Annexation - In the aftermath of Libra's attack, Len decides he doesn't want to hang around Keystone and Central while the Flashes are still out for blood. Mark invites himself along and Axel's always in the last place you want him to be. AU after Rogues' Revenge.
AN: Because I actually thought the Rogues retiring subplot of Rogues' Revenge had potential (not to mention alliteration).
This was for the Rogues Big Bang over on livejournal. I was teamed up with a wonderful artist - kidezt - who drew me some beautiful pictures for my story. Full links will be in my profile (or just search for the roguesbang livejournal page, where you will find lots of Rogues goodness).
Despite Axel's whining, Len was determined to stick by his resolution. Retirement from the supervillain business. Libra's warning about the old Flash returning had only reinforced the gut instinct and Len started stripping the hideout of everything he owned the second he got back.
"What will you do next?" Mardon asked from where he was leaning in the doorway. So far Mardon had neither began setting himself up to stay in the hideout nor started packing up his belongings.
"Take a holiday. Find a place to hole up," Len shrugged, "Whatever the case, I'm not stayin' around here waiting for the Flashes to find me. Give it a while and the sting of losin' that Kid Flash will lessen and I might be able to come back without winding up straight in Iron Heights."
"McCulloch's looking into going back to being a mercenary in another city, maybe even going back to Scotland," Mardon said, examining his nails, "And Rory's going south. The brat's sticking around."
"And you?" Len asked, more out of conversational habit than any real interest in where Mardon was running off to.
Mardon shrugged. "Not sure. Somewhere more temperate likely, they're used to odd weather patterns."
Len shoved the last of his belongings he was taking with him into a bag and zipped it closed. The costume he was leaving, but his cold-gun was wrapped in its holster and his blue visor was tucked in the side. Never knew when there'd be trouble after all.
Even with a bag full of stuff slung over his shoulders, Len felt too light. His current jacket was far lighter and cooler than what he was used to.
"Fancy some company for the first leg of your journey?" Mardon asked.
Before the mess with Libra, Len would've said no without thinking about it. However, Len had just faced down his father and being left alone with his thoughts didn't sound like a good idea. On second glance, Mardon was looking somewhat twitchy – oh, of course. The kid.
"You'd better not get us pulled over when it's your turn to drive," was all Len said, because it wouldn't be him if he was nice about it.
Damn but Axel could be persistent when he wanted to. It had taken Len three hours to get a working, subtle car out of the brat. Len had also tried to make it clear to the kid that staying in Central and Keystone was going to be a really bad idea; he'd started to show a bit of promise after all and it would be a shame for him to wind up in prison without being able to give it all he could first.
Eventually, Len threw his bag into the boot of a battered green Chevy and sat behind the wheel as he waited for Mardon to finish up and get in. Axel leaned in the open passenger side window.
"You're really going to retire?" Axel still sounded disbelieving at the fact.
"I've already been over this, kid," Len said.
"Yeah, but you could still change your mind," Axel said, with a shrug that nearly knocked his head against the ceiling, "Won't it be, you know, boring?"
"That sounds nice right now," Len said.
Axel chewed on his lip, it had the effect of making him look even younger than he was. Len didn't need to be reminded that the kid was still quite a bit short of legal drinking age.
"McCulloch said to tell you why I need to be in the Rogues instead of why I want to be here," Axel blurted out quickly. It took Len a few seconds to run that over in his head and understand.
"I – you – it's –" Axel fumbled with his words, "I..."
"Spit it out, kid."
"You guys see me!" Axel blurted.
He ducked his head down so Len couldn't see his face. Len sighed and felt the words settle into a small reason to stay. The only reason to stay – it wasn't going to be enough with speedsters on their tail.
"We can't stay here while they're still out for blood after that Flash," Len said.
"I know," Axel said miserably, "But it just sucks. I figured you'd finally let me back in and you're all splitting off and won't let me come with."
