How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Chaos
Extension of #18 of "Twenty Truths." Part of the Justice League Advent Children universe, co-written with Shaun Garin.
In hindsight, they should have realized that it would have happened. The Green Lantern Corps called Kai back to Oa for a month in order to determine if he should be made part of the Honor Guard. It saved the League the trouble of banning him and Merina from the Tower for a month for their 6-2-8, so they all agreed and got to work trying to fill the gap. Rather than leaving Kai's team short, Superman called in Terry to replace him. Unfortunately, he'd forgotten one thing: leave Terry McGinnis and Rex Stewart in the same team on a full-time basis for an extended amount of time, and there's bound to be chaos in one form or another.
It started out as just another ordinary day. Parasite had robbed a high-tech facility in Central City, so Team Warhawk went to take care of it. The battle went decently enough—nobody wound up in the infirmary, Parasite was arrested, and the stolen equipment was returned. And, as they were prone to do during assignments, Terry and Rex broke into another argument over the battle. For the most part, they got along, but it had already been three days since Terry was made a temporary full-timer. They were going crazy.
Furthermore, the supposedly soundproof doors of the Metro Tower weren't soundproof for Kryptonian ears. Clark Kent was getting the biggest headache of his life listening to their argument. He thought it was hard dealing with Kai's puberty and sudden emergence of a libido. This was almost worse.
Finally, they've stopped, he thought when he heard Terry's silence.
On the other side of the Metro Tower, Terry glared at Rex in lieu of trying to think up another point to argue against him. Rex gave him a smug look as Terry turned and stalked off, muttering curses under his breath. The twenty-two-year-old entered his quarters, sat at his computer terminal, and sulked like a two-year-old.
"Always got to have the last word," he muttered, bringing up the League files. "Arrogant asshole, can't see past his massive ego…"
Feeling even less mature than usual, he copied over Rex's ID photo into an editing program and started playing around. Within a few minutes, he'd managed to merge Warhawk's photo with that of a ballerina. Then, with a truly evil grin, he continued editing, cutting and modifying here and there until he'd gotten a fairly seamless photo of Rex Stewart in a tutu.
This is too good, he thought and printed out several copies.
Within two hours, there was at least one picture in every hall of the Tower. Rex only found out when he caught Merina giggling and Barda rolling her eyes.
"What is it?" he asked as Merina burst into uncontrollable laughter.
"This," Barda explained, holding up the picture. Rex's face nearly turned purple—though it was hard to tell whether that was from embarrassment or anger. "It looks like someone here felt like being a child."
"I'm gonna kill him," Rex swore.
"Going to kill who?" Superman asked, appearing right behind him. He didn't need to ask; he'd known the minute he picked up the word "kill" from Rex. But sometimes the sight of the League's undisputed leader was enough to discourage homicide among the team.
"You know," Rex answered, letting Barda show off the picture. Superman blinked in surprise; he didn't expect Terry's vengeful streak to manifest this way. "He's pissed off that I made the right calls during the battle, and now he's acting like a kid."
Superman sighed, "I'll talk to him," and walked off.
It was difficult being the leader of the Justice League Unlimited. More than fifty years ago, when he had been one of seven senior members leading the team, it was nowhere near as hard. They could split up their duties, and each of the seven could handle a situation best suited to his or her own strengths. And the rest of the League acted more mature than this—barring, of course, a certain incident involving Static and Stargirl in the conference room, or the events surrounding a videogame Clark never wanted to be reminded of again. He never felt so much like a babysitter. Nor had he ever had to scold a Leaguer like this.
He knocked lightly on the door, only to hear Terry call back, "Just a minute!"
When the door finally opened, he saw that the room was a mess of notes and school discs. Noticing Superman looking at the mess, Terry explained, "I was studying. Finals are coming up."
"We need to talk," Superman said, turning his attention away from the mess for a little bit. He closed the door and looked directly at Terry, who took this as a cue to take his mask off. It needed to be Clark-to-Terry, not Superman-to-Batman. "I saw your artwork just now, and I heard you and Rex arguing. I'd like an explanation."
Terry shrugged. "He pissed me off. That's all." The direct approach wasn't going to work. Clark opted for a different strategy:
"Terry, I know you're having a hard time adjusting here. You're not the only one who hears everyone whispering around here, you know." And here, Terry started to look less comfortable. His jaw set, and his eyes strayed slightly. Good, his words were hitting him; they always had with Kara, Virgil, and Richie. "They treat you like a kid here, even though they know you're not one. After hearing about how you fought the Joker—not to mention how you fought me and the rest of the possessed League—I can't consider you a kid. But you're still a lot younger than the most of us, and a lot less experienced. They think of you as a kid brother, and I know it drives you crazy. But if you're going to try and get them to treat you like you belong here, then you can't go and act like the group little brother."
"Yeah," he answered in just the way Kara, Virgil, and Richie had when they realized what Clark meant. "I guess… With Bruce, Tim, and Barbara, it's almost like family. I've gotten used to that feeling, and I guess I brought it here too. The minute Rex gets on my nerves, I stop thinking like an adult and start thinking like a brother. Some of our fights sound exactly like me and Matt yelling at each other too."
"All right," Clark replied. "I understand that you're trying to get used to two completely different ways of crime-fighting. I'll let it slide. Just try and work on what I said, okay?" Terry nodded; it looked like Clark hadn't lost any of his "big cousin" skills, even though it had been a long time since he'd used them on Kara. "And don't worry about trying to fit in. We've got our own family dynamics too, and everyone has a place. You'll get used to it soon enough."
Rex was pulling down all the pictures when Superman came out. Seeing that Warhawk's murderous rage hadn't yet calmed, he said, "I talked to him. I don't think he'll be giving you a problem anymore."
"That's your solution for everything," Rex muttered. "Talk it out—reason."
Superman frowned. Sometimes he hated the fact that Rex took after Shayera more than John. "But sometimes it works. Remember, Terry's still fairly new here. He's not used to being on full-time. And considering that a lot of people here have taken it to think of him as the group kid brother, he's not having an easy time. He's just reacting the way he would with his real family."
"I don't know if he's noticed, but we're not exactly a real family here," Rex answered.
"That's part of the reason he's having such a hard time fitting in here. There's a reason we called the original Batman and his partners the 'Bat-family.' Even now, they have a different sort of relationship than the League does. They're closer. Terry's used to that, and when he comes here, he finds a world where nobody seems to know each other under the mask, and almost everyone calls each other by codenames only."
"Still doesn't excuse him for acting like a kid."
"I know, and I told him that. He's going to work on it. But you have to work on accepting him too. I'm glad you two haven't been arguing on a daily basis the way you did in the beginning, but you need to acknowledge his opinions just as much as he needs to learn to play by our rules." Changing the subject, he said, "Don't forget—your team has a mandatory training session tomorrow." Rex looked surprised for a second, but then he nodded.
"All right. We'll be there."
Tuesday afternoon brought an attack in Dakota by a metahuman Static had quickly dubbed Xerox, who had the ability to clone anyone he fought. The battle originally had just been Static versus his clone, but Warhawk, Batman, and Aquagirl raced over there the minute they got the call. Meanwhile, Gear was trying to keep a low profile as he worked on a way to neutralize the clones. Superman watched the whole thing from the Metro Tower, silently cheering them on. Even though the situation wasn't bad enough that he would need to come in, he knew firsthand how hard it was to fight an evil clone of yourself. Static was relying on power only, pushing away all psychological tricks in only the way a truly experienced superhero could. Warhawk faltered slightly at psychological attacks by his double, and Aquagirl and her clone found themselves at a stalemate.
Batman, however, had taken it upon himself to try a completely different tactic. The minute his doppelganger tried messing with his head, he'd fought back much harder. It was a battle of wits between them, trash-talking more than anything. As he'd said while fighting the Joker, he liked to talk.
The trash talk was an effective strategy, keeping him alive and in better physical condition than the rest of them, but there was a slight problem: The battle had ended twenty minutes ago, and Gear had eliminated the rest of the clones. He, Static, Aquagirl, and Warhawk were sitting around watching the verbal fight, along with everyone on monitor duty back at the Tower.
"Does he even realize he's insulting himself?" Barda asked.
"If he does, he isn't letting it bother him," Micron noticed.
"Is he always like this?" a rookie questioned.
"Yes, unfortunately," Superman answered with a sigh.
The rookie blinked. "Wow. I guess that explains why he messed with that photo of Warhawk."
Micron gave him a sideways glance. "You mean to say that you thought Batman was a mature, responsible adult?"
"Um, well, the original was…"
Micron burst into laughter and had to leave the room. The rookie flushed and desperately looked for a chance to escape. Barda took pity on him and took him in the direction of the cafeteria. Once they were gone, Superman called up Gear on the radio.
"Richie, just get rid of that clone already," he begged.
"But this could be an important scientific study," he protested. "If you just sent J'onn down here…"
As Gear finally deleted the clone, the rest of the ground team stared at Batman in disbelief—and Micron's laughter was still audible even to human ears. Superman sat back and rubbed his temples, wishing there was such a thing as Kryptonian-strength aspirin.
"Team Warhawk, report to Training Room One as soon as you're ready," he ordered.
