A/N: Unfortunate personal reasons prevented me from posting this last week, so let's pretend when I said next Wed/Thursday, I meant THIS Wed/Thursday. Specifically today. So enjoy the second and final part of my WonderBeetle adventure. Thank you for the praise and patience.
Also, I've decided writing cheesy battle dialogue is my favorite thing ever. No regrets were had in the creation of this fanfiction.
LATE NIGHT JUSTICE-ING
Cassie woke in a woozy haze of spinning floors and wavy walls.
Whatever those jerks had used, it was effective. Was this how it felt to be thoroughly, shamefully whupped? Sweaty strands of hair stuck to her forehead. The inside of her mouth tasted like copper. She had bitten her cheek mid-struggle. Plain metal handcuffs bound her hands and feet. She broke them with no more effort than snapping a pencil.
Soon her vision cleared enough to get a good look at the room. It resembled the inside of a bank vault, wheel lock and everything. The walls were solid steel. Punching through them would be a bitch. Beside her on the floor was Jaime. His armored face was still and expressionless. Without his customary bright orange eyes or quirk of a smile, he was almost a stranger. The thought gave her chills, and the reflex caused her to whack him across the face.
He stirred almost immediately, eyes screwed against the fluorescent lights. "Ouch," he croaked irritably.
"Wakey-wakey, sleeping beauty."
The suit peeled away, baring his face. Jaime felt around for the bump protruding from the back of his skull. "At least I got that nap I wanted," he muttered.
"How long have we been out?"
He checked his wrist screen. "Twenty minutes, give or take."
"You've gotta be kidding. That's it?" Too bad for their attackers. They probably thought it was mission accomplished already. It gave her no small amount of savage pleasure to think of their disappointed faces.
Jaime massaged his temples lightly. "My headache is clearing up already. This armor's made of stronger stuff than I thought."
"Ugh! I can't believe they got the drop on us. This is humiliating." Cassie punched a fist into her palm. "Come on, Blue. Grab your bug and let's bust out of here. I've got a notion where to stick those guns and it comes with a big heaping pile of payback."
Jaime quickly flung out an arm to block her. "Woah there, Wonder Girl. Remember what happened last time we rushed in, guns blazing? Plan first, then payback." He brushed the dirt off his armor and started circling the vault, scanner at the ready. "I'll start looking for a way out."
Ugh. This is what she got for inviting someone with a modicum of self control. She reluctantly leaned back against the vault's curved walls, arms crossed. "Recover and adapt. Right. Well, you've got the wrong girl for that. Batgirl's the one with the brains. I'm nothing but brawn."
"Don't be silly. You're much more than that," Jaime said, still absorbed in watching the scanner.
That sent some heat through her cheeks. Both the words and how matter of fact he had been, as though remarking upon the color of her hair.
Jaime continued pacing the room, not even noticing her flustered silence. He felt along the walls for their weakest point, musing aloud, "What did we do wrong? I mean, sure, we didn't have much of a plan, but how could they have known we were here?"
Cassie pinched her cheeks a few times to regain focus and raised a hand. "I have a theory about that actually. Do you think when the scarab made fireworks out of that security camera it shorted out all of them?"
Jaime paused for a moment, head cocked slightly. Then he slapped a hand to his forehead. "The scarab says, 'Affirmative. All surveillance systems were deactivated.'" He groaned. "Geez. No wonder they knew something was up. We need better communication, you and I," he grumbled at the beetle.
"That explains that at least." Cassie rolled a crick out of her neck.
Jaime eyed her warily. "You okay? What did they inject you with?"
"Some kind of tranquilizer. Must have had enough kick to take down a freaking elephant. It's almost worn off though." She stood and took a few shaky steps. At once Jaime was at her shoulder with a steady hand. "I'm good, Blue."
"You sure?" His hands lingered in the air still hoping to catch her.
"Yeah, no sweat." Cassie pumped her arms a few times and bounced lightly on her toes. "Just gotta get my blood flowing is all. Keep looking for our way out."
Jaime nodded and continued scanning the walls. Cassie felt a bit guilty for brushing him off. He was concerned, and that was sweet. He was a nice guy.
Wasn't that the problem? The world was full of nice guys like Jaime. Guys with bashful smiles and charming jokes and a flair for chivalry. But hand-in-hand with those traits came the guys who wanted to treat her like a delicate flower. To be the big strong man protecting her or else a shoulder to rest on.
And those guys? They never stuck around for long. Not once they discovered she could bench press a car and stop a speeding train. It kind of made their weight lifting records pale in comparison. For some reason there was nothing more damaging to the male ego than a girl who fought her own battles. Even less attractive was one who would slap anyone trying to stand between her and a good fight.