"Have you asked McCulloch?" Len suggested, "He's still staying in the business."
"He said I'm not stealthy enough," Axel scoffed, "I can totally be sneaky if I want to be."
"Not that we've seen it," Len said.
Axel looked downcast, but was shortly shooed out of the way by Mardon finally being ready and climbing into the passenger seat. Len put the car in gear then cursed and put the handbrake on.
"What're you doing?" Mardon asked.
"Forgot something," Len said, getting out, "Five minutes."
Axel was in the part of the hideout that could be called a living room, tossing explosives at the couch.
"You'll regret that come nightfall," Len said.
"I've got the run of the whole place, I'll find somewhere else to sleep," Axel said with a particularly vicious throw.
"If you're in plain clothes and packed by the time I'm finished in the bathroom you can tag along for a few states," Len said, turning away at the first sign of a smile on Axel's face, "No more'n one gimmick and make sure you've got cash, 'cause I'm not payin' to feed you."
He'd probably regret that decision, but it was done now. Len had lived with his bad choices so far, what was another one on top of a mountain of screw-ups?
Mardon gave Len a look that plainly said 'are you fucking serious?' when Len got back into the car and Axel threw his stuff into the boot. Len just passed over a pair of earplugs he'd picked up from Piper's old stash. Axel clambered into the back seat of the car and Len finally started driving.
Len didn't have a destination in mind, just a generally northwards direction to find somewhere cold to hole up for a few months. He stopped at a petrol station a few hours out of Keystone and filled up both the car and a couple of containers just in case they found themselves stranded. Axel picked up as many packets of sweets and crisps as he could carry and filled half the back seat with colourful bags. Mardon took the opportunity to fetch a couple of books from his bag and start reading with the earplugs in.
It was somewhat strange, not being immediately recognised as Rogues. Len honestly couldn't remember the last time that had been the case. He preferred to think that was because it had been such a long time and not because he was starting to get old. He wasn't even fifty yet.
Though that was starting to look a lot closer than he liked to really consider.
Len picked up a packet of cigarettes and discovered the lighter in the car was missing once they'd left the station. Axel had a lighter thankfully – fuck if Len knew why and he wasn't going to ask. Len lit up a smoke and offered the packet to the others. Mardon declined, but Axel took one.
Salvation had been a forced detox and Len was looking forward to resuming old habits now he had the chance.
"Isn't that more Heat Wave's thing?" Axel asked as Len struggled with the window until it was open enough that he could tap the ashes outside of the car.
"So he's the only Rogue allowed to smoke? Fuck that," Len said, taking a drag.
"No," Axel said, taking a shorter, less lung-burning puff himself, "Just that it's a bit close to being fire for Captain Cold, isn't it?"
"You need to know when to hang up the gimmick," Len replied, "Sometimes things work better if you're not just the mask."
Len was beginning to understand why old men always seemed wise, all they had to do was look at their own life and point out everything that had gone wrong. Len had always believed he wouldn't become his Captain Cold mask, but more and more often he found himself reaching up to take off the glasses and realise they weren't even on.
Axel actually looked like he was taking that to heart and thinking about it. He'd been doing that a lot recently and Len found himself curious as to what the kid would end up taking away with him.
Mark took over driving around ten in the evening and Snart reclined the passenger seat to try and get some sleep. Considering not just normal Rogue behaviour, but also Salvation, Mark wasn't surprised when Snart fell asleep in minutes, despite Axel's gameboy thing bleeping constantly.
Truth be told, Mark wouldn't have minded sticking around Central to mess with the Flashes, he needed something to distract him from – no, not going to think about that. However, with Snart, Rory, and McCulloch heading away from the city, there wasn't any point in staying behind on his own.
It was unfortunate that driving meant Mark needed his ears, because Axel's gameboy was obnoxious and Snart snored fucking loudly.
"I didn't know you had a kid, Wiz," Axel said suddenly.
