Author's Note: This story will have two chapters. It is set during the JLU episode "Question Authority." One scene in there ended with The Question and Huntress about to go on a date—you may recall that she extorted him into suggesting "dinner and a movie?" after she decided the subtle approach was completely wasted on him—and then the next scene we saw her in was happening several days later, so details of the actual date were left entirely to our imaginations. For various reasons (which are explained in another note at the end of this chapter), I recently decided it was time to fill that gap in our knowledge.
By the way, this story happens just a few days after my old story "Second Date," which is why there's a brief reference to "Ambush Bug" in this one. (If you don't even know who Ambush Bug is, don't sweat it; that's not important to understanding this new story.) The Author's Note at the bottom will give a more detailed chronology for my various Huntress/Question stories.
Chapter One: A Touchy Question of Dining Etiquette
A few minutes ago Q had downloaded everything he needed for the next phase of his investigation while Huntress watched his back by roughing up a platoon of rent-a-cops as light exercise. Now they were back in his sedan, him at the wheel, pulling onto the Interstate to take them back to the city, and it was time to hash out the details of the "dinner and a movie?" invitation which she had squeezed out of him by grabbing his precious data as a hostage.
"So," she said, "what sort of dinner did you have in mind?" As she spoke, she was absently tugging off her own mask and wondering if they needed to swing by her apartment so she could change into a dress.
The car swerved for a moment before Q straightened it out and demanded: "What do you think you're doing?"
She had never before heard him sound scandalized. Until she could get a handle on this, she'd stick to the simple facts of the matter. "It's called taking off my mask."
"You actually do that sort of thing on the first date?" A crusty old relic of the Victorian Age, appalled at the sight of what his great-granddaughter considered an adequate number of square inches of fabric to wear for a day at the beach in the 1960s, could not have sounded more disapproving.
Huntress briefly considered and rejected the idea of arguing about whether any or all of their previous joint ventures had qualified as "dates." Fighting other superheroes, and miscellaneous hoodlums, and that Ambush Bug nutcase a few days ago, and some corporate security personnel tonight, were not what most people would define as romantic excursions, but she and Q were not most people. Hadn't each battle been a bonding experience, which ought to count for something?
So she concentrated on the "that sort of thing" part of his query. "Q, am I really showing you anything you haven't seen before? You already knew my real name and family background when you agreed to help me find Mandragora last month. Do you seriously expect me to believe you never ran across any pictures of Helena Bertinelli's unmasked face in your research?"
"That's different," he said huffily. "Looking at an old photo is one thing. A superheroine exposing herself this way in the flesh is something else!"
Ah ha! She felt she was finally catching up with his premises. Apparently a mask was a sort of fig-leaf symbol to him, at least where members of the costumed crimefighting community were concerned; it marked the crucial difference between modesty and indecency. Far more unnerving than such trivia as her bare navel. With an inward sigh, she replaced her own mask. "I'm a reasonable woman. If it makes you feel better, I'll keep this on while we talk about your taboos."
"Thank you," he said promptly.
"You're welcome. But a question occurs: Since you obviously don't believe the time is ripe for us to see each other barefaced, just how were you planning to eat dinner with me? My mask doesn't cover my mouth, but yours . . ."
At first she thought he was just clearing his throat, but that wordless noise was followed by an increasingly awkward silence. A mile later she said, "You hadn't really figured that part out yet, had you?"
"May I point out that you were the one who rushed me into this?" he inquired. "I had no intention of going out for dinner tonight until you . . . confiscated . . . that data-storage module. Of course I hadn't prepared any detailed plans on that basis!"
(Huntress rather thought that in the nick of time he had substituted "confiscated" for some harsher word, such as "stole." Of course she'd have pointed out that he had stolen the data in the first place, so claiming the moral high ground looked silly . . . anyway, he hadn't said it, so no need to get sidetracked.)
"Okay, okay, but you'd better believe you're stuck with me as a dinner date now. There must be a way to resolve this. How do you feel about cutting an opening across the lower part of your mask, and replacing the whole thing later—"
"No," he said emphatically.
"All right, then it's your turn to make a suggestion."
"We could arrange to eat the entire meal in complete darkness," he ventured.
She blinked. "Pay to rent a private room at a restaurant and then turn out the lights so you can take off your mask?"
"Or get takeout and carry it home to my apartment and turn out those lights, if need be. Either way could work."
