers to this was to give 'undesirables' and 'vagrants' good, honest American jobs in nice, well-built American camps with housing attached. It seemed like a great deal to start off with, and to start off with, it probably was. The first camps were voluntary, didn't have walls, and were close to towns. Then the government decided that people weren't taking their offer with enough good grace, and decided that particularly unruly citizens could be 'attached to the camps'. They started building more camps, further out in the country. Then came the walls, and the mass evacuations. Then came the deaths. It was subtle, and a lot of people didn't even realise how bad it was getting. Many still don't." He hesitated and genuine anger flickered across his face. "Or don't want to."
He shook his head, and the bitter smile was back like a mask. "My family got moved in to Camp Hayton later on, when things were getting way out of control. It was a huge, relatively old camp full of mechanical workshops and parts factories, and close enough to a quarry for people to be trucked back and forth from there as well. Plenty to do, in other words. It was built some miles out of Keystone. Surrounded by farmland, some that the camp citizens got to look after and some that was privately owned by people who were mostly willing to turn a blind eye to what they could see happening on their own doorsteps. They were good citizens, after all.
"The first thing that happened was that we were split up. Mum went off with the women; I heard through the camp grapevine that she died from pneumonia. Dad went with the older men. Soon after he was shipped off to another camp and I never saw him again. I think he's dead; I'm fairly sure he's dead. I've never been able to find out, though."
"Yes, it's terrible." He looked at her tightly. "Shall I go on?"
Fauna bit her lip. "Right... I'm sorry. I'm listening."
"The second thing that happened was the brands. Well, they call them tattoos; but that's just whitewashing. They were brands, nothing less." He stared at the sewer wall, his eyes somewhere far away. "It was... the most painful experience I've ever had in my life. You have absolutely no idea how excruciating... They held me down. And I screamed, and it seemed shameful until you realised everyone else screamed as well."
There was silence, until he shook his head and started again, in a voice that was carefully conversational.
"I was stuck with a lot of young, and a few middle-aged, guys. Scared, in pain, in a crowded and dirty room with a bunch of strangers. They figured we'd be good for the hard, backbreaking labour, so off to the quarry we went. Lucky us. It was awful work, with too little food and not enough sleep, and I spent a week doing it in a kind of numb shock, getting my bearings, trying to comprehend what my life had been reduced to.
"Then I thought, screw this. Why the hell should I sit by and let the bastards do this to me? I was smarter than them; still am. Getting out was going to be difficult, the brand would make it more so. But I could do it. I knew I could do it precisely because they didn't think I'd ever have the balls to try.
"I moved slowly. I moved cleverly. I watched one or two others try to escape, only to be gunned down, and I vowed that that wasn't going to happen to me.
"I had more resources to draw on than most of the people there. Carney life had done me well. On the smarts side, I knew how to grift and I knew how to manipulate, so I started to wheel and deal. I did favours for people and facilitated favours between people. I found out which guards were up for a little corruption and I smuggled food through them in exchange for any valuables that people in my sector had managed to keep hold of. I made myself the person to talk to if you desperately needed something and in the process, I put aside a little stuff for myself. I also got myself regular semi-decent meals. After all, I needed to keep my strength up.
"The other thing I had on my side was the acrobatics, and damn did I use that. No one dared to be outside their dormitory at night, on pain of being shot. I wanted to see if there was any way I could get out of the camp using the rooftops, so I went out regularly. I shimmied up drainpipes and paced the rooftops; I walked the tightrope on electrical cables; I darted through the shadows and avoided the spotlights. I slunk into the workshops and pinched parts that wouldn't be missed. I sidled into the kitchens and grabbed food to barter with. I eavesdropped on conversations and figured out how to get in and out of nearly every building in the camp." He grinned. "And I never got caught."
"Hey, I told you I was good. That's not to say I didn't have one or two close calls."
"A couple of times. Once I was trying to eavesdrop on a couple of guards right outside the guardhouse, just sitting on the edge of the roof out of their sight. Unfortunately, it was winter, the roof was iced up, and I slipped off the side. I hitched my elbows in the gutter before I fell all the way down, but couldn't pull myself up. I stayed there for what seemed like half the night before they finally left. My arms were so numb I forgot trying to pull myself up and just dropped into the snow bank; luckily it was soft enough that I didn't kill myself. I was a wreck the next few days at work though. I had to stay in the next few nights, which turned out to be a damn good thing because that's when I discovered Piper."
"So some good came from it?"
"Nah. I firmly believe I would have got together with him at some point anyway."
She quirked an eyebrow. "What, it was destiny?"
"Sure, why not? Nothing wrong with destiny kicking in just when you need it. God knows I was getting desperate at that point; the only way I could see of getting out was to tightrope over twenty feet of phone line in full sight of one of the guard towers, and that was obviously not an ideal solution."
"Trust me, save the gaping mouth until you hear what I did end up doing."
To Be Continued...