Five Ways The Future Changed – For The Better
"No!" Guy yelled, and then Bea found herself with a ring-powered construct over her eyes.
It was a blindfold, and it felt like leather. She couldn't see anything.
"Gardner…" Bea hissed, despite the lack of sibilants in the snake's name. How dare he pick that time of all times to practice his BDSM – and on her? Madre de Dios, they were trying to get Tora out of Hell.
"You were about ta look, weren't ya?" Guy scolded her.
Bea winced. The seriousness in his voice got to her, and she automatically let the truth slip out. "I, um…yes." She had been about to look. Ted had been right when he said that the properties of this Hell-like place must have jacked up the anxiety level.
That, and she couldn't tell if Ice was really behind them or not. But that was probably caused by the anxiety.
Guy let out a gusty sigh, and Bea wrinkled her nose at the scent of liver and onions that wafted her way. Forget fire and brimstone, she smelled that all the time, and after repeated exposure, actually found the scent quite pleasant. But Guy's favorite food… Ugh!
"I want to, too. But if we do…" Guy sighed again. "Icey's gone. So just…here." Bea found herself floating in the midair, presumably trailing after Guy. "I'll take us both out of Hell. The concentration on my ring'll keep me from lookin'."
Incensed, Bea wanted to flame up and scorch Guy's ass. But…she had to admit that he had a point, however small…like his dick. And, with her sight removed, Bea's hearing automatically sharpened to make up for the lack of visual input. She could hear something – or someone – shuffling after them.
It had to be Tora.
"Maybe you should carry me in front of you…so you're not tempted to look back, either," Bea added grudgingly. If he was going to help her, she…she had to help him.
She gulped. It galled her to have to trust Guy Gardner, of all people…
…but Tora had loved him. And he…he obviously still loved her.
"You got it, sweetcakes," Guy said, his jovial tone unable to cover up his own apprehension that he'd make the same mistake Bea almost had.
It would have to be enough. For now. Tora was still too damn good for him.
Bea's eyes closed and she inwardly quailed.
For her, too.
Sue Dibny had died.
At least, that's what the superhero community at large had been led to believe for approximately seventy-five hours.
In truth, Ralph had gotten home just in time to save her. Green Arrow really did have a bald spot – albeit not much of a one, but enough of one that he was vain – and Ralph Dibny's nose really did twitch when a mystery was afoot.
And when Sue had shoved him out the door that evening…he'd practically sneezed himself sick before he'd gotten to the rendezvous point.
So he'd ditched Lorraine, called in Bea to help her out on the case, and headed home to wait outside in the bushes until his 'surprise' party started.
And Ralph had never been so thankful that he had when heard that fizzle-pop of fire starting… If he'd been anyone other than who he was – a rubbery, stretchy mutant able to stretch through a hail of bullets, or a wall of fire – he wouldn't have been able to get to Sue before it was too late.
If he hadn't been there when it started, he would have been too late. He was good, but he never would have gotten there in time. As it was, Sue was more than a little singed around the edges, but aware enough to cling to his birthday present.
Only later did he figure out why a magnifying glass was so important to her.
Ralph contacted J'onn on the League communicator and got them both a one-way ticket up to the Watchtower's infirmary. Within minutes Sue's burns were being treated and the League was going over what was left of their house with a fine-tooth comb.
The arsonist got away, but Sue was okay. And as far as Ralph was concerned, as long as his lady was okay…the rest would take care of itself.
A lot of things could have gone wrong that night. But they hadn't.
Ralph wasn't a religious man, but he'd thank every God and Goddess he could think of for the rest of his days for saving his family if that's what it would take. It wasn't. Batman just said he had to pretend to be the grieving widower so they could catch whoever had gone after his beloved wife.
Of course, he'd said it much less…benevolently than that. The asshole. After almost losing one of his partners, one would think he'd be nicer.
In any event, Clark spirited Lois away to the Fortress of Solitude, and Batman sequestered Catwoman in the Batcave (which neither of them appreciated, but they should've; love is irreplaceable, ladies…) and the next person to be put at risk was Jean Loring. The Atom had been able to get to her in time, just like Ralph had, only…
Only it turned out that had been the plan all along. The first suspect on Ralph's list was Dr. Light, considering what he'd tried – and thankfully failed – to do to Sue all those years ago. He never would have suspected Jean – who'd been one of Sue's best friends – and pretty much no one else but Batman would have, either.
Ralph at least had Sue and little Ralph Jr. or Suzette to care for. Everything had worked out for the best…as far as the Dibnys' were concerned.