Huntress shook her head. "I can just imagine both of us spilling things all over the place in those conditions. What a mess we'd have to clean up." A thought struck her. "Unless you've got lots of practice at deftly handling food with silverware in pitch black rooms?"
"Er . . . no."
"Me neither. Two people trying to learn that trick at once sounds like more trouble than it's worth."
The Question said, "So I've shot down your first suggestion and you've shot down mine. Any other ideas?"
She chewed her lower lip for a moment. "Seems to me that other members of the League must face such problems occasionally. Batman is rumored to be a master of disguise, and as for Nemesis, that's his main schtick! I suppose it's too much to hope that you keep a lifelike disguise stashed away for a rainy day; one that would let you eat without revealing your real features?"
"Never felt the need," he said flatly. "I suppose Nemesis or Batman would be willing to devise something for me, but they are probably working on other cases right now and would want to wrap those up before they took time out to do a friendly favor. I gather you want to have dinner tonight; not tomorrow or the day after?"
The dinner per se isn't so important, but I do want to make you relax for a few hours—specifically with me, and doing things not connected to your work. And since you offered dinner before the movie, I'm not going to let you weasel out of that part now.
She didn't say that. Instead: "Yes, that's still my objective. Let's hear another suggestion from your side."
"Huh. You know, you may have put your finger on a crucial point when you turned down my last offer."
"I mentioned turning out the lights during the meal and eating blind, and you said: 'Two people trying to learn that trick at once sounds like more trouble than it's worth.'"
"I think the key word in that sentence might be the number 'two.'"
She struggled to work that out. "You want only one of us at a time to sit down at the table, take off a mask and eat, while the other waits in the next room until it's his or her turn? I'm not sure you're grasping the whole point of 'sharing a friendly meal . . .'"
"Not quite what I meant. But if we grant that it would be inefficient to turn out the lights and have both of us floundering in the dark all through dinner . . ." His voice trailed off, and it occurred to her that he might be embarrassed.
"Just spit it out, Q. Where are you going with this line of thought?"
"Well . . . how do you feel about blindfolds?"
Huntress twisted her head to stare at him for a few seconds; then started laughing weakly as she visualized what he had in mind.
Guess there won't be any tender moments of gazing across the table, looking deep into each other's eyes, during this dinner date.
After a few more miles, The Question said defensively: "It was a serious suggestion."
She snickered one last time and then stifled it. "Yes, I knew that. It may even be workable. It's just that I don't know any guy except you who would have come up with that approach!"
She took a deep breath and continued. "Check me on this to see if we're on the same page. Since I can eat without taking off my mask, but you can't, I'd be the one wearing the blindfold at the table in your apartment while you were unmasked and could see everything clearly?"
"And I suppose you'd refill my glass when it was getting empty, and dish up second helpings onto my plate if I wanted them, and stop me if I were about to knock something over?"
"And when we agreed that we were done eating, you'd put your mask back on before you gave me the all-clear to remove the blindfold?"
"And then we'd go out to catch a late movie somewhere?"
"Okay! You silver-tongued devil, you talked me into it!"
"I did?" Whatever he did to his voice—electronic distorter, maybe?—when he had the mask on seemed to filter out some of the normal emotional overtones, but this time she was positive he was flabbergasted.
"Well, let's face facts. Your plan gives me what I wanted—dinner and a movie. Not quite how I had envisioned it happening, but the essential items are there. Given that I had to twist your arm to get that much, it behooves me to be willing to compromise on a few details in order to find an approach we can both live with."
"That's . . . very reasonable on your part," he said finally. "I just wasn't sure you'd be willing to look at it that way."
"But now you know." She leaned back in her seat to project the very picture of relaxation. "I hope you realize, though, that I don't let just anyone tie a blindfold on me."
"Of course not!" he said, sounding a trifle shocked at the very idea.
The negotiations had been bizarre; the dinner itself was fairly normal, even sedate, allowing for the minor oddity of the blindfold. They had settled on Chinese takeout. Lots of cute little cardboard containers giving forth savory odors. Q was quick to please whenever she expressed a wish for a bit more of this or a larger helping of that, and once it was on her plate, she could use a fork or spoon to move it up where it belonged without much trouble.