She had to hand it to Jaime, he handled her better than most. Granted, the other guys on the team had no problem standing back while she unleashed special cans of whoop-ass. They'd laugh and joke with her, run when she told them to go ahead, and dole out high-fives after a successful mission.
But Jaime kept looking at her like...well, there was no other way to describe it.
He saw her as a girl. And he wasn't too subtle about it either. She had been around enough stammering boys to know when they found her pretty.
It was...nice. Like an old nostalgic photograph she could look at and marvel at how small she had been. No one had looked at her like that for a while, even before she had joined the team.
But would it last? They were both relatively new to the team. So much still left undiscovered about each other. No matter how many times her cheeks flushed or his smile enchanted her, no matter how cute it was when he slipped bits of Spanish into conversation, or when his eyes lingered on her when she smiled. The dark niggling corners of her heart knew better.
Deep down she knew the day would come when she looked at Jaime and found disgruntled, frustrated, disinterested eyes staring back at her. The day he no longer found her amazing. And Cassie wasn't ready to take that risk.
"As far as I can tell, this joint is the weakest," Jaime interrupted her reverie, pointing at a crease in the iron door. "One concentrated blast should take it out without making much noise. From there we'll need to find a better vantage point on the hostages, if they haven't been moved."
"Great, sounds close enough to a plan. Let's -" The words died on her tongue.
Jaime stood motionless. His eyes fixed upon the laser extending from his sleeve. His free hand was clenched tightly, trembling slightly from the effort.
He jumped a little, startled. "Sorry." He took a deep breath. "You know, I've been thinking, maybe there's a better way to do this. This mission...I'm starting to think it's over our heads. Maybe we could call Nightwing and-"
This wasn't like him. This wasn't Blue at all.
In the short time they had known each other, Jaime was one of the first ones out of the gate, always hoping for an Alpha assignment, pretending he didn't care about getting stuck on Gamma, and eager to stick it to the bad guys. They were the same in that respect. To hesitate like this, after they had come all this way, something was very, very wrong.
Cassie stood in his path, putting a halt to his avoidant gaze, and placed a warm hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong?" she asked seriously. No trace of teasing or good-natured humor.
"Nothing," he lied.
She frowned with impatience. "You're not going anywhere until you get this off your chest. If you go out there conflicted, you'll get hurt, maybe even killed."
Jaime gave a short, humorless laugh. "Like the scarab would let that happen. It's really nothing. Just feeling a bit of self-doubt. No big deal."
"Tell me about it."
"Look, I appreciate what you're doing, but we don't have time for this."
She swallowed the desire to punch answers out of him. "Tell me," she implored. "Please. We're a team. Teammates look out for each other. And that means sharing. Now share and share fast."
That seemed to work. She filed the information away to always appeal to teamwork when it came to convincing.
He rubbed the back of his neck, deliberately avoiding her gaze, and cleared his throat. "Do you ever feel...I don't know, more nervous about fighting normal people than aliens?"
Cassie's eyebrows rose slightly. That's all this was? "Sure," she answered carefully. "I always have to consciously hold back my strength so I don't end up knocking their teeth into their skull, if that's what you mean. Why? Are you afraid of hurting these guys? You never mentioned it before."
"Well...ever since they got the drop on us back there, I've been wondering what I could've done better. And then I realized," he took a shaky breath. "Even with all this suit can do, there wasn't a single weapon that could've immobilized them and not blown up everyone in the room. Everything that came to mind was a cannon, or a laser."
He chanced a glance at her, as though waiting for her to yell at him or run away. Instead, she nodded, her eyes clear and focused. "Go on."
"When I first got this suit, I thought it was a blessing. A way to make me, like, heroic or something." Cassie remembered the first time she saw him, zooming happily to school and still managing to be late. She remembered how cute she thought he was. "But now I know better," he said firmly. "It's a weapon. That's all it ever was." He flexed his fingers mournfully. "The power I use to save people is the very one that could rip them apart. And I'm still struggling just to reign it in. It's not just me in here, remember? The scarab has a say too. What if one day I wake up and the scarab's in control? Can you imagine? You would all come right up to me and before you can say 'Buenos dias, Jaime,' the suit blasts a hole in your head."
"You can't know that," she said softly.
"And you can't know I won't lose control," He sighed and pressed a fist to his forehead. She could almost see the stress building up behind him like a bursting dam. "I...I think you chose the wrong person for your mission partner. That's all."
What was there to say? How does one comfort a conflicted friend when his problem is a sentient space beetle playing shoulder devil? Some sensitive, comforting words came to mind. A few speeches Wonder Woman had given her, a few lectures from her mom, and at least one after school special heart warmer that felt just sappy enough to work.
But Cassie didn't work well with sappy.
"Blue. If you weren't wearing that armor, I punch you so hard right now."
Jaime nearly got whip lash, his head snapped around so fast. "Huh?"