But Ralph couldn't help but wonder if maybe things wouldn't always go so good… They may have been costumed superheroes, and gone around saving the world like in some comic book…but it wasn't a game.
Hopefully, it wouldn't be war.
When Stephanie got fired from being Robin, she was angry. So angry that she wanted to show Batman how good she could be.
That anger didn't last long, however. She'd never really wanted to be Robin, anyway.
She'd just wanted Batman's acceptance.
Her old sometimes-partner Jason Todd could commiserate. Almost bludgeoned to death by the Joker, and then a year-long recovery period, only to be told that not only couldn't he go back to being Robin, but Batman would never let him fight crime again.
Was it any wonder he'd gone underground on the outskirts of New Jersey to kick bad-guy butt without Batman's interference?
"You'd think getting laid on a regular basis would put Batman in a better mood," Steph grumbled.
Jason chuckled. "I think the sexual tension from when they were chasing each other across rooftops actually did that. But now that they've tied the knot, and, you know…"
"Had kids," Steph agreed glumly. "I don't know what he was like before, but Batman's…"
"And Tommy is an annoying little snot," Steph said, referring to the three-year-old that was at just the right age to prove that the terrible twos lasted more than a year. "They've both tried to stop him from acting like a brat, but it doesn't work."
Jason nodded and then stared off broodingly into the distance. Steph would never tell him that he looked more like Batman when he did that than even Tim – sometimes. "That would definitely cause problems."
"Especially with May on the way." Steph chuckled.
"Bit pretentious, don't you think," Jason smirked, "Thomas Alfred and Martha Mary Wayne?"
Steph shrugged, not caring one way or another what they named their kids. "She's gonna be about the same age as the Dibny's kid, I think."
"Ralph Dibny, a dad. Can you imagine it?" Jason shook his head in awe.
"He can't be worse than my dad was."
"Mine, either." Jason paused reflectively for a moment, then said, "Guess you're right. B and C aren't doing so bad. At least they're not trying to replace anyone who's still alive."
Steph winced. "Bruce wasn't trying to replace you, Jay." Batman may have been trying to replace Robin, but, well, Jay had replaced Dick, just like Tim had replaced Jay, and she had replaced Tim.
For a time.
"Sometimes it feels like it. Sometimes I think it would have been easier if I'd died and then come back," Ravager said, the one eye not covered by the dark gray patch looking at her coolly. Steph still didn't understand why Jay had taken on the name of a supervillain, especially one who used to work with Deathstroke, but it was definitely better than Red Hood. "He might've been so happy that we wouldn't have ended up fucking up our…well, our partnership."
Steph snorted, unable to hold back her hilarity. Jason's dry wit had been a staple of her days as Spoiler, and he hadn't lost it since she'd put on his old red, green and gold. No one since Dick Grayson had been able to get through Batman's walls. Even Tim only managed so far, and that was because he kept things as strictly professional between himself and Batman as possible.
Steph hadn't even tried. She'd been dating Jason off and on ever since she first put on the eggplant cloak, and even a pregnancy scare couldn't keep her down. There'd been so much else to do besides cater to Batman's whims, so many things to learn…
And she hadn't done any of it well enough for Batman. Or maybe he'd just been waiting for her to fail.
At any rate, her original, admittedly vague and more than slightly idiotic, idea of enacting Batman's War Games scenario wasn't going to happen. Even with Jason's help she'd never be able to pull it off; she'd need Batman to make it work.
Or, to be more precise, 'Matches Malone.' That name was even stupider than the Cluemaster.
Jason grinned at her, slightly macabre in the fading light of Park Row. "Yeah, I know… Didn't do much for Dick, did it?"
Steph shook her head. A chill wind blew past and she huddled underneath Spoiler's cape – the only part of her old, now current again, costume that still fit right after all her now-useless Robin training – and hugged her knees. "What do we do now?" she asked, and then cringed as she realized that maybe they weren't a 'we' anymore. Maybe Jason wasn't going to catch her as she fell this time.
The silence stretched between them for a moment. "Now…now we work together," Jason said, and Steph breathed a silent sigh of relief. "To show B that we are as good as he thinks we aren't. And as he thought we could be."
Steph chewed her lip, staring out over the alleyway. "How do we do that?"
"Simple. Get Batgirl on our side and the rest will fall into place." Jason paused. "Well, it might be a good idea to make the Doc an ally, too."
With Cass as an in to the Batcave, they'd have access to everything they'd need. And with Leslie backing them up…
Steph's grin was broad and Robin-bright in the dark of the night.
