Standard disclaimers apply. Thanks to James and Charlene for the beta.
Unable to get the cloth shoes back on the stuffed rabbit, Sammy threw the toy across the rec-room. "Yeah, well, Mr. Wiggles is stupid anyways!"
Looking at where the stuffed animal had landed in the corner, Peaches almost went after it, but flew at Sammy instead. "Oh yeah? Well BATMAN IS STUPID!"
The force field was up and glowing around Sammy before the impact. They slid across the floor, bunching up the throw rug as they went. "SUPERMAN IS STUPID!"
They hit the wall and turned backward, and Sammy was on top, grabbing Peaches' hair with both hands, pulling hard on her pony tail. "The MOON IS STUPID!"
Peaches pulled back to pop her best friend in the face, but suddenly, they were being ripped apart by very large hands. "GIRLS!"
Two sets of round little eyes looked up quietly at Superman.
Superman sighed, holding them both an arms length apart, about two feet above the ground. "This is a PLAY DATE. Not a training session. I'm VERY disappointed in you both."
Both girls hung there, looking at their shoes. Superman could make you feel way worse by just saying he was disappointed in you than all the daddy lectures in the world, Sammy thought.
Superman called their respective adults. Batman was smudged with dirt and smelled like he'd been blown up recently. He was obviously busy, and had had to take time out of his "day" (early evening, whatever) to take care of this, and Kon felt bad arriving shortly after the Bat. "Uh… sorry," he muttered meekly, grabbing Peaches by the cape.
"Um hm," Batman grunted.
Kon sighed. There was just no talking to Tim when he was "working." It was probably more than punishment enough for Sammy, the perpetual instigator, being retrieved from the moon by Batman instead of Tim. Peaches, on the other hand… "You're grounded, you know that, right? We don't beat up our friends…" he began.
"Just the badguys," Sammy finished with him.
Kon grabbed her by her cute little yellow belt and hauled Peaches to the transporter. "I'm sorry, guys. I'm trying to turn her into a human being instead of a deranged grade-schooler. It's just not working out."
Peaches waved goodbye to Sammy. "I'll see you when I'm un-grounded! And we'll catch fireflies, and we'll--"
Pinching his nose, Kon shook his head. "God is punishing me for being a monster as a child."
The transporter ignited and in a second later the two vanished. Superman could have sworn he saw Batman try to cover over a smile. "He really IS growing up," Clark offered.
Batman had hold of Sammy's black jumper. Her green lantern uniform looked like over-alls with a green turtleneck today. Yesterday she'd looked like a green telly-tubby with a full-body suit of bright green that covered everything but her face. It was useless trying to explain that the point of a "uniform" was "uniformity." Consistency wasn't Sammy's strong suit. He picked her up and twisted her around, looking the girl square in the face. "Grounded. The rest of your life."
Putting her down, Sammy ran to the transporter. "I'll be good next time," she promised Superman loudly, then waited for Batman to end her humiliation.
Batman turned away from the transporter. "They need something productive to do," he told Clark.
"Yes, Bruce," Clark answered snidely. "No. Really. I see your point. We weren't having this many problems with them when Cassandra was teaching them. Now they're trying to sneak out on EVERY mission. I was hoping playing up here in a controlled environment would help--"
"At least they didn't disappear." They were masters at it. Cassie would be watching them at the park, and the first time Iseley tried to put a rock in her mouth, the other two would be gone. They'd come back out of breath and smelling of dust and mildew an hour or two later.
The part that really irritated him was that an eight year old and a seven year old had thus far thwarted his attempts at tracking them. It didn't matter how small the tracer was, or where he hid it, there'd be mysterious amounts of interference, or would end up tossed in a garbage can somewhere.
Even Mara hadn't been that good that young, which meant they had to have been helped. He didn't know if it was "the boy that lived in the ring," as Sammy liked to call the construct manifestation of her imaginary friend, or if she was getting visits again from "the little blue men." Either way, play dates on the moon had seemed like an ideal way to contain them—there wasn't very far for them to go. "I'll handle it," he told Clark as he made his way to the teleporter. He'd had a long night already, and still had a long night ahead. This was a very unwelcome interruption.
"We'll think of something," Superman said sympathetically before pushing the appropriate authorization code on the teleporter console. The two figures dissolved from the teleporter pad. Shaking his head, Clark went back to the monitor womb. Peaches had been manageable (sort-of) when it was Peaches and Kon. Now that it was Peaches and Sammy, the dynamic duo from hell, they were sort of reaching the end of their ability to creatively problem-solve the situation. Lately it was just putting out one fire after another.
