"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but not one thinks of changing himself." – Tolstoy
(The Watchtower cafeteria)
It was a medium-sized crowd in the cafeteria when they returned. Shayera, Mason and Stewart sat at a table in the corner. Stewart attempted to suppress the grin on his face; Shayera didn't even try. She'd set her helmet on the table. Her hair was still rolled up and Stewart thought she'd probably look nice if she ever decided to wear her hair short.
Mason had ordered a cheeseburger with fries and had sprinkled a little of the pepper sauce on his meal. The smile would not leave his face. "Oh man, this is good," Mason whispered. He smacked his lips together and looked at Stewart. "Like some of the guys in the platoon use to say, I feel a case of the full belly coming up. This is good stuff."
"Told you," Shayera said. She looked pleased. "This is the way food should taste."
Mason nodded. "This was so worth it. Best chow run I've ever been on." He cast his eyes around the room, then back at Stewart. "This has got to be our secret. This is more valuable than the McDonald's secret sauce. "
Stewart nodded. This definitely needs to be a secret. Mari will have a cow if she thinks I had fun doing something with Shayera. He gave a weak grin. "Yeah, we'll keep this little field trip a secret. Can't have the world knowing Leaguers got into a bar fight someplace." He shook his head. "Would look bad."
Shayera smirked. "Oh, I agree. No telling how long some of us would be in the dog house."
"I meant with the Lanterns, John," she said with a wicked grin. Yeah. Right.
"Wait a minute," Mason said. He put his burger back on his plate. "How can this make whatever you'd eat and what I'd eat taste so good? Let's just say after tasting that wormy drink, I know we don't think the same things taste good. So what is this stuff?"
Shayera smiled. "The sauce works on the tongue and changes your memory of what food should taste like. If you thought that a burger should like an orange, after a few bites, it would taste like an orange. It makes food taste like what you think it should."
She leaned forward. "As for what it is? Well, let me say this: there was plenty of Cafvan pepper sauce at the bottom of that barrel where you picked up the Hilayrean oyster."
She stood as Mason's and Stewart's eyes got big.
"Bottom of the barrel?" Mason stammered. "You mean this is oyster –"
Shayera put her finger to her lips and said, "Shhhh. Never think about what it is or your food will taste like it."
Mason shoved his plate forward and grimaced.
Shayera shook her head. "Remember, think 'best hamburger you ever ate.' That's what you thought a moment ago. It still is."
Mason pick up a sauce-covered fry, closed his eyes, and shoved it in his mouth. The smile returned. "Whatever I think it is," he parroted.
Shayera placed a bottle of the pepper sauce in front of him as she picked up her helmet. "Here. This is for you."
Mason's eyes lit up as he seized the bottle.
"For taking on a couple of Rossians," Shayera continued, "you deserve this. Thanks for a fun time and covering my back." Her smile broadened and she shook her head. "And thanks for Freeport. Good night." Stewart watched her walk out, and slowly shook his head.
"She's good people, you know." Mason said, interrupting Stewart's thoughts.
"Then why do you allow those guys to treat her like …like the village call girl?"
"What?" Confusion was quickly replaced by anger. "You have five seconds to explain yourself before I forget you're my friend and deck you."
Mason pulled his plate forward and picked up his sandwich again. He looked Stewart in the face. "You're not stupid. You had to have heard the rumors that she's a mattress for any one of you six who wants to sleep with her. That it was the only way she could get back into the League and keep her status as one of you guys."
Stewart slammed the table. "That's a damn lie!" The chatter in the lunch room stopped. They're looking and I don't give a damn.
Mason shook his head and put his sandwich down. "It's not a lie until one of you guys starts calling it that," he said softly.
The chatter in the cafeteria started up again. "I didn't believe it before and I don't believe it now," Mason continued. "But I'm telling you, man, everyday she bleeds a little more from the cutting remarks around here. Even I can see that, and I don't hang out with her. And you guys aren't doing a damn thing to stop the bloodletting, to salvage her rep."
The frown on Stewart's face deepened. "You know good and well, you never respond to rumors. Response gives them credence."
Mason shoved a couple of fries in his mouth. "Maybe. But I'm telling you, people are saying it must be true because none of the Big Six have said otherwise, even when they've been right there. So the rumors have plenty of credence already. That's how human nature works. You know that. She deserves better than she's getting from you guys. If she was a Marine you wouldn't let anyone trash her rep the way they do around here. Marines don't let others –"
"Stop," Stewart snapped. "Don't give me any of that Marines protect their own stuff. I'm not in the Marine Corps anymore, neither are you, and she never was."
Mason shook his head. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I've gone too far. You know, before today, I wouldn't have given you a rat's ass for how you seven treat each other. But today, we traveled a billion miles to some tiny dust ball in the galaxy to get three small bottles of oyster crap just because one of us said, 'let's go.' We had a rock scream at us, got in a bar fight with people who should have killed us all outright and still managed to bring home the three bottles and ourselves in one piece."
Mason paused. "Sounds like a Marine thing to me. She can be a member of my tribe anytime, even if she's not a member of yours."
Stewart glared at Mason for a long moment, then stood and took a fry from Mason's tray. He put the fry in his mouth, turned and walked away.
"Later," he called out behind him.
Fire was laughing. Plastic Man was in rare form as he regaled Beatriz with stories about his ability to form and stretch his body into different shapes.
"Is there anything you can't stretch into?" Beatriz asked as she took another bite of her pasta.
Plas grinned. "Well, I can pretty much turn into anything." He paused then added with a smirk, "I'd show you my bedframe impression, but the feather mattress already left the room."
Beatriz started to laugh, then quickly frowned and lowered her head.
"What did you just say, stretchy?" a low voice asked him from behind.
Plas turned and looked into the face of the Green Lantern. Damn, he looks pissed.
Plas shook his head. "Nothing. Just funning, you know." His voice cracked. Damn. He put his hands on the table. Beatriz kept her head lowered, staring into her pasta.
"The next time you've got 'nothing' to say about Shayera, say it to her face. When she's finished, I'll make sure we bury what's left next to the last guy who did the same. And if I or any of the rest of the seven of us hear one more rumor about Shayera, we're going to stop assuming you're too stupid to know better and start re-educating you. You got my drift?" The Green Lantern looked around the cafeteria at the other members who were looking at him towering over Plas. "That goes for any of you," Lantern said. Then he stormed out of the lunchroom.
The room was quiet for a moment before the chatter returned.
Plas had suddenly lost his appetite. "What got into him?" he asked Beatriz, who stood to put her tray away.
"A little esprit de corps," Metamorpho said as he walked by. "It's a tribe thing."