After Huntress made it clear she didn't want the table talk to be "work-related"—no mention of real-life supervillains, organized crime figures, or red-hot conspiracy theories—she and Q had found common ground in discussing the literary efforts of such mystery writers as Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, and Rex Stout. It came as no great surprise that Q tended to identify with one of Hammett's heroes, the "Continental Op" who had narrated the novels Red Harvest and The Dain Curse and many shorter adventures. Any name the Op ever offered in dialogue was an alias, and no real description of his face was ever provided in the text—making him a sort of proto-Question, if you wanted to look at it that way, despite the absence of a mask in the Op's lifestyle as a private detective in the Roaring Twenties.
By the time they were calling it quits on the other dishes and preparing to nibble on their fortune cookies, nothing untoward had happened, which was disappointing but not surprising from Huntress's perspective.
Normally, when a young woman was alone with a man and then he abruptly dimmed or doused the lights (or even found some excuse to blindfold her; that last variation being unprecedented in Helena Bertinelli's experience), she could reasonably assume the worst about his intentions. Who could forget Carlo Bigliotto, who thought his macho charisma was oozing from every pore? (His new front teeth looked just as good as the old ones ever had.)
Circumstances alter cases, though. Huntress had suspected "the worst," all right, but that phrase carried a whole different meaning this time around. She'd had a horrifying hunch from the beginning that Q was strictly on the level about his reasons for dining this way, and wasn't plotting to so much as steal a kiss after he had her blindfolded, unable to see it coming. The last half hour or so had not provided any evidence to the contrary. What was the world coming to when a girl couldn't even trust a guy to try to take advantage of her in the right time and place?
(Yes, she knew there were still plenty of other guys in the world who would have jumped at the chance to take advantage of her, but they weren't here and she didn't want them to be, so that didn't count.)
Still, it would hardly accomplish anything good to complain about Q's efforts to mind his manners and respect her personal space. She'd just have to keep working on him until he got a clue.
There was an odd hissing noise from across the table, and then he said: "You can take off the blindfold and read your fortune any time you please."
She complied. The printed slip of paper said: YOUR EVERLASTING PATIENCE WILL BE REWARDED SOONER OR LATER.
Huntress decided to consider that a good omen.
[To Be Concluded: The second chapter will show the discussion they have after they've finished watching the movie. I just have to make up my mind which movie it will be. Details, details!]
Author's Note: I've now written several stories that show us something of Q's perspective, or Huntress's, or both, on their budding romance. Since each story can stand alone, and I don't write them in the same order they happened, I post each as a separate item instead of trying to string it all together as one big serial. In case you care, here's the order in which these events are occurring, from the perspective of the young lovebirds.
1. "Second Date." (Happens shortly before the episode "Question Authority.")
2. "Dinner Date." (Happens during the episode "Question Authority.")
3. "Questionable Housekeeping." (Happens shortly after the episode "Divided We Fall.")
4. "Question of Protocol." (Happens a few days later, and Huntress does not appear onstage, although we learn something about other superheroes' attitudes regarding Q's involvement with her.)
5. "Filing System." (Happens during or after the final season of the show.)
Just recently I was kicking around a few more ideas about the duo. My first idea was for a story which would be a humorous movie review in the form of lively dialogue between Q and Huntress—and I decided the review would have to be of a movie many of us have seen in the real world, so that my target audience would have a better chance of appreciating Q's quirky viewpoint on whatever film I chose to show him criticizing. Then, as I was chewing on that idea, it occurred to me that I might want to make it a discussion of the first movie they ever saw together, an event which must have happened during their date "between the scenes" of "Question Authority." So far, so good . . .
Then, as I was still chewing on the idea, another thought hit me hard. They didn't just see a movie that night—they were talking about grabbing some dinner first. Which would seem to mean Q had to remove his pseudoderm mask before he could get any of the food into his mouth. Yet in the later episode "Flashpoint," when he was a patient in the Watchtower infirmary, Huntress didn't even know how he gets his mask off until he guided her through the process. And after that happened, his self-deprecating comment about being the ugliest guy in the world, and her reaction (affectionate disagreement), strongly implied that prior to that moment she had never seen the real face of Vic Sage, The Question!
"Hold on!" I said to myself. "Something's wrong with this picture. How did they previously dine together without Huntress ever getting a look at his face?"
I suspect that this was simply a plot hole overlooked by the show's producers at the time, but it was entertaining to start trying to imagine far-fetched scenarios to justify the apparent contradiction. I considered various explanations, and settled on what you've just read as my preferred answer. I hope you found it reasonably funny and convincing!