"We'll be there in a minute," Warhawk replied. "Batman somehow cut his face in the battle."
"It's just a scratch!"
"It's bleeding bad enough for you to go to medical," Warhawk argued. "You shouldn't have spent all that time yelling when your clone was beating the shit out of you. We'll be there as soon as he gets that cut cleaned up. Warhawk out."
Sighing, Clark muttered, "Score one for nurture." He knew all about Project: Batman Beyond, and he'd found out completely by accident. A toxin had gotten out on the Metro Tower, and he'd been forced to run blood tests on everyone to determine who had been poisoned. It had been a complete shock for him to find that half of Terry's DNA matched Bruce's, and he'd yelled at his old friend for a good ten minutes before Bruce explained that Cadmus had done it without his knowledge. But a stunt like this completely disproved Waller's idea that genetics could recreate Batman. Bruce would never pull something like this—
Wait, Clark remembered. He did dress as Cloud that one time… Forget what I said about nurture winning.
"Whoa, something wrong?" Richie asked, walking in with Virgil. "If it's about Terry and his clone…"
"Not really," Clark answered. "But this is the second headache he's given me in the past two days. Yesterday he Photoshopped a picture of Rex in a tutu."
"Well, look at it this way—at least he didn't go and Photoshop him into a Final Fantasy movie," Virgil offered.
"I'd actually prefer to forget that," Clark deadpanned. "I can't believe you told them about that footage…"
"Hey, I tried to distract Terry with that story about my road trip with John," Virgil argued. "And it was Bruce who actually explained it all to him."
"Anyway," Clark interrupted, trying to change the subject. "I thought you two were retired—gold watches and everything."
"Did it work with Bruce?" Virgil asked with a grin. "You know nobody takes League retirements seriously."
"I'm glad for your help," Clark answered. "I wouldn't have known any way for them to take out their clones if you weren't there."
"Nice to see you're giving credit where credit's due," Richie replied, looking smug.
"And it helps that Xerox attacked us to begin with," Virgil added. "It figures that when I'm babysitting Zack, someone comes by looking for Ethan."
Clark stared at Virgil. "You didn't just leave your grandson home alone during an attack?"
"Not a problem," Richie cut in. "While V was occupied, I took the little guy to Adam and Sharon's. They're probably entertaining him with embarrassing stories about when his grampa was obsessed with Pikachu. Not that he isn't still."
"Hey, I grew out of my Pokémon phase," Virgil defended.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it because of you that Zack wants to use Pikachu as his superhero name?" Clark questioned.
"Raichu," corrected Richie, who had babysat the Hawkins children and grandchildren enough times to know. "He thinks Raichu is cooler." They both looked at Virgil.
"Face it, V," Richie ribbed. "Static was the last cool Hawkins superhero name. Even Strife was lame."
"That's because Ethan had five minutes to come up with a name before his first fight and he decided to annoy me," Clark defended. "You thoroughly corrupted your kids, Virgil. I was even afraid when Ethan decided to be Rex's 'big brother' that you'd corrupt him too."
"And risk Shayera's wrath?" Virgil asked. "I'm not suicidal, thank you."
"Hey, is she even talking to you after you called in Terry as a spy?" Richie questioned, and Clark started to look uncomfortable. "Heh, still mad, eh?"
"To be honest, I haven't worked up the nerve to talk to her in the six years since that incident. She smacked me with her mace and made sure Terry was around to see it. And I think Bruce made copies of the footage from Terry's mask."
"At least nobody will hassle you about it for another fifty years," Virgil replied.
"Anyway, let's head over to Training Room One," Clark answered. "Terry should be out of the infirmary soon, so we can watch their simulation."
J'onn was working in medical that day, saving Terry a lot of trouble with removing his mask in front of doctors he didn't know. He put his mask and belt aside as J'onn inspected the cut on his face. It was a fairly uncomfortable procedure that involved a lot of disinfectant, cotton, and a bright light shining right into his eyes. Finally, J'onn put some kind of foaming gel over the cut, and Terry fought the urge to grimace at the sting.
"You're lucky it wasn't very deep," J'onn informed. "It won't scar, but you'll have a mark there for the next few weeks. You'll need to make an excuse for how you got it."
"And one that doesn't involve Dana this time, or she'll kill me," Terry muttered. "Can you think of anything that sounds less stupid than 'I wasn't paying attention at work and got hit in the face'?"
J'onn smiled. "It at least sounds better than the truth."
Terry palmed his forehead, forgetting about the medicine, and pulled his hand back now that it was covered in gel. Sighing, he added, "I can just see how I'll explain that to Dana: 'Oh yeah, I was fighting an evil clone of myself and in-between trading insults, he managed to get me with a batarang.' She'd hit me and give me a reason to use the 'I got beat up by my girlfriend for being stupid' excuse."
He wiped the rest of the gel off with a piece of cotton and walked over to pick up his mask and belt. Rex was standing near the door, watching.
"I told you it was worse than you thought," he said, handing him the belt.
"Yeah, I know," Terry answered. "Give me a break." And just as he was expecting Rex to continue the argument, Rex turned and motioned for him to follow.
"Everyone's waiting. Superman, Static, and Gear are going to watch the simulation. Make it look good."
Terry blinked in surprise. Rex was just going to let it go. Maybe he wasn't so bad after all…
And meanwhile, J'onn had the overwhelming feeling that this was all about to go to hell. Silently he prepared the infirmary for any potential victims of enraged superheroes.
Merina was also out of medical after a short visit to clean up her battle wounds, and Virgil and Richie were watching Clark set up the battle sequence. As Terry and Rex followed her into the training room, Terry checked his batarang launchers.
"There a problem?" Merina asked.
"The launcher on my right wrist is almost out. Left one has a few more, but I'm not as good with that side."
"Better stick to whatever you have in your belt then," Rex advised. "We're doing hard-light holograms today—simulates a real fight. You'll need to use what works best." Terry nodded.
"Simulation starting," Clark warned, and they shifted into fighting stances, Terry already fingering a compartment on his belt. "We're letting you have a little fun today. Simulation: Heartless." The three grinned as Neo-Shadows from Kingdom Hearts took form and attacked.
Part of the simulation was to test how much they could handle an enemy without time to form a plan of attack—meaning that Rex needed to adapt to the conditions while Terry was in his element. Almost subconsciously, he took charge, pointing out where Merina and Rex needed to watch themselves.
"Here come more!" Merina alerted, and Terry quickly reached for an electric batarang. It flew out of his hands quickly—too quickly—and didn't make any impact at all on the hologram.
That's not right, he realized in sudden shock before the Neo-Shadow swiped a claw against his chest. It didn't cause any serious injury, but it did bring his score down.
"What's wrong?" Merina asked.
"Sorry," he apologized. "I must have mixed up the compartments on my belt." Another Heartless came at him, and he reached for the circular blade at the center of his belt, only to find it missing. Alarmed, he barely missed a killing strike, but he dodged to the side and grabbed the Neo-Shadow's arm and threw him over to another, eliminating both holograms.
"Batman, your points are dropping dramatically," Clark cautioned. "You were doing fine before. What's wrong?"
"Something's wrong with my weapons," he answered, trying another compartment and finding a useless plastic shuriken. "Nothing I've got is working!"
"Gear, shut down the simulation," Clark ordered in the background.
Slowly, all of the hard light holograms faded away, and Clark, Virgil, and Richie entered the training room. Terry took off his belt and started opening all the compartments. The electric batarangs had all been replaced with plastic replicas—the kind kids used for their Halloween costumes when they wanted to dress as Batman. The smoke and tear gas pellets were missing, and in their place were plastic gumballs. The compartment for his spare batarangs was filled with toy shuriken, and a tiny rubber duck was in the evidence compartment. The older superheroes stared at the assorted toys in absolute confusion, not sure whether they should laugh or not. It looked like somebody had gone through a lot to pull this prank on Terry.
He immediately turned to Rex. "You were the last person with my belt. What did you do?"
"Call it revenge for that photo," he answered, shocking everyone. "Now we're even."
"No way in hell we are!" Terry argued. "Do you realize you could have gotten me killed if this wasn't a simulation?"
"I did it because we had a simulation today," Rex replied. "When Superman reminded me of it, I knew I'd have the chance to get back at you. The fact that you needed to go to the infirmary and that you were out of batarangs only made it easier."
Terry stared at him in mixed horror and rage, and no one could tell if he would punch him or not. In fact, no one knew if they'd hold him back or not. It was as if the world had been turned upside down: Rex Stewart was pulling childish pranks and Terry McGinnis was yelling at him over the serious stuff. Clark made a mental note to check with all the magic-users to be sure that no one had screwed with some kind of high-end chaos magic that was signaling the Apocalypse.
Deciding that he should break the tension before it did end with a trip to the infirmary for either Rex or Terry (or both), Clark stepped forward and said, "We'll throw out the results of that test and take another one in a few weeks." But Terry stepped past him and got right in Rex's face.
"This is war, Stewart," he challenged before turning around and stalking out of the training room. Seeing the look on Virgil's and Richie's faces, Clark had to agree that he had to give it to Terry; he'd nailed that "pissed-off Batman exit."