"You think you're the first person with superpowers to think that? Once, I almost ripped a kid's arm off because he challenged me to arm wrestling and, you know me, I can't back down!" She squeezed his shoulder tightly. "But that's why we're on this team. To grow and control our powers so that one day when the time comes to help people we won't need to hesitate."
"No but's!" she interrupted. "It's fine to be nervous. Really, it is. But don't forget you're not alone here. You've got me! I'll always be looking out for you."
Jaime's eyes brightened. "Yeah?"
"Of course. You watch my back, I'll watch yours. That's how teamwork goes."
His face wilted a bit. "Oh, of course." He slapped his face a few times, screwing up his determination. "Heh, you were right. I feel much better."
Cassie exhaled a long breath of relief. There was nothing scarier than a conflicted partner. She knew better than anyone that's how mistakes were made. It was almost a bit jarring for her to be the calm headed one for once. This mission was bringing out sides of her she had no idea existed.
She slapped him quickly on the shoulder, grinning. "That's more like it! So, you got a plan?"
"Actually, I think I do." Jaime thought for a moment, studying her closely. "How would you feel about a little more acting?"
The silence was absolute in the packaging room, broken ever so slightly by low mutters and a kicked pebble here or there. One man was checking his gun repeatedly as though afraid a light breeze would knock the clip right out. They were tense. It was understandable. They were under the same roof as two super kids. Whether they were conscious or not, that was a difficult position to be in. At first there had been the usual surge of adrenaline that came with momentary triumph over crazy powerful rivals, but it had been soon replaced by effervescent fear.
It begged the unspoken question. Who else knew? Would they be besieged by Superman, waylaid by Green Arrow, eviscerated by Wonder Woman?
It was almost poetic, Jaime thought. They were holding out for some fear of the Justice League when the real dangers were still in high school and kneeling right outside in the hallway. Only one automatic door stood between them and the hostages. And about twenty armed men. In the corner of his eye he could see a small trail of unconscious bodies they had silently knocked out and dragged away. It had been surprisingly easy to accomplish once he had had the heart-to-heart with Cassie. He could feel his fear dissipating with every step she was beside him. She really was incredible.
But now it was on to business. "Let's try this again," he whispered. "Scarab, can you jam all electronic frequencies in the area?"
The scarab complied. A nearby guard's walkie-talkie fizzled out. He pulled it out for inspection, befuzzled.
"Now kill the lights."
At once the halls were plunged into darkness. Panic spread like wildfire, coupled with the successive clicks of armed rifles. Their frantic yells reverberated around the room.
"We've got company! The super brats are awake!"
"Toldja sedatives wouldn't work!"
"What do we do?!"
Cassie seized the moment to stride into the room, her head thrust forward and shoulders swaggering from side to side. Battle spirit practically sparked from her fingers. "Nothing," she called out with a smirk. "Now, drop your weapons or my blue friend here makes creams brûlée out of your brains!"
"Any chance we can come out of this not sounding like mobsters?" Jaime hissed from the corner of his mouth.
Again, that dangerous glimmer in her eyes. "Where's the fun in that?" she whispered back.
He resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. "Ready?"
Jaime cleared his throat. "Ahem, friends? We are not friends, human!"
Cassie gasped, her eyes wide and shimmering. "What!"
He unsheathed a plasma blaster. It hurt to point an actual weapon at her, but she had insisted for authenticity. "Stand with the others and await your destruction."
"Are you betraying me?" she demanded.
"I would never ally myself with you tiny earthlings in the first place! Ha ha ha!" he laughed stiffly. Beside him, Cassie cringed. There hadn't been time to work on his diabolical laughter.
But it didn't seem to matter to the men. They were so bewildered, several had dropped their weapons and one or two had snuck out the back.
If they were going to move, it had to be now. Jaime conveyed his thoughts with a look, and Cassie gave a minute nod. Now came the tricky part.
"Traitor!" Cassie lunged into a clumsy punch.
He seized her arm and threw her against the opposite wall where she smashed into a pile of empty boxes, crushing the cardboard frames with a sickening crunch. For a terrifying moment, he feared he had actually harmed her and bit back a yell. The men were staring, terrified.
Only when he caught a glimpse of blonde hair shifting among the wreckage did he continue the act. It was working. Their plan was actually working!
"Now then," he continued, waving the cannon in a haphazard attempt at nonchalance. "Which of you is el jefe around here?"
A scruffy man with biceps the size of melons and a jagged scar tailing from earlobe to collar bone stepped forward. There was no doubt; he was the man from the article. His walk had a cocky swagger and a rather large machine gun was mounted over his shoulder.
"That'd be me. Hombre." He cocked the weapon and blasted a stream of bullets directly at Jaime. They glanced off the armor with no effect.
Out came the horrified gasps of his men. "Boss, what are you doing!"