They couldn't handle two grade-schoolers. How the hell had Bruce done this, with kid after kid? He'd turned them into self-controlled individuals who weren't psychopaths (mostly).
He knew he should let sleeping dogs lie, but there were days…
Sammy sat on the sofa with her arms folded across her chest, staring at the playpen next to the big leather chair she wasn't allowed to sit in since that one time with the sharp pointy constructs and putting a hole in it and stuff. "You're a stupid baby," she told her sister, who had grabbed the top edge and was shaking herself violently back and forth.
Iseley drooled and cooed. Babies were just awful. Except for JB. He understood. He didn't cry or make stupid baby noises when she visited in the middle of the night when daddy wasn't around to get her in trouble. JB and Mara were always in a different place, but the ring always knew how to find 'em. Usually Mara was gone too. Stupid night people. At least Matrix never ratted her out.
It was just awful. The only good grownup she knew wasn't even a human being. He was an alien computer program, and he was way nicer than all the grownups she knew.
She hated all grownups, she decided. Except for Superman, when he was being nice. And maybe Wonder Woman. Sometimes. When she was nice.
But then grownups would get so stupid! The first time she did something they didn't like (and they never liked anything she did) they'd be bossing her around. And she had a power ring and everything! It wasn't fair!
At least the little blue man took her seriously. And Darkseid.
Yeah. Darkseid was her new favorite grownup. He'd taught her how to find daddy's stupid tracers with her ring. He was good at chess, too. That's the way the world should work. You beat people up, and send them into the middle of a sun, and then they're your friends. She and Peaches beat each other up all the time, and THEY were still friends.
Daddy closed the bedroom door and walked into the living room, squirming around in his jeans. His face was still dirty around his mouth, almost in a ring where his mask had stopped, and his hair was all sweaty. He smelled like burnt plastic.
"I'm really, REALLY busy," he said in his "daddy" tenor voice. "I really didn't have time to go up there and get you."
Sammy narrowed her eyes. "Well, Superman shouldnta told on us!" If theyda just fought quieter, no one woulda known. Stupid grownups…
Tim folded his arms over his chest. "Firstly, you just shouldn't be fighting, PERIOD. Secondly, Superman might be FRIENDLY with you, but he's a grownup. That means he's NOT your friend. So if you're doing something wrong, he's going to tell you. And then he's going to tell me. Then I come up there, and then you get grounded… Do you see the direct relation to you doing bad things, and me grounding you?"
Unclenching her jaw, Sammy started breathing through her mouth. The smell of the burnt plastic was just too gross. "If you let me help, then maybe you wouldn't get blowed up all the time."
Looking at the ceiling, Tim sighed. "This isn't negotiable, Sam. I'm NOT working with you. First of all, Bats and Little Lanterns don't work together. Second of all, I'd have a nervous breakdown. And third of all, you're not going to be working with anyone if you don't follow through with your training. That means going to your Young Justice training session—don't roll your eyes—instead of blowing them off. That also means not sneaking off on mission with the Justice League and NO FIGHTING WITH YOUR FRIENDS.
Sammy sniffed, pressing her lips together in a pout. "Friend." She only had one. She'd had a few from school, but they weren't playing together any more. It was just too tough. She wasn't allowed to "be" a Lantern at school, so she wasn't allowed to use the ring. And she just wanted to use it ALL the time. It was like saying you couldn't use your left hand. You didn't need it for everything, like writing and drawing, but it sure did make tying your shoes a lot easier. And she didn't even think about using her left hand for that. It was like that with the ring.
Peaches understood. Peaches had gone back to school this fall, and she'd gotten held back in first grade again and everything. Peaches couldn't do anything cool in gym class, and had to be a ninja all the time…
Sleepovers with the girls from school just weren't fun any more.
Dad sat next to her. Her nostrils burned from the smell coming off of him. "Look, hon, I know it's been tough. It's been tough for everybody. But you're not going to be allowed to hang out with Peaches any more, if you two keep fighting. What was it this time?"
Sammy sighed. "I hate Mr. Wiggles. Sometimes… I just wanna break stuff." Was that so bad?
Someone squeezed her shoulder and she almost jumped out of her skin. "It's just me," Cassie told her. "I think it's time for you and Peaches to start training again."
