Author's Note: You may remember that, in the TV continuity, The Question underwent several days of torture while a prisoner of Cadmus, until Huntress and Superman located and rescued him. During the next few episodes after the rescue, he was a patient in the Watchtower's infirmary. This story is set around the end of that season, immediately after he was sufficiently recovered to go home to his apartment.
For anyone who cares about my previous short stories referencing the Huntress/Question romance: This one happens well after "Second Date," and about three days before "Question of Protocol" (which only mentioned Huntress without giving her any time onstage). But if you haven't read those stories, don't worry! This one is self-contained and doesn't require any familiarity with my other work!
C'mon, Helena. You're a big girl now. You've been a superhero for awhile. You've faced serial killers and crimelords and super-powered villains and even entire classrooms of seventh graders. You've spent thousands of hours on the target range with your trusty crossbow, and thousands more at the dojo, learning ways to demolish men twice your size. You've been immunized against every immunizable disease known to humanity, and a few more that are only known to Martians or Thanagarians. You've brought along a load of carefully selected supplies to help with this exceptionally dirty job. You can do this!
Her head might agree with all that, but she still had butterflies in her stomach.
Fortunately, she also had her pride. Having come this far, and prepared so carefully for the challenges ahead, she wasn't going to back down at the last minute—even though no one else knew she was here, and thus would never mock her if she chickened out.
She ignored the keyholes that appeared to be meant to let you open one lock and two deadbolts set in the door—attacking them with keys or lockpicks would be an exercise in futility—and simply pressed her bare thumb against the sensor concealed in the knob. The real security system recognized her as one of the precious few people authorized to enter at will, and everything else obligingly clicked itself open. Then she twisted the knob and pushed the door inward to reveal . . .
The smelliest bachelor apartment she had ever visited. The Question was not the messiest guy she knew—well, not most of the time—but as near as she could tell, when he really got fixated on something, he became oblivious for extended periods to such marginal details as bathing . . . brushing his teeth . . . doing his laundry . . . taking out the trash . . . or even remembering to put trash in the appropriate plastic bags and tie them shut, for that matter . . .
In the normal course of events, she would have said that was entirely his problem. At most, she might have tried once or twice to suggest he clean up his act—but if he didn't, no skin off her nose! (As long as she didn't have to stand immediately downwind, anyway.)
Of course, normally I don't lo—ahem. Take that from the top! Normally, I don't like a guy enough to feel the urge to occasionally play the role of the mother he apparently never had.
The other abnormal circumstance here was that Q had spent the last week in the infirmary, and a week before that being tortured, which provided some excuse for the way things had gone downhill in his absence . . . over the last fourteen days, anyway, although most of this mess had been here before that. At any rate, she felt the need to have a more sanitary environment waiting for him when he came home to finish recuperating. If he had ever tried to coax her into doing his housecleaning and laundry, she'd have laughed at him. But what she was willing to do spontaneously, as a surprise favor for a special friend who'd been wounded in the line of duty, was a different story!
Especially when it would be unreasonable to expect him to do it all himself any time soon. If she knew The Question—and she thought she had a good idea of how his mind worked by now—his scheduled departure from the Infirmary today just meant he had finally gotten the doctors to admit that the experience of walking to the teleport bay, and then to his apartment, probably wouldn't make him collapse and need expert care all over again. Which was a far cry from being "back at full strength." He had no business trying to scrub anything until it was guaranteed that he wouldn't pass out in the middle of the process, with his head right next to the powerful fumes of an uncapped bottle of cleanser.
(Fleetingly the thought occurred to her that if he weren't the sort of man who hated to be convalescent, she would have turned up her nose at him as a useless wimp. Who needed those crybabies who seized every excuse to call in sick? You never heard Batman whining about the occasional cracked rib!)
While she ran through this train of thought for at least the tenth time in the last few days, firmly reassuring herself that it wasn't surrendering her principles to do some unpaid maid service for a man just this once, she had been prowling through her friend's apartment, mostly to open every window possible, but also taking a mental inventory of the challenges in each room. Pieces of paper on the carpet, for instance, were no great health hazards. She'd stuff them into cardboard boxes, one per room, just to get them out of the way before she vacuumed the floors; then she'd let Q worry about sorting them out in his own good time. She was aware that she had no way of telling which of these things were still vital to his collages of conspiracy-theory-related materials and which could safely be trashed.
After stuffing dirty clothes into one large bag for future laundering—or perhaps fumigating was the word?—Helena decided there was no point in putting off the inevitable. The bathroom probably needed her attention the worst. Great place for mold and bacteria to grow, what with all the warm water released into the area each time you took a bath or shower. She'd start by cleaning the toilet . . . she pulled on gloves, prepared a brush, poured in generous helpings of a powerful cleanser, knelt by the ceramic bowl, and started scrubbing.
Two hours later Helena had gotten the lion's share of the apartment adequately cleaned. At one point she had realized there was no telling how often Q changed his bedclothes (if ever), then had bundled up the old ones and stuffed them into another laundry bag. She had even replaced three light bulbs in various places—Q apparently wasn't very fussy about illumination as long as he could still see well enough to make out the words on a printed page. After vacuuming all the carpets, she looked at a clock, thought about what a sympathetic nurse on the Watchtower had told her about Q's estimated time of release from the Infirmary, and decided there was probably enough time left to at least make a good start on the other noncarpeted room in here; one she had deliberately left for last. It didn't look all that bad, once the miscellaneous clutter was stuffed into a couple of trash bags . . .