The boss gave them a despairing look, clearly disgusted at having to work with such imbeciles. "Get your heads of your asses, idiots! They're just kids! And what kind of alien speaks Spanish?"
"Hey!" another one shouted. "That chick is trying to free the hostages!"
Cassie had just finished untying the girls' bonds. Her head shot up guiltily.
"It's a trick!"
"Shoot 'em! Shoot all of 'em!"
Cassie fell directly in front of the girls. The bullets skimmed off her bracelets with subsequent pings. "Sorry boys, no time to play. Blue, little help?"
Jaime nodded. His sonic cannon started charging with a high-pitched whine, enough to draw the men's attention. "Okay, you caught me," he said. "I'm a fake alien. Unfortunately for you, my toys are real."
The cannon emitted a crippling discharge of sound waves, blasting apart the floor. The men ran and dodged for cover. Amidst the settling clouds of dust, Jaime jumped through the air and landed at Cassie's side.
"Well, that was fun while it lasted," she said with a conversational air, idly blocking a few stray bullets like swatting flies. "Now what?"
Jaime detached the girls from where they clung to Cassie and tucked one under each arm like large, squirming footballs. "Run!"
One girl's flailing fingers nearly lodged up his nose in her desperate attempts to escape his grip. "Aah! Alien! Lemme go!" she cried.
"I'm not a - oh, forget it! I'm trying to save your life, ok? So quit trying to hit me!"
They sped through the halls, Cassie flying backwards to ward off bullets with her bracelets. Jaime had never flown so fast in his life, especially not while carrying a terrified little girl under his arm. Their enemies gave up chasing soon after realizing it was pointless and decided to expedite the process by simply shooting everything in their path.
"Wonder Girl!" Jaime called over the hailstorm of firing. "We need to get to the main manufacturing room. It has a glass skylight, we can break right through it! But we need to take care of these guys first!" He jabbed a thumb behind him at their pursuers.
"Say no more, I am all over it!" Cassie whirled around mid-flight, her feet skidding backwards in the floor grinding her to a halt, and raised one fist in the air. With a cheeky grin in place, she smashed the ground at full-strength, emitting a shock wave that tore up the cement. The destroyed floor rose in a wave, toppling the men like dominoes.
The stupidly brave ones who avoided the blow charged after them. Cassie cracked her knuckles, eyes gleaming with anticipation.
"All right, boys," she murmured to herself. "You wanna dance? Only one song left. Who wants it?"
Foe after foe collapsed within reaching two feet of her. Some flew through the air, arms wriggling to cushion the fall; others slid painfully on the ground like clumsy baseball runners sliding headfirst into home plate. Cassie was in her element. Her hair spun in a halo, dipping and weaving with each of her fluid movements. She was the picture of unrefined grace.
Jaime could only gape in awe.
Soon they had reached their exit, just as Cassie was on her last set of thugs. She punched one man, kicked another, and grabbed the one attempting to stab her from behind by the neck, pulling him over her own head and flinging him into the other two so that they all tumbled to the ground. Hard.
"Steee-rike!" she whooped.
"Nice work," Jaime remarked, gazing out at the second trail of unconscious bodies they had left in one day. He aimed a cannon at the skylight and blew it out. Shards of dirty glass tinkled to the floor, revealing the bright night sky above them. Freedom.
"Let's get out of-" A large shadow barrelling in from an unknown entrance made him stop. Apparently the boss knew a second way around the warehouse and had made a pitstop while his workers were busy having their butts handed to them. Rows of bullets were draped around the man's torso, feeding into the largest machine gun Jaime had ever seen.
In less than a second, both understood the situation. Cassie grabbed both girls and tucked both to her chest, blocking them with her body while Jaime stood in front and created a shield. The bullets peppered the shield with explosive force, but he held them back, digging his heels into the ground. He would not give in here. Not considering what was at stake.
"C'mere," Jaime beckoned Cassie closer. It took all of his self-restraint not to blush when she leaned in. Their faces were a mere inch apart. "Listen, when he stops to reload - which should be any minute now - we move. I'll charge him, you fly those two out of here."
"Got it." Cassie tightened her hold on the girls and whispered comforting words to calm their frazzled nerves.
The bullets seemed endless. With each deflection, Jaime's confidence wavered. The man's psychotic laughter didn't help either. It was lucky he was keeping his distance, and Jaime didn't blame him. Why risk close quarters combat when you could just shoot and shoot until the shields gave in?
The girls' sobs grew stronger with every storm of bullets that bounced past them, peppering the back wall. Jaime wished he could show them his real face and soothe them like Cassie could. No matter how hard he looked, he couldn't shake the image of his own little sister in them. Milagro. If she ever got involved with kind of situation...Jaime didn't even want to picture it.