Sammy's shoulders slumped. Training was so… she didn't know. She used to like it. She'd do just about anything anyone told her to do, when she thought it'd get her out there. Now she had ring, and they still weren't letting her out there.
"You're reckless," Cassie chided gently. "Both of you are."
Looking up to lodge a protest about not needing more training to her dad, Sammy saw he was gone. Pulling her knees up to her chest, she sighed, waiting for Cassie to pick up with the lecture where daddy had left off. He was having fun getting blown up, and she was supposed to 'learn control' and LIKE it or something.
She didn't want to waste her time standing on her head when there were so many other things she had to do. There was playing with Peaches, who was the only one who understood anything about anything at all, there was searching for fireflies, and she was certain she'd found almost all of them now, and there was playing with Mr. Darkseid, who was her new favorite grown-up. She hadn't even told Peaches about that—she was afraid Peaches would try to punch his lights out again.
Kon had tucked Peaches into bed, turned on the night-light, shut off the big light, then left her door open a crack. It was a routine that had to happen every night, or Peaches got scared of the monsters under the bed, and had to sleep on the couch with Kon all night.
Daytime monsters you could kick and punch, but you couldn't do that with the monsters under the bed. Sometimes Peaches missed back when she had to sleep on the floor because she broke everything she touched.
Turning on her side, Peaches squeezed her teddy bear. The one Superman had given her. Why was Superman so mean sometimes? She didn't understand him at all. Kon was in charge of her. So she was used to him being mean, but it was just because he was in charge. But Superman wasn't in charge of her. He just took her for ice cream and played with her sometimes, mostly.
Grownups were weird.
Closing her eyes, Peaches wondered what she was going to get grounded with. Kon said he needed to think it over, and she needed to go to bed for the night, even if it WAS Friday. When you were bad, you didn't get to stay up late any more.
Peaches wondered if Kon was ever bad.
Probably not. He was too good at knowing when she was doing something bad. Maybe he was an angel, and holy and stuff, and that's how he knew.
Yeah, that was it, she decided.
That was also why the monsters didn't live under his bed. He was WAY too holy for that.
Sammy hadn't spoken to her friend since Friday. It was good to sneak some phone time, finally.
"Completely and totally and really and truly and completely grounded," Peaches moaned into the phone. "I don't even know how Kon's going to punish me. He was all 'no phone and no nothing until I think up what to do with you. And that was… like three days ago. And I haveta spend next weekend. The WHOLE WEEKEND with Wonder Woman. Like, Saturday morning, instead of cartoons too!"
Sammy twirled her hair around her finger, looking up at the canopy over her bed. "Oh that's SO bad. She's gunna bla bla bla at you. At least Kon isn't gunna test you on it. Daddy completely tortured me last time. I haveta work with Cassie again. Which means I can't play after school, even after I stop being grounded. And no TV, and no phone." Of course, she wasn't exactly obeying the no phone and TV thing, but coming directly home after school was something they kinda noticed, if you didn't do.
Peaches sighed on the other end. "Wonder Woman's gunna say stuff about 'sponstibility and bein' a lady and stuff."
"It's too bad my ring's dumb," Sammy grumbled. "Cuz if I ask it how ta get outta this mess, it's gunna tell me I shoulda just not got in to begin with. For a stupid Green Lantern ring, it sure is a bossy know-it-all who likes it when we're in trouble."
"Yeah!" Peaches chirped in agreement. "I hear Kon. I gotta go. Maybe if there's a monster or somethin' tomorrow, I'll sneek out while he's fighting it, and we can see if there's any more fireflies."
Sammy made her good-byes and hung up. She didn't think there'd be any more fireflies. They hadn't seen one in days. And this morning, she'd checked in the crawl space, the fireflies in the jars were getting so excited, they were zooming around and zooming around so fast it made her dizzy. They probably knew that all their brothers and sisters were with them, and they wanted to play.
Sammy just didn't know how to make them play. And she didn't know what the clay man was for. Sometimes, she doubted the place deep down that had told her to do it. Peaches thought she wanted Jordy back so much that she'd done it, but the clay man was for something. Maybe even the same thing the fireflies were for.
Maybe Darkseid knew.
Kon was bla bla bla-ing to the grownups when Peaches snuck into the little hidey-hole closet thingy where the computer was. The landlord said it was a "second bedroom" but it was too small for a bed. Kon slept on the couch.