Mark's grip on the steering wheel became white-knuckled as he forced the car to stay straight instead of veer off in surprise.
"I don't any more," Mark got out through gritted teeth.
"Huh, guess not," Axel said, his voice in a place Mark hadn't heard before, "Am I supposed to say sorry about it?"
"I don't expect you to," Mark said.
"Good," Axel said, "I mean... well, good."
The atmosphere of the car felt dark and even the blips from Axel game sounded subdued. Mark just focussed on the road in front of him being eaten up by the car.
"Would've been cool if that hadn't happened," Axel said, "You could've trained him up to be the new Weather Wizard when he got older or –"
It probably shouldn't have felt as good as it did to slam on the brakes and hear Axel's yelp as he was flung forward. Mark left the engine running and got out of the car, walking away to try and put some space between him and his feelings.
Mark came across a large fallen log and sat on it, doing what he could to keep his breathing even and his hands steady. He'd done so well not thinking about it and now everything he'd been blocking off just flooded in, made him feel sick.
Footsteps sounded behind him and Mark wasn't surprised when Snart took a seat on the log next to him, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Brat told me what you were talking about," Snart said, "You want some time alone?"
Mark found himself shaking his head, even though he couldn't place why he thought being alone was a bad idea. Still, Snart actually knew about the full tangle of confusion that was Clyde's death – another thing that had been flaring up since the visit to the observatory during Inertia's mess.
"One day the brat'll learn tact," Snart said, "Thought it's not gonna be soon at this rate."
Mark gave a slightly wet laugh that was more of a choke. Things had been happening quickly since the observatory last night, not giving Mark a chance to sit down a let everything catch up with him. That was happening now and Mark had trouble swallowing the lump in his throat.
"My son is dead," Mark said thickly.
He shouldn't be feeling like this, he barely knew the kid. One kidnapping attempt and being present for his murder shouldn't have given Mark the chance to bond with the kid (Josh, his name was Josh).
Snart didn't say anything, just tilting his head back to look at the stars. Mark scrubbed at his face with the back of his hand and wished he had his mask on, it was easier to pretend with the mask on. He let out another wet, almost hysterical laugh and finally let the tears fall.
Another set of much more hesitant footsteps sounded behind Mark and Axel slowly made his way over to the log. He took a seat on the other side of Snart and looked up too.
"Stars are bright out here," Axel said and there was a thump as Snart whapped him upside the head, "Hey!"
"Clyde used to stargaze when he wasn't looking at clouds," Mark said, because he might as well get all his family-related feelings out in one go, "Always looking up."
"Who's Clyde?" Axel asked, only to be cuffed again for his question, "Cut it out!"
"Stop being stupid," Snart growled.
"Clyde was my brother," Mark said, "He used to take me out into back garden when I was five and he'd tell me all the different constellations and their stories."
"They've got stories?" Axel asked, then ducked Snart's hand quickly, "Hah! Missed!" he taunted, "Even the ones like the big dipper? Who wants a story about a fucking spoon?"
"Ursa Major," Mark corrected, "Hera turned a woman Zeus was lusting after into a bear. To stop her being killed by her son, Zeus turned them both into bears and put them in the sky."
"Huh," Axel said, looking at the constellation with new eyes, "Orion?"
"The hunter," Mark said, "He was killed by the giant scorpion that became Scorpius."
"Well that's all the stars I know," Axel said.
"There's Draco, the dragon, over there," Mark sketched out the constellation with one finger, "He was a titan that got killed by Minerva and thrown into the sky in defeat."
"Sometimes you've gotta be wondering what people back then were smoking to make this kinda stuff up," Axel said.
"We fight someone who can move at the speed of light," Snart pointed out, "If the Flashes died out tomorrow then how crazy would our stories sound in fifty years? Let alone a few centuries away."
"Millennia," Mark corrected quietly.