It was then that he noticed. The girls were still wearing ratty pajamas. Colorful cartoon characters gambolled around the dirty fabric. Clearly they had been stolen from their beds some time ago. The tattered sleeves revealed unnaturally dark shadows on their forearms. Bruises. Black and purple sausage-like fingerprints with mottled green edges.
Madre de Dios. He squeezed his eyes shut against hot stinging tears. Jaime had seen these kinds of bruises before. Old, barely healed, little to no medical treatment. One of the cuts had a half-peeled Hello Kitty bandage sticking loosely to her skin. It was Tye and Maurice all over again.
Anger, white-hot and burning, surging through every muscle in his body, every follicle in his hair.
He was so enraged he almost missed the split second of silence when the bullets ran out. They moved as one. Cassie shot up upwards, clutching onto both girls like two squirming, shrieking pillows. Jaime charged, plasma gun unleashed. The first blast was non-lethal and sent the man flying into a pile of boxes, but the man's gun was still shooting. The bullets sprayed in a chaotic arc up to the ceiling, almost grazing Cassie. The girls screamed, clutching at Cassie with every ounce of strength they had left. She winced at their scrabbling nails.
Another blast disintegrated the gun. "Wonder Girl, everyone okay?" he called in a panic.
Cassie checked the girls over and breathed a sigh of relief. "We're fine, Blue."
"All right. Get those two out of here. I'll clean up here."
Cassie eyes narrowed. She could hear the fury pulsing underneath his voice, slowly ebbing between his words. "Blue..." she started.
Blood was pumping too loudly in his ears for him to think. "It's cool, I got this."
She nodded stiffly, and darted up to the blasted window. He waited for the red hem of her pants to disappear. Cassie didn't need to see this side of him. This side he had no idea existed.
Just seeing the man's face refreshed his rage. He pulled the man up to eye level. With any luck the insect eyes of the suit would put the fear of God in him. "Listen up, cabron," he seethed."Because I'm talking now. You think you're a big man for this? Do you have any idea what you put those girls through? Well? DO YOU?!"
But the man was barely conscious, only half registering Jaime's words. Enraged, Jaime seized the man's collar and dragged him into the air. He could feel the scarab vibrate with joy at a chance for control.
"It's because of you...men like you!" His right arm lifted, fingers curled for a punch. Machinery snaked around his arm, forming the muzzle of a cannon. He could hardly feel his limbs anymore. All sensation was replaced by cold, burning rage. He was mad at everyone and everything. At Tye for leaving, at Maurice for driving him out, at Tye's mom for staying with that monster, and at the people who kidnapped him. More than anyone, he was angry with himself for not reaching Tye in time, for not dropping everything to find him. For not being strong enough.
He stopped. Cassie was floating at his shoulder. She came back. She had returned for his sake. Pulling at his arm the way she always did. He could feel her warm fingertips lightly brushing against his shoulder even through the thick armor shell. He could see the sympathy in her eyes, but hear the ferocity in her voice.
"That's enough." With a firm, steady hand she uncurled his grip around the dirtbag's shirt and pulled back into the air by his upper arm.
They flew in silence until she dragged to a far off building's rooftop. He could still see the darkened warehouse in the distance. The man was still there. Unconscious, but still able to move. What if he woke up? What if he got away before the cops arrived? What if he left state, changed his name, maybe settle down with another little family for safety and terrorized more kids? Try as he might, Jaime couldn't shake the desire to cripple that man for life.
"Let me go back. That jerk and I have unfinished business."
"But Cassie, you saw what he did, what he was going to do!"
"I understand," she said. "I really do. But you need to let it go. The police will be there soon and-
A half-hearted laugh escaped him. "The police? Now you want to let them do their jobs? I thought the whole point of this stupid late night excursion was to fix their mistakes!"
She bit her lip. That point had sunk deep. Jaime was too angry to notice.
"What do you want to do, Jaime? Go back and what? Cripple him?"
"For starters." He muttered. The voice didn't even sound like his own.
Her eyes grew wide, her lip quivered slightly. If he didn't know better, he might have thought she was on the verge of tears. But why would she cry over him? "Stop," she said. "Do you hear yourself? This isn't you, Jaime."
Jaime threw his hands up in frustration. "How do you know! To everyone else I'm just another alien, maybe they're right! Maybe that's what I've become thanks to this stupid thing! A monster!"
Cassie's fists clenched. Any sign of teary eyes were replaced with the righteous anger he was accustomed to seeing on her face. He braced himself for inevitable punch.
But before he could breathe, Cassie had pulled him into a rough hug. The shock of her contact was enough to soften the hatred boiling under his skin. All he could feel was her. In tandem, their knees sank to the ground, and both pairs of hands tightened around the other's back.
"You are not a monster," she said in a low, fervent voice. "And if you ever say that again, I will punch you."
He couldn't remember how long they stayed like that, locked in the other's embrace. He only remembered how cold his arms felt when it was over.