Picking up the phone, she called Sammy again. If she used the one in the living room, Kon would totally bust her. Being sneaky was good sometimes. The phone picked up in one ring. "Kon's goin' up to the moon tomorrow. I'm gunna get a dumb babysitter since I'm grounded from the moon. Wanna look for fireflies?"
Sammy hesitated. "I guess. I gotta go."
"I gotta eat dinner soon. Daddy isn't home yet, so I was gunna go up in the attic and check on things."
Peaches hung up the phone, kind of glad she was grounded. She hated going up in the crawl space just as much as Sammy enjoyed it. Oh, she'd liked it at first. Secret clubhouses were great. Then the clay man had shown up. Sammy had been all excited, explaining that she'd made it with her ring out of clay from the creek near the park they always played at. But it was creepy, and ugly, and grayish green. And it looked a little like Jordy.
Sometimes Peaches thought about sneaking in there one night, and getting rid of it. Then it could be a fun place to play with the fireflies again.
Waiting until Cassie had her attention caught between dinner burning on the stove and Iseley wailing her stinkin' baby head off, Sammy snuck up to the crawl space, infinitely bummed.
Darkseid was too busy to play. It was always stupid. Whenever Darkseid was too busy to play, that's when daddy was busy and not paying attention to what she was doing. But when Darkseid had time to play, that's when she had to dodge daddy and Cassie. It was good though, Darkseid would find something to distract daddy, and then he'd help her ditch Cassie. He was her favorite grownup.
The only stupid part was that Peaches didn't like Darkseid. Peaches didn't like lots of stuff. She was the first best friend Sammy'd ever had. She could fly, she didn't haveta keep secrets from Peaches, and Peaches could punch her back.
But Sammy couldn't tell her friend about Darkseid, because the one time she'd told Peaches she had talked to him on one of those stupid Young Justice missions, Peaches said if she ever saw Darkseid again, she'd punch him in the nose, obliterate him with her heat vision (that nobody else knew she had) and then tell Batman. In that order. So Sammy just left that out.
Peaches didn't like the crawl space any more, either, so it was up to Sammy to check on all the fireflies they'd found. Sammy could do that until dinner was done, or until Daddy started looking for her.
Walking across the beams, the dust tickled her nose and she sneezed. Instantly, a green bubble wrapped around her, and she floated the rest of the way to the clubhouse part of the attic.
Oh geeze. Daddy was just never going to let go of this whole beating on Peaches at the Watchtower thing. No. She liked having Batman for a daddy. Batman could kick everyone's behind. But he was just so… grrr, and 'be responsible,' and 'be good,' and 'use your powers for good, instead of evil.'
She'd show Daddy. She was going to do something so good, and everyone'd be surprised. She wouldn't be on a stupid kid team any more, either. She'd get to go on real missions and beat up real bad guys and everything.
Pretty soon, everything'd work together, and they'd all see just how good she could be.
Well, that hadn't gone as planned. Of course, Sammy hadn't exactly had a plan, which was probably the majority of the problem. She just figured, if she were grounded, she'd go play in the crawlspace, especially if she was grounded from playing with Peaches. Peaches hated coming up into their secret little clubhouse, and would only do it when they had fireflies to add to the collection.
There were so many jars, they'd had to start stacking them up like milk jugs at the carnival. Which was another problem, right there. Whenever they did the dishes together, daddy told her about not stacking glass.
Well, how was she supposed to know THAT was going to happen?
Floating in front of the hole in the brick wall, Sammy looked out into the setting sun, trying to see if she could make out any familiar shapes against the blazing sky. She was in so much trouble. Daddy always knew when she was being bad, but the big hole in the building was sure to be a super-huge tip-off.
Maybe she should run away to Metropolis and live with Peaches. Having a Superboy for a daddy had to be way better than having a Batman for a daddy.
Looking back behind her at the crumbled sheet that had once covered the grey clay man, Sammy wondered if she could blame the big hole on Darkseid? He probably wouldn't like that, but Darkseid had totally gotten her out of jams with dad before. And he was pretty good at chess.
Yeah, she was totally pinning this one on Darkseid. There was no way she was going to explain to dad about the clay man or the little green lights.
Ok, she'd gotten herself out of trouble before she'd even technically gotten in, but what was she going to do about the fireflies? Darkseid wouldn't help her find the little green lights. Who could? Who would help her without lecturing her, or going straight to her dad?