There was no sound except the wind for a nice few minutes. However, Axel didn't appear to understand the appeal of silence.
"Do you know any other stars?"
Despite the general annoyance that came with anything Axel said or did, Mark did find himself relaxing as he talked through the other constellations Clyde had taught him so many years ago.
Eventually, Mark ran out and trailed off.
"Kid, go back to the car," Snart ordered, "We'll be along in a minute."
Axel grumbled, but didn't push his luck and trotted back to the car. Snart pulled Mark to his feet and looked at him seriously.
"You're gonna be ok now?" it was more of a statement than a question, but Mark nodded anyway.
"My son's dead," Mark said, the words not weighing him down as much as they had earlier, "But I'll keep it together for now."
"Good," Snart said gruffly, "No more emergency stops?"
Mark gave a short laugh. It was still flat, but nowhere near as wet as earlier.
"Alright," Snart said, "C'mon, or the brat'll kick up a fuss."
Mark just hoped he could blame his next action on exhaustion and distress as he lunged forward and grabbed Snart tightly. Snart froze, but it was enough for Mark to feel someone warm and breathing and alive.
The hug didn't last long and Snart seemed quite relieved when it was over.
"Tell you what," Snart said, "I'll drive for a bit longer. You get some sleep."
Mark was only too happy to put the earplugs back in and curl up on the back seat after Axel had chucked his empty food wrappers out of the window and clambered over to the passenger side.
Axel was sulking.
He'd never admit to it, but Len knew a sulk when he saw one.
The brat's gameboy had run out of batteries and he hadn't brought more or an adaptor to get electricity from the car. Without any way to entertain himself – and he was hardly about to pick up one of Mardon's books, despite Len suggesting them several times with increasing annoyance – Axel had hooked his music player up to the car radio and got some rubbish teen music blasting out the crackly speakers.
Len yanked the connector out almost immediately. "Fuck no."
"C'mon," Axel whined, "I'm bored."
"Then go to sleep," Len said, adjusting the radio until it picked up a static-y station that had a song he recognised.
"You're seriously listening to that?" Axel sounded disgusted, "Y'know, I don't usually complain about you lot being old, but seriously man?"
"This is classic," Len said, tapping his fingers on the wheel to the tune, "There's spare earplugs in the glovebox if you hate it that much."
Axel just grumbled and produced a pair of headphones from somewhere and entered his sulk while listening to his own music. Len let the radio fill the otherwise quiet car and kept driving.
Two days later an actual city – as opposed to motorway services and crummy towns with a population that didn't meet triple digits – heralded a cheer from Axel, a 'thank fuck' from Snart, and a muttered prayer from Mark. Rogues weren't made for that kind of forced proximity and Mark kept having nightmares about being back on Salvation.
It was early evening before Mark found a place to park that wasn't screaming 'steal my car'. Axel was off like a shot before the car even pulled to a stop. To be fair to him, Mark would've been the same if he hadn't been focussing on parking – fuck it, he was a Rogue, not being perfectly parallel to the lines was the least of his crimes.
"See you in the morning?" Mark said as he handed over the car keys to Snart.
"Afternoon maybe," Snart said.
There wasn't any more conversation before they parted ways. Normally Rogues stuck together for a bar crawl, peeling off one by one as they found women or were too drunk to leave the current bar's toilet floor. This time Mark was happy to see the back of Snart and looking forward to spending a night in an actual bed instead of the lumpy car seats.
After treating himself to a nice dinner, operation: drink and women was underway.
By some miracle Len remembered the way back to the car and found his way there sometime after noon, stopping only to pick up some painkillers to try and tone down his hangover with. They didn't work very well and Len hoped that Mardon was in less of a state and could take over driving until Len's head was back in the game.
Considering he found Mardon slumped over a short wall near the car, Len wasn't so sure that would be happening. Mardon was dozing, but managed to get to blearily alert after groaning and flailing at Len when he gave him a shove.