With no knowledge of the city and only the children's vague memories of their address, Jaime and Cassie searched for somewhere safe and enclosed to wait for the police to show.
"Really?" Cassie commented dryly. "A public park?"
"Where else were we supposed to take them?" Jaime hissed. "Besides, kids like parks. It might make them less..." He gestured minutely to the former hostages.
The girls had not released Cassie's hands since touching down in the park. They peeked at Jaime through webbed fingers, yelping in surprise when he turned to look at them, and darting behind Cassie's legs.
"Um, Blue? You can armor down now." Cassie suggested.
"I'm trying. The scarab's being difficult again," Jaime started tugging at the inky black armor covering his scalp. The girls shrunk back even further. "Don't worry, I have a face, I swear. It's in here somewhere..." He pulled harder and the material snapped back like a rubber band. "Oh, come on, they're not a security threat, they're kids! Would you just - agh!"
He continued pulling at the armor, yelling a few choice phrases in Spanish that Cassie was glad she didn't understand. To her surprise, the girls watched the spectacle and slowly began to lapse into quiet giggles. Even she couldn't hold back a smile watching Jaime stumble around violently and calling his suit "idiota."
"Glad you're enjoying yourselves," he remarked gloomily after noticing their laughter.
"Sssh, it's working!" Cassie beckoned the girls closer, a wicked sparkle in her eyes. "Why don't you try asking him questions about the suit?" she whispered in a conspiratorial undertone.
The younger of the two straightened immediately and asked, "Mr. Alien. Why are you blue?"
"Yeah, Mr. Alien," the other one piped up. "Everyone knows aliens are green."
Jaime frowned, as Cassie knew he would. "Let's get something straight, okay? I am not an alien, comprendes? I am wearing alien armor. There's a difference." Jaime suddenly grabbed the side of his head. "No, this isn't an interrogation, they're just baiting you! Dude, you are being played by little girls! No, stop it, argh!" Soon Jaime began stumbling around again, trying to force the cannon back into his arm in a drunken dance.
The girls began to laugh uncontrollably, and Cassie knew the barrier between them had broken. In fact, once they likened the suit to Dora the Explorer's backpack - ("Because you talk to it in Spanish and cool stuff comes out!") - fear quickly became a non-issue. Cassie stood off to the side and observed as they poked Jaime for hidden compartments, squealing with joy when he showed them his wings. Never mind that he was trying to prevent them from being incinerated the whole time.
Less than half an hour passed before they heard echoing police sirens drawing nearer to their location.
"Time to go, Blue," Cassie called. The girls wailed with disappointment, clutching to Jaime's arms and legs like koalas.
He lowered the girls to the ground. "Girls," he said seriously. "Wonder Girl and me, we're superheroes, right? But you have to keep it a secret. Otherwise - uh...we'll lose our superpowers! Then we won't be able to help people any more. So can you promise not to tell anyone, not even your mom?"
"We won't tell, pinky swear!" They chimed in unison, hooking pinkies with Jaime's armor plated ones.
Two quick hugs goodbye and off they sprinted through the bushes to greet the cop cars. A frantic looking woman sprung from the foremost car, dropped to her knees, and collected her children in a tight hug. The scene brought a brief tear to Cassie's eye. This is why she became a superhero, she thought. This was the moment every hero fights for. And it was so goddamn beautiful each and every time.
Jaime and Cassie hid behind the bushes until the last car left, headlights blinking in the distance. Flushed with success and bursting with accomplishment, the two collapsed on a nearby bench, their legs sprawled and heads leaning back to the sky, only to realize it was officially morning. Already the first pink rays of dawn were beginning to stain the clouds.
They exchanged a cautious glance. Technically, there was nothing left for them here. The girls were safe, the bad guys finished, the day saved. Like it or not, their mission was over.
Jaime de-armored with a groan and jammed his hands into his sweatshirt pockets. "Ay dios mio," he grumbled. "I've got school in, like, three hours."
"Me too," Cassie sighed. "Oh well. It's only a matter of time before Nightwing figures out where we are. What to do until then?"
Neither moved an inch. Their feet were rooted to the ground. Whoever made the first move would determine how the night ended. And Cassie wasn't about to let Jaime beat her to the punch. In the midst of wondering what to do, she caught a glimpse the swing set, swaying slightly in the light morning breeze.
Her eyes sparkled with intrigue. "I've got an idea."
Jaime frowned slightly. "The thought of you and ideas gives me chills."
She rolled her eyes playfully and sprinted towards the nearby swing set. In one leaping bound she landed feet first on the seat. The momentum caused her to swing high into the air. Her knees buckled slightly when it swung backwards like a shaky pendulum. She could hear Jaime laughing on the ground. "Come on!" she encouraged him.