Wednesday morning brought rain, thunder, and a horrible sense of foreboding to Metropolis. Superman had to admit that he was worried. Nothing had yet come of Batman's war declaration, but he knew it was going to be bad. Terry McGinnis did not randomly go around and declare war on fellow Leaguers—even when he was especially pissed off at Rex. And all over the Metro Tower, everyone else felt it too. Nothing had happened yet, but everyone was jumpy and anxious. Calling it the calm before the storm would be a misnomer. It was more like the calm before the Earth exploding.
He was walking around the Tower, trying to keep down any eventual mayhem, when he heard it: orchestral music giving way to rock guitars and Latin lyrics. Fearing another outbreak of that prank again, he rushed to the source of the music—the Rec Room. But all he found was Terry sitting at the old PS3 Ethan had donated, his school notes discarded as he played Kingdom Hearts II. Terry looked at Clark in confusion.
Well what do you know? Clark realized. Terry's actually doing something innocent. That's something for the record books. "Your music," he said aloud.
"Oh, sorry," Terry apologized, adjusting something on his wrist. "One-Winged Angel" lowered in volume. "I downloaded the soundtrack into my suit's computer so I'd have something to listen to while I studied, and I left it on when I started playing. Forgot you'd be able to hear it."
"It's okay," Clark assured. "I just wanted to be sure everything was all right." Then, taking a look at the TV and seeing the volume was off, he asked, "Why's this on mute?"
"Atlantica level, third try. I've given up on sitting through Sora's singing. This is easier on everybody."
Clark laughed. "I don't blame you. When we first got the game, Wally ran out of here at full speed after the second time he heard it. We were afraid he might enter the Speed Force."
"Really?" Terry asked, eyes wide.
"Well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. But he did run out as fast as possible without having to tap into it." Terry's laughter broke the tension throughout the Tower. Clark allowed himself to relax. Terry wasn't mad anymore; he wasn't going to unleash hell on everyone. "All right. I'll see you later."
"Later," Terry answered, returning to his game.
Clark wasn't even ten feet away when Rex came storming by, soaking wet and covered with bits of broken balloons. He shoved past Clark and entered the Rec Room, where suddenly Terry blasted the volume on Kingdom Hearts, subjecting Rex to Sora's rendition of "Under the Sea."
"You can thank Superman for the inspiration," Terry commented as Rex groaned in frustration.
Micron, who was walking past, raised an eyebrow and said, "You know, there's medication for what he has—whatever he has."
Clark sighed, "The problem is that half the time, his fighting style depends on whatever it is he has."
Micron turned a half-amused glance back to the Rec Room as he heard Donald Duck's voice. "Just figures, doesn't it?"
"I'd better remember to call Strife, Static, and Gear tomorrow," Clark murmured. "The last thing I want is for those two to get to the sound system."
Several hours (and one lecture from Clark on how he wasn't supposed to program the hard-light holograms to take on the form of fellow Leaguers) later, Rex came out of the shower in his quarters, trying to think of anything to get back at Terry. McGinnis was king at humiliation tactics—Photoshopped tutus and bombing raids of water-balloons were proof enough of that. If Rex was going to fight him, he was going to have to play at his level. But this would be hard; Terry was a difficult person to embarrass. Rex had a feeling that he could reveal every piece of dirty laundry Terry ever had and it still would hardly faze him. And he could take a potentially psychologically traumatizing attack and laugh at it. So humiliation was out. He'd have to draw on Terry's greatest vice—his temper; it had certainly worked during the training session. What would irritate him more than anything else in the world?
Rex grinned and reached for his phone.
Terry had a battle with Spellbinder soon after his last class was over. It was possibly the shortest one he'd had yet with his former guidance counselor. He was gradually becoming immune to the illusions and psychological tricks, so it only took a few minutes for him to regain his sense of reality and fight back. After handing him over to Barbara, he went home and showered before dinner.
Dinner was such a blissful, normal affair that made Terry glad he'd opted out of dorm life at college. Matt got home from band practice and they'd pick on each other while setting the table. And after fights with Spellbinder, normality was always welcome.
"How's studying coming?" Mrs. McGinnis asked.
"Pretty good," he answered. "Still worried about that physics exam, though. I think I've got it, but the professor's got a habit of asking questions that make no sense."
And then it happened—a sudden, inexplicable event that shattered the normality forever.
"Pass the salt," Matt said. As Terry handed it over, he added, "Oh, and we know you're Batman."
Terry froze and stared at them. His mother and brother looked completely calm, but curious. Maybe he was wrong about the battle with Spellbinder? Maybe he was caught in an illusion?
"I don't know what you're talking about," he answered, fully aware that his voice and body language were a dead giveaway.
"I got a call from Warhawk today," Mrs. McGinnis explained. "He then stopped by just before Matt went to practice. He's worried about you. He saw the cut on your face during the battle in Dakota and he knows it could have been a lot worse. He said it made him realize he didn't want for us to find out who you are the hard way."
Terry slammed his head down on the table. There was no way this could be an illusion—but he almost wished it was.
"Go to hell, Stewart," he muttered.
"Are you all right?" his mother asked.
"I'll be fine," he assured, not even bothering to lift his head, "once I strangle that lying bastard."
"So, Terry," Matt asked, "can I be Nightwing?"
Terry's response was his middle finger. His mother slapped him upside the head.
It was two hours later when Terry recounted this story to a semi-amused Bruce. The old man wasn't amused at all about Terry's identity being blown (especially in this way), but the story—full of random tangents on how Terry was going to murder Rex, which Bruce tried not to pay attention to in case Clark or Barbara questioned him later—was another matter entirely. But for the sake of the slowly ebbing sanity of his protégé, Bruce refrained from showing any emotional response. Terry was doing enough of that already. Right now, the young man was sitting in a chair, hand against his forehead, trying to finish his story.
"Be careful," Bruce warned. "Your scar won't heal if you keep aggravating it." Terry reluctantly put his hand down. There was a fairly large red spot on his forehead from where he'd kept palming it. "How is your family adjusting to this?"
"They're actually okay with it," Terry commented with a sigh. "Mom's worried, but she knows I can handle myself since I've been doing it for a while. Says it won't stop her from worrying, though. She'll probably be calling you every five minutes when I'm on patrol." Bruce wasn't surprised; he knew that would happen if Mary McGinnis eventually find out. "Matt—he just wanted to be part of it, same as Max…" He stopped in mid-sentence and got that look on his face—the one that indicated he was scheming something. Bruce made a mental note to be as far away from the chaos as possible and do whatever he could to forget everything Terry had just told him.
It was a quarter to midnight, and two complete strangers were standing outside the door.
Granted, one of them wasn't a total stranger—Dick Grayson knew Terry McGinnis by sight and reputation, but he didn't know him, nor did he know the black girl with the pink hair. And it was a quarter to midnight, his wife was asleep, and the new Batman was standing outside the door.
Dick would have to handle this delicately. Not long after Terry had started, Barbara had called him with a warning. The kid had had confrontations with her several times, and every time she told him to keep out of it, he refused to listen. The more force she used, the more he resisted. And Tim had warned him that the kid was unpredictable. Somehow, he'd gotten both of them to reconcile with Bruce and become something akin to a family again. Dick kept it in mind, repeating it in his head as a mantra: McGinnis was unpredictable.
"Can we borrow your computer?"
So much for expecting the unexpected.
"What?" Dick asked.
"This is important," Terry insisted. "Please."
"You expect me to just let you use my computer when I don't even know you? When I haven't spoken to your mentor in more than fifty years?"
"Look, I could give you a speech on how you should put the past behind you and not judge me and how you're a lot luckier than I am, but frankly, I don't have the time," Terry replied.
"Please, Mr. Grayson," the girl reasoned. "The old man and the Commissioner won't think we're here, but someone else will, and I really don't want to get caught. I promise we'll explain."
"This isn't anything illegal, is it?" Dick asked.
"A little," Terry confessed. Dick stared in disbelief. "It's a prank. And this is the only place we can pull it off—nobody will expect us to be here."
Dick sighed, "Come in. But I'm not letting you touch anything until you explain everything." He took them into the living room and no farther. "Well?"
"I guess you know I'm Terry. This is Max. I need your help."
"You said it was a prank."
"Yeah," Terry answered.
"He got in a prank war with Warhawk," Max explained. Dick was surprised, though he wasn't sure if it was because a Batman was being immature or because Warhawk was too. "He wants me to try and hack Warhawk's computer to find his schedule."
"This is illegal," Dick pointed out.
"I know," Terry replied. "But Max is good. She won't get caught—she's not even going to mess with anything. I just need to see what Rex is up to, and that's it."
"And I need a place to do it," Max added. "They know I'm a hacker, so if they suspect anything, they'll where to check."
"Just not here," Dick realized.
"Once this is done, we never met," Terry promised. "I need to get back at Rex."
"Blew his identity to his mom and brother," Max explained. "And before that, he replaced all of Terry's weapons with toys during a simulation."
"This is serious," Dick said. "What's been your plan of attack so far?"
"Not much," Terry admitted. "It started with me Photoshopping a picture of him in a tutu."