Bruce didn't stand a chance.
The Asshole Protocols
If anyone else had been in Ted's position, had known what he's known – or at least suspected what he suspected – they might have gone to Batman. Batman was the Dark Knight of Gotham City, the World's Greatest Detective, and there wasn't anything he couldn't figure out.
Ted knew better. Batman had a severe lack of anything approaching people skills, and even if Batman believed him, well…
Batman was an asshole. Technically, he'd created the whole mess in the first place, but he was The Batman; why the hell should anyone expect him to clean it up?
Robin, on the other hand…well, he didn't worship the ground Blue Beetle walked upon, but Ted knew he had a fan. And Robin was nearly as smart as Batman. Add in the non-assholeness, the willingness to help his fellow hero, and both of their friendships with Oracle…
It took some doing, and a lot of secretive planning – secretive from Batman, and oh, wasn't that a trip; never would have worked if Booster hadn't let him borrow Skeets to help monitor the meetings – but Ted Kord went to visit Maxwell Lord feeling confident that he wasn't going to end up dead at the end of the day. And he didn't, even if Max's cyborg components had been infiltrated and taken over by Brother Eye.
"Join me or die time, is that it?" Ted demanded. He wasn't quite shaking in his little blue booties, but still, the situation was not exactly conducive to keeping his stress levels low.
Max's grin wasn't his usual sleazy ingratiating one; it was a macabre parody of cold, unfeeling arrogance, a smile that promised big, dark things that were too terrifying to make any noises that went bump in the night. "That's it exactly."
Looking at that soulless visage, Ted suddenly found it easier to play his part – to the hilt. "Rot in Hell, Max," he spat, even as he felt a frisson of fear go up his spine. Their plan had better work…
And it did, going off without a hitch as Max's gun went off in his face. Ted near about gave himself whiplash as he bent his head out of the path of the bullet. Simultaneously, Oracle remote-triggered the EMP pulse that froze Max in place, and Robin took out Batman's satellite, shutting all the OMACs down.
They won. The day was saved. A few more electrical fry sessions with Babs and Max would go back to being his usual supercilious, self-important, stuck-up self instead of…well, instead of being a supervillain, and trying to kill people.
And Ted…well, Ted needed a vacation (and a neck massage), not necessarily in that order. After he talked the rest of the League into making sure Batman did clean up his own mess, and once Booster got out of the hospital, he was going to wheedle him away from his overprotective twin sister and take them both in the Bug to the itty-bitty atoll left of Kooey Kooey Kooey (which was about as far from Guy, Bea, and Tora's own vacation destination of a ski chalet in Norway as one could get and still be on Earth). Booster was divorced now, after all – never would have gotten married in the first place if he'd listened to Michelle – and he never had been as much of an idiot as he pretended to be.
Well…not nearly as much as he pretended to be. And Booster had never been an asshole.
When Superboy fell from the sky, Tim was the only one who wasn't surprised.
Well, Rose might not have been (though with only a watered down, secondhand version of her father's abilities, her own precognition was hit or miss at best)…
But then, he'd been expecting it. He was, after the all, the one who'd asked Raven to help take him down.
Superboy Prime might have been stronger than their Superboy – almost as strong as their Superman – but he still had Kryptonian weaknesses.
An hour in an energy cage composed of Raven's dark magic, exposure to a non-lethal level of Kryptonite, and Superboy Prime was as weak as the proverbial kitten, and about as dangerous. The Green Lantern Corps had done…something…to keep him out of the way, but Robin prepared for the possibility that they wouldn't be able to hold him, and contacted Zatanna.
She owed the Batclan, and protection spells were little enough to pay off her debts.
Then Robin took Ravager's advice and had Cyborg implement greater security around the Tower. He also took Spoiler's advice and told Kon how he felt. Even people in their line of work didn't often live more than once…and he planned to make the most of the one life he had.
The life that he wouldn't have had, had he not been prepared.
There had, of course, been the possibly that his plan wouldn't have worked – that he would have lost Kon…
But that was why Tim had his protocols in the first place. For the possibility…so he could save his friend's lives. So they could have a future.
Kon was going to be out of the game for awhile while he recovered, and Tim was going to stay with him. Hopefully the members of the newly-formed Titans East – Spoiler, Ravager, Speedy, the current Catwoman (Selina's apprentice Holly), and Rose Wilson, now christened Thorn, led by the newly restored Indigo and Shift – would be able to fill in for them.
No endings, happily-every-afters, no fade-to-blacks…just a change.
For the better.