He took a seat on the adjacent swing, watching her with laughter in his eyes. "I hate to break it to you, but you're doing it wrong."
"For one thing, you're not actually sitting."
Cassie had given up on gravity and was hanging upside from the metal bar like a monkey. She flipped off and floated back to the ground. "All right then. Teach me the 'right way' to have fun. If you can."
"Lesson one," Jaime started pumping his legs to get the swing going. "Use your legs. When you get near the bottom, kick out again." He was making gradual progress back and forth through the sky. "That's it. Just don't fly."
She obliged. It was slow, dull effort. Gravity. So overrated. Not that it didn't have an upside. When she had trouble keeping her strength down long enough to kick off without blasting a small valley in the wood chips, Jaime grabbed the chains of her swing to lead her. Soon they were swinging at the same comfortable pace, holding their opposing chains.
"I bet this is the closest normal people can get to flying," Cassie mused thoughtfully.
"Welcome to mortality," Jaime laughed. "I guess it's a good thing we're nothing close to normal, right?"
She bit her lip. Normal. Her definition of it was changing every day.
Somehow this felt like the perfect opening for a final test of his feelings. And hers as well, she supposed. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
"You don't think it's...weird for me - as a girl - to be strong? I mean, powers or no powers. Would you rather fight your own battles?"
Jaime let out of a derisive laugh. "Ha! Are you kidding?" He tapped the side of his head. "Mírame, Cassie, I've got a murderous psychopathic insect talking in my brain. You saved my butt back there. And if there's anyone who needs occasional saving it's me." She frowned and opened her mouth to protest. "Yeah, I know what you said earlier and I'm beyond grateful," he said. "But it doesn't change the fact that I still might be dangerous. This team...working together with you and the others, it's going to save me, I just know it."
His gaze nearly bore a hole through her skin. Without thinking her head whipped away, very gracefully tangling her hair in the chain links near his fingers. Jaime laughed and started concentrating on freeing the strands. She moved her head closer, allowing the strands to slacken between them. He had such long eyelashes, she observed.
"Then I guess someone has to look out for you," she said quietly, unable to tear her eyes away.
Neither knew how, but their heads had reflexively bent close together. Mere inches of air separated them. Enough to feel the slightest breath.
Jaime finally untangled her hair and, in an uncharacteristically daring move, tucked it back behind her hood, allowing his thumb to brush against her cheek. "And I'm glad it's you."
In that moment, Cassie could feel the air disappear. Like some giant vacuum had sucked it from the sky. Her lungs wanted to breathe in, but he was too close. So, so close.
Something greater than instinct caused her to close the distance between them. It felt like natural progression. First there was space, then there was him. The warmth of his lips pressing against hers. Small and light. Nothing more than a whisper of a kiss. But it was enough. It was everything-
The angry buzzing of their radios split the air with such force that they both jumped. Each released their grips on the swing chains causing them to be literally flung apart.
"Blue Beetle, Wonder Girl, report! Where are you!" Nightwing's furious voice blared from the screen.
There goes the mood, she thought mournfully watching Jaime's swing fall away.
Her cheeks still blazed with fiery heat. She could've sworn they had turned their communicators off. Then again, knowing their brilliant leader, hacking into two inactive coms was probably a cakewalk.
Jaime cringed, mentally preparing for the verbal backlash. "Blue Beetle here -"
"Return to the Cave, immediately! We'll talk about your serious infringement when you get back. Nightwing out."
Cassie and Jaime exchanged an uneasy glance.
"How much do you think he knows?"
"Well, I don't think I need to tell you what went wrong last night."
"But he's going to anyway," Cassie hissed in an undertone only Jaime could hear.
Nightwing ignored her. His arms were crossed angrily in front of the blue wings emblazoned on his sculpted chest. Even "You hacked the mission logs, took it upon yourselves to go on a self-assigned solo mission without telling anyone in the midst of a crisis, and put countless civilians at risk. We're scanning the entire globe for unauthorized alien tech, did you really think we wouldn't notice?"
Nightwing's voice bounced around the domed ceilings, ringing angrily in their ears. Jaime and Cassie flinched at every ruthless syllable.
"You're both unseasoned, reckless, and - do I have to say it? - you stand out!" he continued. "If those cameras had been operational, both your faces would be plastered all over the evening news! What part of covert operations do you not understand! Especially Blue Beetle, in case you've forgotten the public is a bit torn about aliens right now."
"And nothing screams alien than me, we get it. We're really -"
"I'm not done. You put yourselves, innocents, and your team at great risk." Nightwing took a deep breath. The two cringed, awaiting the final blow, but instead saw his shoulders unclench and his face relax. "But you also saved the lives of two innocent girls and prevented widespread distribution of military firearms to the biggest crime syndicates in the country. So...nice work."