"And this morning, I rigged up water-balloons to drop on him."
"Not as creative."
"And then I blasted the volume on Kingdom Hearts II—Atlantica level."
"Now that's just evil," Dick commented. "The computer's to your right. Just keep it down; my wife's asleep."
"Thanks," Terry replied as Max got to work.
"Well, if you're trying to keep up the legacy of mayhem, then it's the least I can do. I was with the Titans instead of the League, but we still pulled off some good stuff. Once we joined in on this massive joke on Superman—"
"The Sephiroth one? Yeah, Static and Gear recruited Rex and me into reviving it. I had fun editing the movie."
"Wait, you edited it?"
"Yeah. It wasn't easy, but I managed to change all of Sephiroth's appearances to Superman. And everyone else on the Tower called him 'General' for five weeks."
Dick laughed. "You sound like another Wally in the making."
"The Flash?" Terry repeated, surprised. "Haven't heard that one before. I think Superman's more afraid I'll become another Static."
"Oh yeah, I heard about his 6-2-8 with Stargirl—had me cracking up for months. Who got it this generation?"
"Green Lantern," Max answered from the computer.
"The shrimp?" Dick whistled. "That's a surprise."
"Tell me about it—him and Aquagirl," Terry said. "You'd think being raised by monks would make him celibate."
"Not according to Avatar, no."
"It's a cartoon Tim and Babs used to watch. Ask them for episodes someday."
"Okay. I'll remember that for the next League movie night."
"Hey, bring me along this time," Max added.
"They still have that?" Dick questioned. "I thought Superman banned it after Wally, Roy, and Ollie kept showing Advent Children every night."
"I managed to talk him into letting me revive it, provided I only show Advent Children once every April. Plus Strife donated a PS3 a few years ago, so he can't do much about us making fun of him."
"He hasn't used Masamune, has he?"
"A couple times. Threatened me and Rex with it too."
"God, I need to show you some pictures from Halloween."
"What happened on Halloween?" Max asked.
Dick grinned. "Wayne Enterprises sponsored a Safe Halloween Project. The League and the Titans got together in different cities to give kids the chance to trick-or-treat when they otherwise wouldn't get to. Our group had Metropolis, and most of us were dressed as Advent Children characters." Terry and Max laughed. "You think that's funny, guess who was Cloud."
Max turned away from the computer. "He didn't! The old man?"
Dick nodded. "He went all out too—the hair, the sword, a mask, everything."
"Wait a second," Terry interrupted. "You're saying that Bruce threw his dignity aside and dressed up as Cloud Strife just so a bunch of kids would have a good Halloween?"
"Well, that and to piss off Superman."
"That's even better—where are the pictures?"
"Do you need me to get off the computer?" Max checked.
"Not a problem," Dick answered. "I've got multiple mediums for the evidence. It's a must when you need to blackmail him. Not that I'm teaching you to blackmail him—you are taking notes, right?"
"I may not be a genius like some people," Terry assured, throwing a mock-glare at Max, "but I've got a good memory for these things."
"Good," Dick replied. "I'll get the photos. There's one of Bruce and Lois Lane, who was dressed as Zack. The look on his face is worth about five years of blackmail."
"Pass it to me too," Max begged. "I can multitask. And I'm almost in Warhawk's computer."
Dick found the photo album from his Titan days and flipped to the right page before taking out the picture and handing it to Terry. It took all of his self-control not to burst into wild laughter and wake up Dick's wife. He then handed it to Max, who stuffed a fist in her mouth to suppress her laughter.
"Oh God," she whispered. "This is even better than that picture I got of you, Ter."
"Oh?" Dick asked, intrigued as Terry started looking a little sheepish.
"For his birthday last year, I gave him a T-shirt of his Batman logo," Max explained. "Static thought it was funny and gave him one of his logo. Then Superman, the Flash, and Green Lantern John Stewart gave him a few too. Once, I stopped by Terry's to study and he must have fallen asleep or something because I found him bleary-eyed in his Green Lantern T-shirt and his hair messed up. I snapped a picture and sent it to his girlfriend, Dana."
"And Dana's been using it as the background on her computer ever since," Terry added.
Dick laughed and shook his head. "Well, anyway, you keep that. I'll send another copy over to you, Max. Make sure to make as many as possible. You don't want Bruce to delete the only ones you've got."
"No problem," Max answered. "And I'm in."
"Okay, step aside," Terry instructed, and Max did so reluctantly. To Dick, he explained, "I know you can probably withstand Bruce and Barbara's interrogation, but she can't."
"How bad?" Dick asked.
"Not even a full-on glare," Terry replied, shaking his head in disappointment. "She cracked within five minutes."
Dick turned to Max. "I'm going to have to teach you how to resist that."
She sat on the floor and started going through the photo album while they started looking through Rex's information. For a while, it distracted her—after all, the only conversation was "How 'bout that?" "No, not good enough," and the pictures were pretty funny. But it didn't last, and she found herself fighting her curiosity.
"Ooh, this looks good…"
"You sure this isn't going to cost him his job?"
"If I know Rex, he's been early for the past five years. His boss will probably be relieved to see he can be late—shows he's human. Well, you know what I mean."
Max willed all of her attention on the photos—was that Wonder Woman dressed as Yuffie? Thankfully, Terry and Dick were almost finished with their plans; she wasn't sure how long she could keep her curiosity in check.
"All right, I think that's it," Terry decided. "Thanks for your help."
"No problem," Dick replied. "Let me know how it goes, okay?"
"Okay. Come on, Max."
"Thanks for the help, Mr. Grayson," she added.
"Not a problem. Like I said, it's my duty to help uphold the legacy of chaos."
Terry grinned and waved. "See ya."
Dick couldn't help but smile as he closed the door. Tim definitely wasn't kidding when he said Terry was unpredictable. Feeling a sense of pride at helping the younger generation, he turned off his computer and headed back to bed.
An hour later, the phone rang. Dick reached over for it and mumbled, "Hello?"
The voice was fifty years older, but Dick still recognized it. "Bruce?"
There was an awkward silence, and then…
"Terry showed me the picture."
Dick smirked. "I'm glad you liked it."
It was Saturday when Ethan Hawkins could finally make it to the Metro Tower, and Clark had never been more relieved. Thursday and Friday, Terry and Rex had been painfully civil to each other, on their absolute best behavior. They hadn't argued once, and no one could find any traces of pranks. It worried Clark; it meant they were planning something big. But every time he tried to check on them, he couldn't find anything. Terry was always studying—the worst he'd done was play his Kingdom Hearts II music too loudly. And Rex was organizing something for work. J'onn tried scanning them. He couldn't get into Rex's mind—Shayera had apparently taught him how to put up a mental block. Terry wasn't much better—he'd realized J'onn was there and asked him for help with a physics problem. The supposed innocence only made Clark more worried. When Ethan arrived with his five-year-old son, Clark felt a massive weight lift off his shoulders.
"Sorry about bringing Zack," Ethan apologized. "My wife's shopping, and I have no one else to watch him."
"I'm sure Rex won't mind taking care of him," Clark commented. But as little Zack started cheering, Ethan looked worried. "Is something wrong?"
"A little," Ethan confessed. "I think Zack might be too much for Rex to handle. The last time he babysat, I came home to find the kitchen nearly destroyed, Rex passed out on the sofa, and Zack eating a can of Play-Doh."
"What about Terry?" Virgil suggested. "He's got a little brother, so he'll know how to take care of Zack."
"Well…" Clark hesitated. He'd heard Terry complain about Matt enough to think this was a bad idea.
"I've seen him," Richie insisted. "We were trapped in a collapsed school, and he managed to get all the kids under control. He's good with them. Plus this will keep both him and Rex out of trouble."
"Good point," Clark admitted reluctantly. He walked to a console and pressed the communication link. "Batman?" Everyone was treated to the sound of "He's a Pirate" blasting in the background. "Batman, turn your music down!"
"Sorry," Terry apologized. "What do you need?"
"I need to put you and Warhawk on babysitting duty. Think you two can act mature enough for that?"
"No problem. I'll get him and head your way. Batman out."
Clark turned off the radio and muttered, "What have I done?"
Ethan cringed. "I guess we'd better get started on the sound system."
"I'm going to check out the simulation room too," Richie volunteered. "You won't want anyone pulling the same thing Wally did." When Kingdom Hearts II first came out, the Flash had programmed the hard-light holograms to create Heartless and Nobodies all over the Watchtower, while throwing a dozen Pikachus in John's quarters. He'd wanted to see if the ring would work on them. Answer: It didn't, and hard-light Pikachus attacked just as well as the ones on the cartoon. Virgil was still kicking himself for not thinking of it first.
Rex and Terry entered the control room, and Zack's first words upon meeting Batman were "Wow, you're tall!"
Terry grinned. "I'm not that tall."
"Nah-uh, you're taller than Grampa and Uncle Rex!"
"Well, your grampa was taller than me a few years ago. It's just that he's getting older, so he's going to get a little shorter." Virgil mock-glared at Terry.
"Wow, so people get short when they get old?"
"Yeah. So when your Uncle Rex gets old, he's going to be shorter than you are now."