They found a pair of trousers wrapped around the car's aerial.
"Have you seen the brat?" Len asked.
Mardon shook his head, then immediately looked like he regretted the movement. Len sighed and unlocked the boot to fetch the sunglasses he'd packed. If he was going to have to drive hungover, there was no way he was going to let the sun glare in his eyes all the while.
Len found Axel curled around the bags in the boot. He wasn't sure how the kid had gotten in without messing up the lock, since Len had the only set of keys. Axel was asleep and thankfully wearing underwear. Len fished his sunglasses out of his bag, tossed Axel's trousers in the boot with him, shut the boot, and unlocked the doors. Mardon slipped into the passenger side and adjusted the visor to keep the sun out of his eyes.
They'd been driving in near silence for a couple of hours and the painkillers were still not helping, when Axel emerged from the boot via the back seat with the broken latch.
"We're... moving?" Axel sounded dubious, even with the uninteresting scenery going by at seventy miles an hour.
"No shit," Mardon said with his eyes closed.
The bewildered look on Axel's face was amusing as he looked between the boot, the outside, then Len and Mardon, before looking at the boot again, in what was probably an attempt to remember what happened, all while squinting at the bright sun. It was enough to pull at what little heavily buried sympathy Len had and he tossed the remainder of the packet of painkillers at the kid.
"Didn't do shit for me," Len said, "But they might help."
There wasn't any form of thanks, but Axel took half an hour before he properly started needling the adults about not getting a chance to pick up some more batteries.
The radio channel that was on in the background turned over to a news broadcast, where the reporter started talking about general things like the weather. Len hadn't been giving it much attention, but when the topic switched from gardening tips to a discussion with key phrases like 'temporal anomalies' and 'the Justice League's response will be', Len quickly switched it off.
"Hey! I was listening to that!" Axel complained.
"Find somewhere else to hear it," Len said, "I'm on fucking holiday, I'm staying away from capes."
"Thought you were retired," Axel muttered as he slouched back against the seat.
The next time they stopped at a town was because something in the engine went kaput. Between the three of them they were capable of fixing weapons to create absolute zero, making wands to control the weather from old blueprints, or modifying toys to deadly levels.
There was no way in hell they could fix the car themselves.
Mark started walking down the road to find help, his reasoning being that he was the one able to survive longest out under the heavy sun and was also the quickest at travelling if there was an emergency. He'd left while Snart was chewing Axel out because the brat had drained all the mobile batteries in an attempt to get his gameboy working again.
Mark enjoyed the chance to stretch his legs and spend some time without the others. Oh, he didn't know what he'd be doing if it wasn't on this crazy road trip, but a man needed his space. Mark tilted his head back and just yelled. God, it had been such a long time since he could do that without something making him regret it straight after.
He reached a petrol station after maybe twenty miles or so and from there Mark called a tow-truck. He enjoyed an icecream from the station's shop while he waited and couldn't help a bit of a grin thinking what a state the others must be in right now.
The driver of the truck couldn't have been less of a stereotype if he'd tried. Young, decently dressed, and an accent that didn't make him sound stupid in the slightest. Mark was actually impressed, and that hadn't happened in a long time.
"You're the one with the broken car?" he said in lieu of greeting.
"That obvious?" Mark asked.
"You learn to tell the type," the guy said, "I'm Geoff. You said your car was a few miles out?"
"Some," Mark said, then figured he should probably introduce himself too, "It's Mark."
"Alright, get in," Geoff said, gesturing at his truck, "Are you on your own?"
"No," Mark replied.
"Family?" Geoff asked.
Mark climbed into the passenger side and was grateful for the air-conditioning. "No, they're my..." shit, how was he supposed to describe the weird relationship that bound Rogues? "...friends," Mark settled on. It made more sense than saying co-worker, even if neither option fitted that well.
"Right," Geoff said, "Who're they?"