The teleport beam had deposited The Question ten blocks away from his apartment building. He had insisted. Stretching his legs would be good exercise; he was sure those muscles had been going soft after all that time in bed.
Although he had no intention of admitting it to anyone on the Tower, that half-mile hike was more tiring than it had any business being. Now he just had to climb several flights of stairs . . . one of the hazards of living on the top floor . . .
It took longer than expected, and he was sweating more than he should have been by the time he came within sight of his own front door. His nostrils flared as he approached it—there was a smell of disinfectant and other cleansing chemicals emanating from his apartment, although the door was currently closed.
He paused to consider.
It was conceivable that an enemy had found his lair and was using household items, available in any supermarket, to prepare makeshift explosives, gas weapons, and/or napalm—frighteningly easy if you knew how!—but given the lack of evidence of forced entry, the lack of alarms sounding on the Watchtower, and so forth, the more probable explanation was that Huntress had succumbed to one of those cleaning frenzies to which women were so oddly prone. Some recessive gene linked to their X-chromosomes? Or was it just cultural conditioning from infancy?
Much more urgent to resolve: What was the protocol if you suspected that your . . . uh, girlfriend . . . was already in your apartment, possibly preparing some sort of surprise? Did you just open the door and barge right in, or were you expected to knock first, even though it was your place and you shouldn't need anybody else's permission to enter?
His life until very recently having been just a tad lacking in the "experience in coping with a girlfriend" department, The Question realized there were bound to be all sorts of niceties of which he was unaware.
He leaned against the wall for a moment—not something he'd let anyone see him doing—while he pondered what might be happening on the far side of the door.
Helena had probably tackled the bathroom first. She was just the sort of girl who would face the most obvious challenge right away, without flinching. If he was lucky, she was still tidying up in there.
If he was unlucky, she might have already moved on to the kitchen. But even that wouldn't be so bad, as long as that impetuous girl didn't start messing around in the—
A piercing cry filled the hallway. Then he heard the twang of Huntress's crossbow.
Too late, he realized.
"Get back, you slimy thing!"
There was a sound which he strongly suspected was his meat cleaver smacking into something organic.
The Question shoved his thumb against the doorknob and rushed in, just as another cry filled the air—shriller this time, not sounding like Helena's voice box at all. But it was followed by more words from her.
"Oh, did that bother you? Well, that's tough! Let it be a lesson in manners! Next time keep your tentacles to yourself, or I'll chop them all off!"
He rushed around a corner into view of the kitchen area just as Helena slammed a door shut. The Question caught a brief glimpse of something purple and warty being forced back that last inch before the door sealed. Helena snapped shut the padlock which he normally used on that door and then waited tensely—but nothing happened.
Finally The Question ventured to ask: "Are you all right?"
She spun to face him, cleaver gripped in one hand, something green smeared on it. Helena was in plainclothes, suitable for cleaning purposes. In fact, she was wearing clothes over more of her surface area than he could ever remember seeing her do before. A grungy pair of paint-splattered jeans and a loose, long-sleeved checked shirt. There were cobwebs sticking to the clothes, here and there. Old sneakers and athletic socks on her feet, and bright yellow latex gloves on her hands. Her ebony mane was tied back with a scarf and he wasn't sure she was wearing any makeup beyond a bit of lipstick.
None of which mattered. He could have stared at her for hours. She was so beautiful when she was angry . . .
"Q," she demanded with the stern voice of a schoolteacher who knows she has caught a naughty little boy red-handed, "just how long has it been since you last opened the bottom drawer of your refrigerator?"
Author's Note: Several months ago I was doing research for my story "Second Date." While rewatching any episode which included Huntress/Question interaction, I was struck by the bit in "Question Authority" in which Huntress enters Q's apartment and quickly opens a window while saying: "It's rank in here. Is that you?"
Since she had been spending a lot of time with him before that scene, and probably had visited his apartment before, I concluded that the current odor problem was an occasional side effect of his getting obsessively fixated on something at the expense of all else, rather than a "regular condition" in his lifestyle, or else she would have complained a lot sooner! That line of thought somehow led me to the basic premise of this story, complete with the final line of dialogue. However, I didn't want to write and post two Huntress/Question stories back-to-back, so I just put the idea on hold for awhile, figuring I could come back to it any time!
P.S. I don't plan on writing the rest of this conversation between our young lovebirds. I have a few theories about what is lurking in The Question's fridge and how it got there—Huntress seems to assume it's had plenty of time to evolve from scratch, but I think that's unlikely—but I never intended to develop that point into a whole new chapter. This story is supposed to be a one-shot, and either you found it satisfactorily amusing as it stands—or you didn't. (But just as I've been putting the finishing touches on it tonight, it's occurred to me that I might change my mind at some undetermined future date. If I get a really good idea? No promises! Don't hold your breath!)