"Starting already with the short jokes," Rex noticed, gritting his teeth. "Hey, Zack, you hungry? We'll get something from the cafeteria."
Clark palmed his forehead. "What have I done?"
The cafeteria on the Metro Tower was honestly one of the best anyone had ever tried. The cooks had an amazing memory for the League's preferences—that Kai was a vegetarian, that Barda liked her food as spicy as possible, and that Micron had an insatiable sweet tooth. Half the time the heroes joked that the cooks had superhuman abilities too just to remember all of that and still manage to prepare massive amounts of food. No one had that kind of memory in the League; Rex still couldn't remember half the members, and they'd all warned Terry when he first joined not to try and remember most of their names. And in fact, a newbie Leaguer Rex had taken to calling Random Rookie was sitting at the table with Micron, looking utterly humiliated while the senior Leaguer was laughing. Funny, Random Rookie only seemed to look humiliated whenever Terry walked in.
"Hey, did you do anything to that guy?" Rex whispered.
"What?" Terry asked.
"That random rookie over there. Every time he sees you, he looks mortified. Did you do anything to him?"
"Not that I know of. I hardly know anyone here. Maybe it's the whole Batman reputation."
"So, Zack, what do you want?" Terry questioned.
"A million cookies!"
Terry laughed. "Well, maybe not a million…"
"Hey, don't get him that," Rex interrupted. Zack sulked. "His mom doesn't like him eating too many sweets."
"He's not getting too many, right?" Zack nodded. "It's just a few cookies and some milk."
"I hate milk," Zack put in.
"Okay, cookies and juice then."
"I mean it," Rex ordered. "He needs to be eating something healthier."
"Sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you. You've got too small a voice."
Rex twitched. "Are you calling me a pea-sized midget?"
"No. I'm calling you a pea-sized midget so small even Micron couldn't find you. There's a difference."
"Hey, leave me out of this," Micron called.
"Not now!" the two heroes yelled.
"You've got two inches over me," Rex said, ignoring the mortified look Random Rookie was giving them—he'd apparently just started tuning into the argument. "You've got nothing to brag about."
"Give me a few years, and I will."
"In case you've forgotten, I'm still mission commander."
"Sorry, but the role of morally bankrupt midget with a god complex has already been taken—by Napoleon."
As Rex started fuming, ready to make a comeback, Zack asked, "Can I get my cookies now?"
"No problem," Terry answered, turning the order into the amused cooks. "Just to let you know, short jokes are fun, but short-sheeting a fellow Leaguer's bed is even more fun."
Rex stared. That explained why he'd nearly torn his sheets in two the night before, after the night shift ended. It took him until Zack had sat down with his cookies and orange juice before he could calm himself. Then he sat next to Terry and whispered, "I may be short, but at least I don't need to sleep with a nightlight."
His words had the desired effect. Terry stiffened and stammered, "I don't know what you're talking about." Rex grinned. Terry was horrible at masking himself when he was flustered.
"You're scared of the dark?" Zack whispered, realizing this was something important and couldn't be said aloud.
"I am not!"
"Oh really?" Rex asked, getting the exact look on his face that his mother had when the rest of the League knew they were dead. "Then why is it that at two a.m., I walked past your room and found the light on?"
"I was studying," Terry quickly explained. "I must have fallen asleep."
"That's interesting. I guess you were dreaming that you were studying because when I tried to turn the light off, you threw a batarang at my hand." And before Terry could protest, Rex pulled off his glove and revealed a bandage on the back of his palm. "Sharp little things, aren't they? Now I see how you cut your face so bad the other day."
"I cut my knee at school yesterday," Zack chirped. "See? It feels better now."
Terry was mercifully silent the whole time, making it so much easier for Rex to pick on him. Once Zack was finished eating, they started walking around the Tower, with Rex adding as many jokes as possible.
"So, does Dana know about your little phobia?" Rex asked. Terry wisely chose to ignore him. "Hmm, you're right. She probably wouldn't. It'd be hard to explain why Batman of all people is scared of the dark." Terry started walking a little faster. "I guess your boss knows—he probably has to adjust your mask's night vision filter." There was a twitch. "Ah, so he doesn't know either?"
"Look," Terry said in as low a voice as he could manage. "Nobody knows, okay? My mom's got a hunch, but she thinks it's a result of my dad's death."
"So is there some kind of psychological reasoning behind it?" Rex questioned seriously.
"Good. Now I don't feel bad about picking on you for it."
"I got a flashlight Mom gave me for nighttime," Zack informed. "But I don't need it 'cause I'm not scared."
"See, McGinnis?" Rex taunted. "Even Zack's not scared of the dark. You really need to get over that fear."
Terry gritted his teeth. "I'd say something, but there's a K-I-D here."
"I wonder how you have to explain this to Dana," Rex mused in a low voice. "I doubt you leave a light on with her… Candles, maybe, but you'd burn the house down… Or is it not a problem because you two aren't there yet?" Terry gave him the worst glare he could manage—one that had even made Bruce blink on occasion. Rex smirked.
And over in the communications room, Clark sighed.
"Something wrong?" Ethan asked.
"Just Donald and Goofy getting into an argument about something. Then Rex started making some insinuations about Terry's love life that I really didn't want to think about since he's just a college kid and I've known him since he was sixteen."
"So just a normal day on the Metro Tower," Virgil joked.
"You know, I blame you," Clark decided.
"Me?" Virgil questioned. "Why me?"
"It all comes back to you in the end. You travel forward in time when you're fifteen and completely disillusion Terry about how the League is supposed to be."
Ethan laughed. "Didn't help when it turned out you only got captured because you forgot it was a trap, Dad."
"Yeah, I know," Virgil replied. "Terry was pissed. I think Bruce still has the footage of Terry running after me trying to kill me. I had to get a new costume after that, go back to my old style."
"Well, you had to get captured when he was having a bad day," Richie reminded him. "Our team was the only one left on Earth."
"Can I finish?" Clark asked, his voice starting to get murderous tones. "Thank you. So after messing with time, you got that 6-2-8. And then your road trip with John. And then you and Richie started with the Advent Children jokes."
"To be fair, Wally and Ollie thought of the yellow Kryptonite materia," Virgil defended.
"But you started it. And you told Terry and Rex to resurrect it. And then when I think you've grown up during the next fifty years, you decide to let Terry be on your team while we split him and Rex up for a while. And then it all spirals down from there."
"I think we're done," Ethan declared suddenly, cutting off Clark's tirade. "I'll go pick up Zack and let the three of you finish off the job."
Ethan pulled out a small scanner and started checking for the tracer he had on Zack at all times—children of superheroes were often in danger, and the Hawkinses did not like to take chances. He followed the signal to the gym, where they were playing a basketball game—Zack sitting on Rex's shoulders while they played against Terry.
"Hey, Zack, ready to go?" he checked.
"Aww," Zack groaned as Rex put him down. "Do I have to?"
"You know your mom expects us home for dinner. And you can see Uncle Rex anytime."
"Can Batman visit?" Zack asked.
"I'll see what I can do," Terry promised.
"Say goodbye, Zack," Ethan commented.
Zack waved as he walked out into the hall. "Bye, Shorty. Bye, Scaredy."
By some kind of strange coincidence, no less than fifteen Leaguers happened to be in the hall at the time, including Barda and Random Rookie. Rex and Terry gaped as the others started snickering. Finally, Terry said, "I guess Zack wins that one…"
"Yeah…" Rex agreed. Then, regaining his composure, he asked, "So, do you need a teddy bear too?"
No less than five minutes later, Rex was lying in the infirmary. J'onn handed him two ice packs—one for his jaw, and one for the back of his head from when he hit the floor. Clark once again palmed his forehead.
"How did this happen?" he asked.
"All I know is it involved Batman, an irrational phobia of some kind, and a teddy bear," J'onn replied. "I won't try to decipher it."
"Probably a good idea."
Clark stared at the monitor in horror while Team Warhawk fought. Inque, Shriek, and Stalker had teamed up for some reason, and were creating a lot of chaos in Gotham. Finally, unable to contain it any longer, he put in Terry's frequency and said, "Please tell me you and Rex somehow got your rogues' gallery in on your prank war?"
"Wish I could," Terry replied, dodging a sonic blast. He turned off the radio and switched back to his Advent Children soundtrack. Shriek was hiding somewhere, and Terry could only avoid the oncoming attacks by listening to "JENOVA" for which speaker was getting distortions. So far, it was working. He'd only gotten hit by one blast, and it wasn't that bad. Meanwhile, Merina was fighting Inque and Rex was handling Stalker.
A garbled sound in his left ear gave Terry the warning to jump before a sonic blast fired. He threw his last batarang in the direction of the source and grinned when he hit one of Shriek's amplifiers. With one damaged, he was much easier to defeat, and Terry proudly ripped off the amplifiers and threw him next to the other captured criminals.
"That is undeniable proof that we totally owned you lamers," he commented. Rex whacked him upside the head. "What was that for?"
"You have to ask?"
"Anyway," Merina sighed, "let's get these guys in custody and head back to the Tower."
"I'll catch up," Terry promised. "I need to restock, and I already used my last set of spare batarangs from the Tower." He got in the Batmobile and headed back to the Manor, never once noticing the smirk on Rex's face.