Jaime and Cassie's eyes lit up. They shared a quick grin before he added, "But don't do it again. And report back here after school for extra training with Black Canary. By the time she's done with you, you'll be sweating out your impulsiveness until you understand the definition of priorities."
The two junior heroes nearly shivered facing the brunt of his commanding aura, but it as they turned to leave they saw the shadow of a half-smile. His threats were empty, and they all knew it.
Dick watched Jaime and Cassie leave, the two of them were practically skipping with joy. He wondered briefly if he had been too soft on them, and made plans for a stricter lecture next time. Maybe he would ask Bruce for some pointers-
Recognized: Zatanna. Two. Five.
He smiled. Even without the electronic voice, the staccato clicking of Zatanna's heels was enough to identify her.
"Welcome back," Dick greeted her.
"You finish giving them the angry daddy treatment?" she quipped, striding up to him at the control panel.
"You just missed it. Thanks again for helping out."
"My pleasure," she replied. "It was fun."
"What did you think?"
"They make a good team. They balance each other out nicely. Blue was looking a bit shaky towards the end, but as long as they have each other - and the team, of course - I think they'll be just fine."
"That's good to hear." Dick let out a quiet breath. Not that there had been much doubt, but it was still a relief to hear. He looked her up and down, eyes sparkling with curiosity. "I gotta know, what form did you use undercover?"
Zatanna grinned mischievously, waved a hand, and chanted, "Egnahc otni ym suoiverp esiugsid." Immediately the hair shortened, the skin bloated, the features shaped into a rough man's stubble, the clothes transformed to a dirty apron, and she shot up several inches. There, completely unrecognizable, was a older rotund man.
Dick bit back a laugh and nodded approvingly. "Wow. And who exactly is this character of yours?"
The man in Zatanna's place smiled. "Bartender at a college bar."
"Very nice. Complete opposite of yourself."
Another spell and his ravishing ex-girlfriend appeared once again. "And they have no idea you orchestrated the whole thing?" she asked.
Dick shook his head with a small sigh. "Not a clue. To be honest, I was sure they would've figured it out. Since when have we ever passed up a case, no matter how big or small?"
"Still, they did good out there. I'd give them a B plus, maybe A minus. They've got a lot to learn, but at least they're in good hands here."
His eyebrows raised slightly. "High praise coming from you. Our newest members did that well? I predicted as much."
She chuckled warmly. "You sound so proud."
"Of course I am," Dick said, chest puffed slightly. "They're my team."
"Naturally." Zatanna reached to cup his cheek and planted a chaste kiss on his cheek. She waved over her shoulder, strutting back to the zeta tubes. "Good work, leader."
After all that had happened between them, Jaime wasn't expecting to see Cassie for another few days at least. He thought she might be abiding by that unspoken three days rule, to truly test if their feelings were genuine. Jaime knew he didn't need any test. Every blonde head of hair in a crowd was Cassie's, every whispered conversation could have been her voice in his ear, and every bruise he received during his intensive punishment session with Black Canary was a reminder of that night. Their night.
So when his mother called him to the door the following afternoon, the last thing he was expecting was to find Cassie, standing on his doorstep wearing civvies and a pink cheeked smile.
"Thought I'd try the front door this time," she grinned.
No matter how his heart leapt at the sight of her, a flashing red light of deja vu went off in his head. He stuck a hand out to stop her. "Oh no, not another solo mission, por favor."
"No, no, nothing like that. Our little adventure the other day really wore me out, actually. I could really blow off some steam after that. So I was wondering if you wanted to go out -" Jaime's breath hitched in his throat, "and train a bit?"
His brows narrowed in confusion. It was a strange request, considering the bruises from Black Canary's special training session the previous day hadn't even healed. "You came all the way out here just to train? What about at the Cave?"
"Oh, well, I was just in the neighborhood, you know, and I thought..." She stamped her foot with impatience. Excuses were not her style, he could tell. "Look, are you in or out?"
Jaime bit back a laugh. For a second there she had looked so...was there a word for it? Almost shy, demure even. Like this wasn't something she did often. Or ever. Was there any physically possible way to turn that down?
"In!" he said, a little too quickly. "Definitely in. Just let me get my jacket, okay?"
His mother turned her head curiously at the sight of him sprinting through the house, almost ripping his coat in the process of pulling it on mid-run. "More of your special extra curriculars?" she asked, laughter dancing in her eyes.
"Not this time," he grinned. Coming down the stairs he could feel his feet lift through the air. The split second of weightless soaring was the closest he had ever felt to flying without the suit. "I've got a date."
Obligatory Spanish Glossary Pt. 2
El jefe = the boss
Hombre = man (used here in a "dude/bro" context)
Madre de Dios = Mother of God (exclamation)
cabron = Bastard, asshole, insert inappropriate cuss of your choice here
comprendes? = do you understand?
Mírame = Look at me