The girls take it about as well as he expected they would.
Jade is furiously angry. Her eyes blaze with a rage that he's only seen so far when someone says the name "Deathstroke." She clenches her fists and says three words. "I'll kill her."
"Jade, we can't." That's Artemis. "It's not her fault. She didn't ask for this. We can help her."
"It's not Mother, Artemis. It's a thing. It's a mockery of her. Mother would hate it. She would hate being copied like that. We owe it to her to destroy it."
"Jade, it's like having Mom back-"
"It's not our mother!"
"Jade. Artemis." He understands Jade's angry- shares it, even. Part of him even has some of Artemis' hope. He doesn't want to see this Other Paula killed. He doesn't want her near his girls, but he doesn't want her destroyed. It'd be like seeing his wife die all over again … "This isn't helping. I told you because I didn't want you blindsided. I know Ras. I know the Shadows. They'll use this. They'll use your anger, Jade- they'll use your hope, Artemis. Your better than this. Stronger than this. Both of you. Now you know she's out there, and you can deal with it."
"'Deal with it'? Just how are we supposed to do that, Daddy Dearest?" Jade raises an eyebrow and looked at him with something that's a cross between annoyance and anger.
"By doing what they don't expect." He smiles at her. He smiles at both of them. They're his girls. They can succeed even where he'd fail.
Jade looks at him. Artemis looks at him. Then they look at each other.
And they smile.
He doesn't ask them what they're planning. He doesn't tell them what to do. They're his girls. They have everything he taught them, everything that Paula showed them, and all they have learned from Black Canary and their Team.
He trusts them. He believes in them. And he does the hardest thing a man, a father, can do:
He lets them fight their own battles.
He's not surprised at all a week later when Black Canary shows up to tell him how the girls' Team has taken down Other Paula and several other of the villains (and he can't believe that he's come to use that term without irony) that had been plaguing them since they had first busted Superboy out of Project Cadmus.
"They fell for it hook, line and sinker. You would think that Luthor would have been smarter than that. He is supposed to be a genius after all." Black Canary- no, Dinah- murmured with a smile.
"Doesn't surprise me at all. Luthor- all of them- operate under the assumption that you can't trust anyone." He likes the way she smiles at him. Likes it in a way that he's not sure is the best of ideas, but he can't stop the feeling. "The kids trusted each other- trusted each other enough they could share their secrets. Once that was done … once that was done, they had no other leverage." He shrugs. "It's probably a good idea that Luthor didn't simply try to bond with Superboy. God knows that Superman's doing a lousy job of it."
"He really has made a mess of things," Dinah admitted. "Fortunately, Superboy has the team in his corner- and you." And there's something in her eyes that makes him nervous.
He looks away. "I haven't done anything special. The boy just needs someone to listen to him."
She reaches out and took his hand. "You're always doing that."
"Doing what?" Her hands are warm. And for a martial artist, they feel surprisingly soft.
"Acting like you're useless. The kids trust you, you know. Not just the girls. But Superboy, Kid Flash- all of them trust you more than anyone else. Even me."
He tries to pull away from her hand, but she holds onto it with that surprising strength. "I don't think so. You're their teacher."
"So are you. They've all learned something from you. Even Robin. That's why Batman wanted you here. You're a good man, Lawrence Crock."
"No. I ain't. I've done terrible things. Things that can't be forgiven." It's why he can't look her in the eye.
"I know you believe that, Lawrence." Her lips seem to caress his name, and she lets go of his hand and touches his face. "It's one of your more endearing qualities. You know when to feel guilty about something. It's one of the things I like about you. One of the many things I like about you..."
"I like the way you say my name, Lawrence. That's why I trusted you with my real name." She breathes into his ear. "Say my name again, Lawrence."
"Dinah … This isn't ..."
"It's so cute when you act like this, Lawrence. Act like you don't want me to be this close to you." She nuzzles his neck. "Act like you don't want me to touch you … when we both know it's what you want more than anything else."
"No ..." He wants this. He wants her. But … "Arrow. What about Arrow?"
"Arrow? Ah, yes. Green Arrow. He's a hero. He's supposed to be a hero, but he never apologizes, Lawrence. No matter what he does to me- no matter what he does to Roy- he never says he's sorry. He never stops doing it either. He never stops hurting us." She kisses his neck. "He'd be so mad if he saw me. Saw us. He's jealous of you already. Terribly jealous because he knows I trust you."
"This ain't right, Dinah ..." He groans and puts his hands in her hair. "This ain't right ..."
"If he were here- if Wonder Woman or Hawkwoman were doing to him what I'm doing to you- do you think he'd stop? Do you think he wouldn't just take what he wants, Lawrence? He wouldn't care about me. Or Hawkman. Or anyone else. He'd just take what he wants. Why don't you do that, Lawrence? After everything that's happened, after everything you've lost, don't you think you deserve something good? Something like me?"
She's looking at him with a smile on her lips. There's an invitation in her eyes. One that hasn't seen from a woman in years. One that he never thought he'd ever see again …
He pulls her face to his and kisses her with a savagery, with a passion, that he had thought long dead in him.
She kisses him back, her arms wrapping around him, her fingers dancing across his neck …
And then he feels it.
A shooting pain that drowns his passion in anguish. He lets go of Dinah, clutches his neck, feels something slither its way into his skin … wrap itself around his spine …
"The children do trust you more than anyone else, Lawrence." Dinah steps back from him. "More than me. More than Red Tornado. That's why we need you. Why The Light needs you ..."
The Light? He wants to ask questions, but he can't. The pain is too great.
"Of course you're of limited use as you are. Fortunately, Lord Savage knew that, and decided to make sure you got a special treatment."
Lord Savage? Vandal Savage?
"Dinah? What … what did they do to you? What are you doing to me …?"
"They've made me better, Lawrence. I follow The Light. And you will too. Just let it happen, Lawrence. Let it happen."
But all his life he's fought, and he's not about to stop now.
"Dinah, you can't let … you can't let them hurt the kids ..."
"Oh they won't, Lawrence. They'll become part of The Light."
No. He can't let this happen. He won't let this happen...
And then he feels his toes.
He feels his toes.
It burns through his brain, wiping away the thought of everything else.
He can feel his toes.
And his legs. He can feel his legs.
Dinah smiles at him. "See, Lawrence? The Light will take care of you..."
He feels himself fading … the part of him that knows that this is wrong, that Savage and his Light will mean nothing but ruin for everything and everyone he cares about … the part of him that is him … that part of him seems to wither, to shrink … to fade...
He's unsteady at first, but he stands.
"Lawrence?" Dinah reaches out to stead him.
"Don't call me Lawrence." He's not saying those words. At least not the part of him that's still thinking, that's still aware. That's still him. The thing that's inside him … that thing has done something to him … changed him … split him. "I'm Sportsmaster. I'm Sportsmaster! And you're mine."
And he pulls her to him and claims her.