It was a simple, five minute job reloading the batarang launchers on his wrists and checking the compartments in his belt to be sure he didn't need anything else and that everything was in good condition. But as he started to walk out, he noticed a small stuffed bear sitting on the computer. And even worse, Bruce was looking at him for an explanation.
"Warhawk dropped that off for you earlier," he said. "Mind explaining why?"
Terry broke into a long, loud string of Kryptonian cursing. Bruce didn't know whether to scold him for his language or just to be amazed that Clark knew enough of those words to apparently teach them to him. As it was, Terry stormed off before he had the chance.
"Warhawk!" Terry shouted the second he entered the Tower. No one had ever seen him in such a murderous rage. Everyone got out of his way. It didn't matter that he had no superpowers and was one of the youngest in the League; nobody wanted to be anywhere near him when he was in this kind of mood. "Where is he?"
"I…I think he's in his quarters, sir," squeaked Random Rookie, who was quite content to shrink back into the crowd when Terry headed over toward Rex's room.
"Rex, open up!" Terry yelled, banging on the door. It suddenly slid open and then…
Clark had been on another level of the Metro Tower during Terry's rampage, so he didn't hear the emergency signal for another ten minutes. He rushed over to the source. He had no idea where Terry was and what kind of trouble he'd gotten into… But he stopped short, nearly scuffing the floor, when he saw a massive pile of stuffed bears outside Rex's door—no, coming out of Rex's door. Sighing, he used his X-ray vision to locate Terry before rescuing him from cute and cuddly suffocation.
"Thanks," Terry said once he could breathe. "As for this—"
"I'm not going to ask," Clark answered quickly. "This is only going to end in a lot of headaches, yelling, and information that I don't really want to know, so I'm going to cut it off right here."
"Right," Terry agreed. "In that case, I need to authorize three people to help me clean this up. And can you make sure no one sees them?"
"Fine. Just as long as you get these bears out of here without giving any of us trouble."
"All right, let me get them."
Half an hour later, Dana Tan, Max Gibson, and Matt McGinnis were on the Metro Tower for the first time. They gawked at the sites they were allowed to see and were speechless at meeting the Leaguers who knew Terry's identity. Even so, when they reached the avalanche of teddy bears in the middle of the hallway, they burst into laughter.
"How did this happen?" Dana asked, giggling.
"It's a long story and I don't want to get into it now," he answered. "All I can say is that Rex is probably going to be picking on me with teddy bears for a long time."
"So what's the plan to get back at him?" Matt questioned.
"You are going to get back at him, right?" Max added, but Dana glared at all three of them.
"Terry, be the bigger man in this," she pleaded.
"Not hard," Matt said softly, making Terry and Max grin.
"I mean it," Dana insisted.
"Look, all I want to do right now is figure out what to do with all of these bears," Terry replied. "That's all."
"Where did he get all of these?" Max asked. "It looks like he stuffed his whole room with them."
"Yeah, he left one in the cave too," Terry muttered. "I really don't want to know where they're from."
"So Warhawk's running some kind of underground teddy bear smuggling operation," Matt commented. "You think this is his entire stash?"
"You're making it sound like he's committing a crime," Dana remarked. Matt grinned and shrugged.
"I don't know," Terry answered. "I guess I can donate them to a shelter or something. There are a lot of kids in Gotham who could use some toys."
"But won't this be destroying Batman's image?" Max joked.
"Not like you haven't already," Matt added.
The next thing anyone knew, Matt was running down the halls of the Metro Tower, screaming, "Run away!" at the top of his lungs, with Terry close behind him. Clark was unfortunate enough to be in the halls at that time, and he couldn't escape becoming Matt's shield. Being faster than a speeding bullet meant nothing when there was a fourteen-year-old bent on hiding behind you.
"Matt McGinnis, I presume?" he guessed.
"Hide me," the boy begged, tugging on his costume.
"There you are, twip!" Terry shouted, the girls close behind. When they saw Matt hiding behind an annoyed Superman, they grinned.
"Hey, Matt, I thought picking on Terry was your life's work," Max teased.
"He's different in the suit," Matt whispered.
Dana and Max giggled. Terry glared. Matt cowered. Clark sighed.
"I'm never going to survive 'til Kai gets back."
Rex adjusted his tie in the mirror before checking the time again. He had a big presentation to make today, and he wanted to be sure that he made it there on time—which, for him, was five to ten minutes early.
The doorbell suddenly rang, surprising him. Who would be visiting at this hour? He opened the door to find what looked to be a kid looking for trouble—bandages wrapped around his wrists like an amateur boxer, a diagonal scar between his eyes, a World War I-style aviator cap…and yet this was all offset by the fact that he was carrying three very large boxes of pizza.
"Rex Stewart?" he asked in a thick New York accent.
"Yes?" Rex questioned. The guy thrust the boxes at him. "What's this?"
"Your pizza, what else?" He held up a datapad. "Got an order earlier for three extra large pizzas with everything on them."
"I didn't order anything."
"I know. The guy said to deliver them here for a party or something."
Rex's eyes narrowed. "And who was this guy?"
"I dunno," the delivery boy answered. "Said he was a friend of yours."
Rex took a breath and mentally counted to ten before muttering, "McGinnis, I'm going to kill you." If he was lucky, he'd still be able to make it to work on time by normal people's standards.
"Hey, can I get paid now?"
As Rex rushed off to work, the delivery boy (now forty-five credits richer) hid away from sight and pressed a button on his belt. Within seconds, the Batmobile arrived and an extremely satisfied Terry headed home.
"Coming in from Gotham, a children's shelter just got a massive delivery of teddy bears today," announced the virtual newscaster. "Apparently, Batman hand-delivered them to the shelter sometime past noon before flying away from the cameras. It sounds like he has a heart underneath all of the shadows and legend after all." The rest of the news report was cut off by Rex's wild laughter and Terry's curses about AI journalists.
"Yeah, yeah," Terry muttered.
"Nothing better than hearing this news after my meeting," Rex said. "Especially after your damn pizza boy made me late."
"What do you mean late? You made it on time."
"I was two minutes late, and my boss knows I'm always early."
"Which is why you got off fine."
Rex gave him a sidelong glance. "Wait a second, how did you know about my morning commute?"
Before Terry could answer, two very angry women stepped into the cafeteria. Everyone turned as Terry and Rex's girlfriends stormed in. And, recognizing trouble, absolutely everyone other than Terry and Rex quickly exited.
"We're dead," Terry whispered.
"It's Dana and Julie," Rex whispered back. "We'll be lucky if we're dead."
"You swore to me that you wouldn't pull anything again," Dana yelled, putting an accusing finger against the bat emblem on Terry's chest. "You said you'd be the bigger man!"
"And I can't believe you!" Julie added, making Rex step back. "You're older, wiser, and more experienced! You should know better than to let some little prank get the better of you! You're always priding yourself on that Marine-like restraint you have, so why didn't you use it?"
"B-but I…" Terry stammered.
"Julie, wait…" Rex began.
"NO!" both women screamed, forcing both men to wince.
"Get back to me once you've stopped acting like a child," Julie declared.
"The same goes for you," Dana informed Terry.
Nobody would enter the cafeteria for another hour. Dana and Julie had long since left, but their boyfriends were still feeling the sting. When Barda and Micron finally half-threw Clark in there, he found the most pitiful sight he'd ever laid his eyes on: Terry and Rex sitting at a table in absolute misery. Rex was whispering to himself in disbelief while Terry was staring off into space from shock. Clark had never seen anything so pathetic—not even his own worst moments with Lois.
"Why don't you two take the rest of the day off?" he suggested. They looked up at him, looking like kicked puppies. He winced. "I can get someone to fill in for you."
"You'd do that?" Terry asked weakly.
"I think it's the least I can do," Clark answered. "It's partially my fault this happened—Merina asked for clearance for two people, but I didn't think she'd bring your girlfriends."
"Wait, Merina did this?" Rex questioned.
"Yes. She wanted an end to this prank war, and she went about the wrong way of doing it. Don't worry—I'm going to have a talk with her, possibly put her on a stricter probation."
"Okay," Terry agreed while Rex was still gaping. He got up and said, "Come on, Rex. If we hurry, we can make it to a florist's in time to get a massive apology ready." And with that, he practically grabbed Rex's arm and dragged him out.
The next day, Terry and Rex were back in prime fighting condition just in time for a mission in South America. At first, it wasn't going well; Terry found himself getting attacked by the local wildlife more often than getting attacked by the enemy, and Rex was frankly at a disadvantage in the Amazon wilderness. Merina had the best luck of them all because of the nearby river—she could just send a stream of piranha-infested water. Finally, after Rex managed to save Terry from several overenthusiastic monkeys, they got into battle stances. And at the Metro Tower, Clark frowned.
"What is it?" Barda asked.
"I've been watching Batman's fighting style for a while now," he explained. "It's never the same twice."
"Your point?" she questioned.
"He and Warhawk have never fought this closely together. And from what I've seen of his files, he only fights that well with someone he's been working with. If he and Warhawk are working together on something…"
Barda realized the danger. On their own, Terry and Rex were possibly A-class threats. Together, they could be a class of their own.