"Hey Ring," she said aloud, looking down at her Green Lantern ring. "Hey Ring, I'm in a pickle again."
The boy that lived in the ring appeared, sighing dramatically. "And what have we done this time?" Looking around at the shattered glass and pulverized bricks, he shook his head. "And just where is your little accomplice, miss?"
Sammy blushed. "I got in trouble all by myself this time." Her ring could be SUCH a downer sometimes. It was the greatest, funnest thing in the universe, but it kept making her brush her teeth, and getting her into trouble with the grownups. But it always knew what to do in these situations, even if it was to confess her sins. "I'm in like… really big dog crap…"
Having a second go at things had been an interesting adventure, if nothing else, Bruce decided. He'd found some things that he hadn't even known he liked, such as walking on quiet city streets at dawn.
Passing by an electronics shop with a few flickering clocks in the window, and a jewelry store with lit, empty displays, he realized this wasn't such a bad deal after all. Sure, he was a completely selfish bastard, not going back to being dead like he'd planned (and promised), but really. Between this, and custard-filled doughnuts, he could forgive himself, though.
He'd always been too busy before, either finishing up the night's work, or scurrying back to his cave to enjoy this. There was something . . . calming about being the only wandering soul in a just-waking world, roaming among the shut-up business and apartments. Faded blue light began to streak between the skyscrapers. The buildings weren't as tall here as they'd been in Gotham and were further apart. A small city, it was a far cry from the sprawling expanse of his former home. He liked it here.
Twilight spun into flamingo pink, into a blazing sky that made the glass windows glow like the lost city of gold. People began moving past him; obviously he wasn't going fast enough for their hurried weekday pace. It would probably a few more days before he moved on. Until then, he had his mornings. Unbuttoning his leather duster, he dug his hands into the furthest recesses of his pant pockets. Sometimes, he missed the cape.
Fabled El Dorado faded slowly as the sky resolved to a milky blue.
He should probably get something to eat, and then get to sleep. The nocturnal habits were still with him; he just no longer turned into a pumpkin at dawn. Batman was a creature of the shadows and darkness. He was still a creature of shadows, but his shadows now consisted of obscurity. He was just another morning commuter among the masses. A slow-moving one--he noted as a small woman in a long suede jacket pushed past, her leather attaché case bashing him in the side as she did so—but just another face in the crowd. Half a world away from home, no one would think to mention how he looked like a "young Bruce Wayne." That name meant nothing here.
How he'd detested growing old. Well, he was going to have a second chance at doing THAT again as well. He'd probably manage it just as badly the second time around.
Moving through the migrating salmon, he made it to the corner. The red light flashed yellow, and then went to green. A man stepped off the curb, attention entirely on his phone conversation and not his surroundings. Without thinking, Bruce's hand slid out of his pocket and grabbed the guy by the over starched white collar poking out beneath his suit jacket, yanking him back onto the curb. A taxi flashed past, unnoticed by the man in the suit. He'd turned to ask what the hell was wrong with whoever had almost strangled him by his own shirt. But there was no one there.
On the other end of the intersection, Bruce leaned on a mailbox, watching the man continue to fumble with his phone. A change of continents and the passage of time had not diluted one simple fact: careless and stupid people were everywhere.
Scanning the street for a place that served something resembling breakfast, Bruce stopped when he felt a tug on the back of his long jacket. He ceased his searching, but didn't address the annoyance.
Again, there was that tug. "Mister? Excuse me, mister. I'm hopin' you can help me."
An American voice. Young.
The tugging was insistent. "Mister, I don't mean ta bug ya, but I have a really big problem but if I tell the Justice League, they'll ground me again."
Turning, he looked down at the mousy-haired girl with the lop-sided, half-undone ponytail. He didn't need three guesses. "And just HOW did you find me?"
The girl tugged on his jacket again. "I have a really big problem…my ring said you could make it better." She bit her lips for a second. "My ring said… he said you'd know… We had all the fireflies, and the clay man, and it was all going to work together. Darkseid said it wouldn't, but I just knew deep down. Oh man. I hate it when Darkseid's right…" she sniffed, looking kind of lost and sad. Bruce still hated that.
Her eyes met his, and he could see from her own sense of emergency over the situation that this was not only going to ruin his day, but probably wouldn't end well. "Where do Bizzaros come from?"
TO BE CONTINUED…