"There's Len," Mark said, since 'Snart' was way too recognisable, "He's the other adult. Then there's Axel, he's a teenager, the worst kind."
Geoff laughed at the description, but Mark was certain he wasn't going to be laughing after having to put up with the brat for a while.
The drive back to the car was pleasant. Geoff, Mark was delighted to discover, was actually pretty well read and they had a solid discussion on Twain that Mark hadn't managed to have for years. Criminals could be entertaining in a stupid, drunk way, but when they started to get smart you had to watch it. With intelligence came delusions of grandeur. Look at Luthor. Look at Sinestro. Hell, look at the mess Jesse had ended up with.
Axel was nowhere in sight when Geoff pulled up by the car. Snart was sat on the ground, leaning against the side of the car that was casting a shadow, and generally looking exhausted. Or was possibly asleep, it was hard to tell with the sunglasses over his eyes,
Mark wasn't sure who it spoke badly of that his first thought was that Snart had killed Axel in a fit of frustration and hidden the body.
Snart wasn't asleep and shouted out at the rocks roughly a hundred yards off the road for Axel, which probably meant the kid wasn't dead either. It took a couple of minutes for Axel to appear, but appear he did.
Geoff opened the car bonnet and wrinkled his nose at the acidic smell of burnt plastic that hissed out. "How far did you say you'd driven on this?" he asked, prodding some part with a screwdriver.
"Some hundred miles," Snart replied, "Wasn't really keepin' count."
Geoff didn't spend much longer at it. He slammed the bonnet closed. "You're going to have to put it into a proper garage to get that fixed, it's not going anywhere with just the spit and prayers I've got in my truck," he said.
"Figured that," Snart said.
"How much is it going to cost?" Mark asked.
Geoff tapped his screwdriver against his chin as he thought. "Assuming all you need is a new radiator, oil tank, battery, and spark plugs, you're looking at something in the region of a thousand or so," he grimaced as he gave the car another look, "That's assuming the engine isn't completely dead and doesn't need replacing fully. It might be cheaper buying a new car to be honest."
"That might be... difficult," Snart said.
"It's up to you," Geoff replied easily, "And you don't have to decide now anyway. Let's get it hitched up to the truck and I'll get you guys into town."
The hitching up of the car to the truck went a lot quicker once Snart forcibly restrained Axel to stop the brat fiddling with the mechanism.
Snart was smart enough to avoid conspicuous names, though Axel needed a few elbows in the ribs before he stopped using Rogue codenames. Thankfully, Geoff didn't appear to notice and soon enough he was back behind the wheel, picking up his conversation with Mark on the subject of good books.
Axel started kicking the seat until Geoff broke off the conversation long enough to tell Axel there was a power converter in the glove compartment. Axel went from an annoying little brat to a slightly less annoying little brat in seconds. Snart just rolled his eyes at Axel's enthusiasm for his game and rolled down the window to have a smoke.
The mechanic in town looked a lot more like a mechanic than Geoff did a tow-truck driver, he had an oil-stained beard to match and everything. Mark let Snart discuss things with the man and decided to make himself useful and get the locations of some good bars out of Geoff. Axel had already vanished to do whatever it was he did when they stopped at these towns.
"Aren't you worried about your kid?" Geoff asked after listing a few bars and directions to them.
"He can take care of himself," Mark said dismissively, "And he's not my kid."
It felt odd to have to define that. Everyone in the twin cities knew that Axel didn't belong to any of the Rogues and the only kid Mark had was – no, it still wasn't a good idea to think about Josh around strangers.
"If you're sure," Geoff didn't sound too happy with Mark at that. Mark shrugged it off, it wasn't like people tended to expect anything of him nowadays.
Except Snart, but that was usually in the area of 'do what I expect or I'll punch you for ruining my plans'.
Mark only remembered at the last moment to thank Geoff, told Snart where he was going, then left the garage. Time to find some company and drinks for the night.