"I'll put the Tower on high alert," she volunteered, running out to spread the warning.
Not much later, the trio returned to the Tower, arguing good-naturedly over the battle:
"Those were no normal monkeys," Terry muttered. "They were like monkey-ninjas or something."
"Marmosets," Rex corrected.
"Anyway," Merina interrupted, "I don't know about you two, but I have a date. I'll be going now."
"Okay, see ya, Merina," Terry replied.
"What are you two up to?" Clark demanded, walking over to them as Merina left.
"Nothing," Terry answered, all innocence. Clark refused to be swayed by it. He'd dealt with much better liars in the past.
"You're trying to get back at Merina for siccing your girlfriends on you," he deduced. "Whatever you're planning, I want you to drop it. Now. This insanity has gone on long enough."
"Kal," Rex addressed, using Clark's Kryptonian name. He honestly hated when anyone did that; it made him have to listen. "Do you really expect us to try anything on Merina? We're still hurting from the Kasnian Incident."
Clark paused. The Kasnian Incident, as the JLU called it, was an undercover mission to expose supervillains within the Kasnian government doing business with their Prime Minister. It wasn't originally supposed to be an undercover mission—just getting Terry to do some stealth surveillance. But it turned out that the Prime Minister had a connection to the murder of Terry's dad, so Clark was forced to make the others come along to keep him in check. Merina played the part of Ming, a spoiled rich girl from Chong-Mai while Kai was her little brother, named Tseng just to pull off an Advent Children inside joke. Adding onto it, Terry and Rex acted as her American bodyguards, Reno and Rude respectively. It was possibly the most embarrassing thing Rex or Terry had ever gone through, since they were subject to all of Merina's crazy demands. Micron started a scrapbook of Embarrassing League Moments immediately after (most entries usually involved Terry in some way), and nobody could look at either of them for the next few months without whispering, "Whipped!" behind their backs.
"All right," he finally admitted. "I'll give you that."
"Don't worry about us," Rex affirmed. "We're just going to get some lunch."
"Hey, does pizza sound okay to you?" Terry asked.
Rex grimaced. "How about Chinese?"
Terry shrugged. "Good enough for me."
They walked off toward their respective quarters, but Clark didn't feel any better. Rather, he felt like he'd just let the situation worsen. He pulled out his communicator.
"Barda, have the Tower ready for anything short of a nuclear explosion." He paused, reconsidered, then added, "On second thought, include the nuclear disaster. Anything can happen with these two."
It wasn't enough. Three hours later, Merina came back from her date to find her entire wardrobe missing. Her usual costume and spares were gone and replaced with some of the most revealing swimsuits she had ever seen.
I'm going to kill them was her only coherent thought. But as an alarm blared, she got a better idea.
"Aquagirl!" Barda called outside. "Get moving! Your team's supposed to be out there fighting!"
Smirking and holding an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, black-with-golden-mesh bikini, she replied, "I'll be down there in a second!"
The battle was not going well. Their opponents were of a much different style than Terry was used to fighting. In the first ten minutes, he was thrown to the ground thirty-four times, and he did not want to think of how many bones he might have broken in the process. When a boom tube opened up behind him, he silently breathed a huge sigh of relief.
"Thanks," he murmured as Merina helped him up. It was then that he noticed she was wearing the worst of the swimsuits he and Rex had shoved in her closet—the black and gold bikini.
Terry's last coherent thought after Merina flashed her butt at him was Dana's going to kill me! before everything went to hell.
This incident would be remembered in the League history files as the first and only time the monitor room had to get the information secondhand—from the press. Random Rookie covered his eyes at the sight of Merina's outfit. Micron covered his mouth to stifle his horrified laughter. Clark covered his ears just seconds before Merina excused her choice of clothes on "a couple of idiots who decided to mess with my laundry."
J'onn? Clark called mentally.
"I have two migraine pills ready for you, right next to the red sun lamps," he answered.
"Thanks," Clark said aloud, heading off in the hopes that maybe he'd be able to get rid of his headache.
Merina's entrance into the Prank War to End All Prank Wars brought more and more chaos to the table. Now that there were three people trying to outdo one another, it seemed that everyone in the Metro Tower was merely an unfortunate victim in the civil war of practical jokes. Immediately after a battle Thursday afternoon, Terry and Rex went into their showers, only to find that the water pressure was low. As could be expected, they turned up the water all the way, and that was when Merina unleashed it at full force. Clark and J'onn were on duty when they saw what happened.
"J'onn, I didn't just see McGinnis and Stewart riding an out-of-control tidal wave without a stitch of clothing to their names?" Clark asked.
"If you can deny it, so can I," J'onn decided.
They walked away just as the wave crashed against the wall and the two men scrambled for their rooms and some clothes. Terry was faster in getting dressed, since all he had to do was pull on the suit and it would automatically shrink to fit him, so he stormed over to Merina's room in a last ditch effort to regain his dignity. She stood in the hall, holding a mop and bucket, since Barda had taken it to let her mop the whole floor if she was going to get it wet.
"Is that all you can do?" he asked. "Water tricks?" Of course, while he was walking over, he managed to slip and fall on a wet spot. Merina grinned as she looked down at him.
"It's better than Kryptonite," she replied.
"First you flash your butt at me," he muttered, getting to his feet, "and now you send me swimming out of my room naked. I know you like younger guys, but I'm taken."
Five minutes later, the techs were complaining about Batman frozen to his neck in a block of ice, obstructing the hallway.
"Put him under the lamps in the mess hall," Clark instructed. "He'll thaw out eventually."
"He's frozen to the floor," the head technician explained. "We can't move him."
Sighing, Clark went out to take care of the problem himself. The techs weren't kidding—Terry's head was the only thing above the huge ice block, and he was shivering. Micron was standing there, taking pictures.
I should have known he'd join in, Clark thought mournfully. Brady "Micron" Evans was the son of Adam "Rubberband Man" Evans and Sharon Hawkins Evans, gaining his power from a mutation of Adam's own Big Bang mutation. He was the nephew of Virgil "Static" Hawkins. Sharon may not have been as insane as her brother, the crazy black sheep of the Hawkins clan, but they had the same blood. Brady had every chance of becoming as insane. Clark wondered if it was just Hawkins weirdness or some effect of the Big Bang; most Bang Babies he met—first or second generation—were absolutely nuts.
"Don't worry about me," Micron informed. "I'm just getting some new stuff for the scrapbook."
"Can you get out of the way?" Clark requested. "I need to get him out."
"No problem," Micron answered, pocketing his camera. "I got all I need."
"One crack about her seducing me, and Merina freezes me," Terry explained in-between shivers and chattering teeth.
"You should have known that mouth of yours would get you in trouble," Clark replied, using heat vision to melt and vaporize the ice away from Terry. It would be faster just to break the ice, but he didn't want to leave behind a mess of puddles when it melted. And besides, he couldn't deny that he wanted McGinnis to suffer a little bit.
I'm turning into a Justice Lord, he realized, but the thought wasn't nearly as terrifying as it had been over fifty years ago. It would come in handy to stop the prank war once and for all, but Virgil and Richie would only turn it against me. Probably play "One-Winged Angel" at their funerals or something.
"You're out," he informed once the last bit of ice had been vaporized. "Head to the infirmary to take care of that hypothermia."
"I'm okay," Terry assured. "The heating systems in the suit kicked in once my body temperature dropped too much. I'm just going to get some coffee and head back in my room to study. My exam's tomorrow."
"All right," Clark agreed. Maybe he could convince Merina and Rex to lay off the pranks for the rest of the day so he could get some peace and quiet.
Right. And maybe Barda would turn into a peace-loving hippie by next Monday.
It was nearing midnight, and Terry could barely keep his eyes open to study. The physics final was tomorrow, and he needed to know the material. There was no way he could fall asleep like this. But still, before he could reach his coffee cup, he passed out cold.
Rex peered in the door. Satisfied that Terry had finally succumbed to the decaf coffee he'd spiked with sleep medication, he went over to change the alarm clock. He'd been planning this since Terry delivered that pizza the day of his meeting. He was finally getting his sweet revenge.
It was just shy of ten o'clock when Micron came out of the cafeteria, finishing a piece of coffee cake. He was just brushing the crumbs off his hands when he was nearly trampled by Batman, who was half-running and half-hopping down the hall as he tried to pull on a sneaker. He'd pulled his gloves and belt off, and he was holding them in one arm, along with a jacket and some school supplies. A pair of jeans was just around his waist, over his tights. Micron didn't ask; he just stared after him.
"It is too early in the morning for this," he muttered.
Revenge for the alarm clock prank was short jokes on Saturday:
"Did you touch my laundry?"
"You shrank everything!"
"Well I had to!"
A confused look. "Why?"
"They fit you like a tent!"
On Sunday, Merina trapped Terry in a net and left him hanging in the middle of the hall. When Superman got him down, he saw why McGinnis hadn't just broken free on his own: his gloves, belt, and boots were gone, and his hands and feet were tied. Micron laughed himself sick.
Worried that he'd have a Hawkins (an Evans, technically, but still a Hawkins by blood) in on this, Clark opened the door to Micron's room. The unmasked and somewhat surprised Brady Evans sat at his computer, typing something.
"Brady, I want you to drop out of this—what are you writing?" Clark completely lost his train of thought at the sight of Brady's computer screen. "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Chaos?"
"It's my memoirs," Brady explained. "I figured someone would like reading about the craziness that happens on the Tower."
Clark scanned through the story. "Most of this is about Batman."
Brady shrugged. "Can I help it if he's a trouble magnet?"
"You do know that if the others find out about this, they'll hunt you down and kill you."
"That's why I'm planning on releasing it after I retire. That way, I can hide out on a nice, uncharted tropical island and live out the rest of my days in paradise."
"Sounds like a good dream," Clark decided. "Now, I have a favor to ask of you."
Brady gave him an appraising look. "What I say is going to determine whether or not you keep my little tropical island paradise thing a secret, isn't it?" Clark nodded. "All right. What is it?"
"I want you to drop out of the prank war."
Clark boggled. "Done?"
"Yep," Brady answered. "I'm not suicidal, thank you. There's no way I'm getting pitted against Batman, Warhawk, and Aquagirl like this. I prefer to sit back and report on it all."
Clark grinned. "I always knew I liked the Evans side of your family better."
"It's Uncle Virgil who's the crazy one," Brady insisted, pulling on his mask. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm wanted in the cafeteria."
Clark followed Brady to the cafeteria, where a huge crowd gathered around one table. If he had to guess, he'd say the entire League—plus support staff and techs—was gathered in the room. Terry stood on top of the table, with Merina and Rex close by.
"I told them they couldn't reenact Kadaj's Reunion in the Forgotten City on the Tower," Clark groaned.
"You think that's what they're doing?" Barda asked, walking up to him. She pointed out Brady heading up to them. "It looks like they're about to get another Clone added, then."
But before Clark could groan or even push forward to stop everyone, Terry spoke up. "Earlier today, Micron offended my honor—" Clark rolled his eyes. "—and I challenged him to forsake his. Warhawk, the music."
It was the Random League Musical Interlude—something that hadn't been seen in years, not since Richie had been conned into singing "I 2 I" from The Goofy Movie. Brady got on top of the table and grabbed the microphone as "Holding Out for a Hero" started playing (and Clark would later wonder why Terry and Rex were so obsessed with soundtracks from fifty years ago).
"Damn," Rex whispered.
"I know," Terry whispered back. "I didn't think he could sing like that."
"I should've suspected it," Rex answered. "His dad was a big rapper back in the day."
"Looks like we need to be ready for four-way chaos," Barda muttered.
"Actually, it's still only three-way," Clark corrected. "Micron dropped out of it."
Barda looked impressed. "He's got more common sense than Warhawk and Batman. But then, that's not hard."
Slowly, Terry came to consciousness. He remembered walking in the park one minute, taking a shortcut home, when suddenly the manmade stream formed a sphere of water around him until he passed out.
What's Merina trying now? he wondered, trying to get up. When he realized his hands were cuffed behind his head, he woke up fast and started to take notice of his situation. He was stripped down to his underwear and dripping wet, sitting against a guardrail on top of some building—to which his hands were cuffed. And he had no way of getting out of this.
He swore in about five different languages—English, Kryptonian, Thanagarian, and two he was pretty sure he'd made up—until he finally lost his voice.
Around seven p.m., a call came on the JLU's emergency civilian contact line. Fearing the worst, Superman answered to a worried Mary McGinnis.
"No, I'm sure he's fine. He's probably caught up in something right now, but we'll call him to be sure. Don't worry about it, he'll be fine." And finally, after much consoling, he managed to hang up on the worried mother. "J'onn!"
"I'm scanning already," the Martian informed. A minute later, he added, "I found him. He's at the Wayne Enterprises building." He smirked. "And he requests that we bring him some pants."
Clark didn't have to be a psychic to know that all the way in Gotham, Terry was mentally flipping them both off.
He quickly went to Terry's room and grabbed a pair of jeans before opening a boom tube to the roof of the Wayne Enterprises building. McGinnis was sunburned, shivering, and clad only in a pair of boxers. He waved sarcastically with one cuffed hand. Then Clark said something he never thought he'd ever have to say:
"No pants until you give me answers, McGinnis."
"I woke up here," he explained. "Merina trapped me in a water shield until I passed out. Then she and Rex stripped me down and cuffed me while I was out. And they must have forgotten me since I've been here for six hours."
Clark shot him a puzzled look. "How do you know if Rex was involved?"
Terry started numbering his reasons on his fingers: "One, Merina may be strong, but she wouldn't be able to get me here on her own. Rex may be short, but he can carry me easier than she can. Two, someone had to get me up here without anyone noticing—and a boom tube is too noticeable. And three, these cuffs are Nth metal."
Clark sighed and broke open the handcuffs. Terry rubbed his sore wrists and caught the jeans as they were thrown to him. Pulling them on, he added, "Thanks."
"I'll take you to medical for those sunburns and hypothermia," Clark said. "And after you drink something, call your mother. She's been worried sick."
"Yeah, I will," Terry promised. "One thing bugs me, though. Those cuffs were too small to be used for Rex's usual rogues, but if they were for ordinary, run-of-the-mill criminals, why were they made of Nth metal?"
Clark tried his hardest not to think about the possible answers to that question as he opened up a boom tube. He wanted to forget this particular prank as fast as possible.
The prank war had been going on for several weeks now, and Clark was thoroughly sick of it. In the week prior to Terry's being left on the roof for six hours, it had become commonplace for Leaguers to carry umbrellas as they walked down the halls. In the days after that particular prank, it had become commonplace to wear helmets as well. These current pranks were thankfully small, but Clark knew it was only the calm before the storm. And then it happened.
Nobody was quite sure how it started, but Terry, Rex, and Merina were in one of the training rooms, dressed respectively as Seifer, Squall, and Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII. And they had "cloned" themselves with the hard-light holograms, resulting in the second strangest battle they had ever seen (second, of course, to Terry's yelling contest with his evil twin). It quickly became apparent who the real ones were because they were rather bloody from the fight. In a gust of wind, Clark rushed in and cut down all of the doubles with Masamune. The sight of the legendary sword o' doom was enough to make the trio freeze in their tracks.
"That is it!" he yelled. "All of you, get to medical and stop this now!"
"Y-yes sir," Rex stammered as he, Terry, and Merina ran for it.
Still holding Masamune, Clark sat down in exhaustion. He was a hundred-percent certain now that the trio had made him age to his actual age. Finally, he switched to a frequency on his communicator and waited for the other end to pick up.
"Wally, I need help."
"I'll say you do." A pause, then: "Oh, you mean with the pranks…"
The very next day, the Metro Tower was mysteriously empty. Terry arrived for duty, feeling completely suspicious about the whole thing. He did not like the looks of this. Switching to stealth mode, he silently made his way down the hallway. Something moved behind him, and he turned quickly and threw a batarang at what appeared to be a large black plastic bag full of something. It burst open, splashing all over him.
The clank Terry made upon hitting the ground startled the entering Rex and Merina. Realizing something was wrong, they split up to try and find him. Thinking perhaps that Terry had gotten sick in the men's room, Rex entered.
"McGinnis, you in there?" he asked, knocking on the door to one of the stalls. There was a beeping sound inside instead of an answer, so he broke down the door to see a small, non-lethal explosive in the toilet.
"Rex?" Merina questioned, hearing a sound like a very small explosion. She ran down the hall and suddenly felt a powerful fan from the conjoining hall. Confused, she turned to face it, and a box of ping-pong balls opened right on top of it.
The rest of the League, in fact, was greeting the newly arrived Kai, celebrating his status as a member of the Lantern's Honor Guard. He grinned, glad of the praise, but he managed to sneak away to find Clark.
"Where are Terry, Rex, and Merina?" he asked. "I thought they'd be here."
"A bit of a mix-up in message delivery," he answered smoothly. "I think they're in the Tower. We should go check."
"Yeah," Kai agreed, following Clark into the boom tube. The minute they stepped out, Clark was grinning at the sight of the other three members of the team: Terry, who was covered in some kind of sticky goop, fighting the urge to remove his mask; Merina, who was windswept and covered in red welts; and Rex, who was dripping wet.
"What happened to you?" Kai asked in shock.
"A pound of applesauce," Terry answered, spitting some of it out.
"A high-powered fan and ping-pong balls," Merina added.
"The bathroom," Rex answered simply.
Kai looked at them with an eyebrow raised, hoping for a better explanation. They gave none. He turned his gaze to Clark, who still had a three-mile grin on his face. Finally, Kai closed his eyes and sighed.
"I'm never leaving you guys alone again," he decided.
Disclaimer: I do not own Justice League, Batman Beyond, or anything else referenced/mentioned in it. I do, however, own Random Rookie, Ethan/Strife, and Zack. As this is part of the JLAC, there are numerous Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts jokes and in-jokes on the voice actors. Most references involving Clark come from Shaun Garin's "Dirty Little Secret," or future fics of his, such as "This is Halloween!" and "Road Trip!" Major thanks to him and Ryan Griffin for their help.