Axel was bored. Normally a Trickster being bored lead to all sorts of trouble, but Axel didn't have any of his tricks with him – at least not enough for a decent mess – and he was pretty sure Cold and Wizard would kick him out of the road trip if he brought the cops down on their heads.
And fuck it, he was having more fun on this trip than he'd had in ages. No being the Trickster for now.
Axel still wasn't sure exactly what part of the trip was making it fun. By all rights he should be completely bored out of his mind – and he usually was – but there was just something about being included in the last minute plans that made Axel avoid being as obnoxiously annoying as he could.
It was still good to blow off steam out on the town though. Axel didn't want to piss Cold off enough to risk being thrown out of the car, especially since Cold would likely do it while it was still moving.
He'd tried to palm the driver's adaptor once they reached the garage, but Wizard had caught him and made him put it back. Unfair. So now Axel was on the lookout for an adaptor to acquire. He hadn't decided if he'd be stealing it or paying. It would probably depend on what he found.
Eventually, Axel found a hardware store just closing up and bought an adaptor. He also snagged a few packs of batteries and a coil of wire, but he didn't pay for them on principle. The adaptor had been enough. The store owner just wanted Axel out so he could close up and go home.
Axel decided it would be a good idea to have a look around for a takeaway or other fast food place. Somewhere he could get hot food that wasn't from a roadside dive. There was a reason he liked staying in Keystone and Central, and it wasn't just because that's where the Flashes made their home. Crisps and sweets were all well and good, but sometimes he needed something with a bit more substance.
He was looking around for a place to eat when Axel started recognising the buildings and realised he'd made a loop. This was further reinforced by seeing the truck-driver – John or Grant or something, Axel hadn't been paying that much attention.
"Hello, Axel," Grant-or-John called over. Axel shrugged to himself and went to see what the guy had to say, there wasn't much else to do.
"Hey," Axel said.
"Are you going to be alright by yourself?" John-or-Grant asked.
"Yeah," Axel said, more than a little confused as to why the guy was asking and insulted that he sounded skeptical about it.
"You're still quite young," the guy said, "And no one will think badly of you if you need to ask for help. I was speaking to your father and –"
"Wait. My father?" Axel repeated. As far as he knew his dad wasn't anywhere near this region. But then he didn't know where his dad was full stop. So what the hell was this guy on about?
"Sorry, I know you're trying to keep it quiet, but it's fairly obvious," the guy said.
"What the fuck are you on about?" Axel asked.
John-or-Grant looked a little confused. "Mark and Len, they're your adoptive parents, right?"
Axel wasn't sure what to get riled up about. First of all, adoptive parents? He was the Trickster, he didn't need adult supervision. Second, it was fucking gay having two dudes for parents. Third, he was the fucking Trickster and parents shouldn't be anywhere near him. Forth, how the hell did anyone think that Wizard and Cold were ever given the chance to adopt?
"What makes you say that?" Axel asked, genuinely baffled. If he'd had his tricks on him, Axel would've been done with the conversation already, but they were buried at the bottom of his bag.
He was totally graffiti-ing the hell out of the garage later that night though.
"I can't see any other reason for you to all be on vacation together," John-or-Grant shrugged.
"Huh," Axel said. It probably would look suspicious as hell to a civilian if he wasn't related to at least one of the older Rogues. Time for a change of subject, "Hey, you know any good takeaways around here?"
Honestly, Mark had expected this to happen days ago.
Axel's whining had become just a little too much and Snart had kicked him out before they left town. Mark's last memory of the kid was of him watching the car drive away with a hangdog expression clear on his face.
Mark left it an hour before he commented – not out of any real respect for the situation, more because it had taken that long for Snart's grip on the wheel to loosen from lethal to almost fatal.
"The kid had a point."
The car screeched to a halt. Mark took the dashboard to the face; he'd have a wicked bruise on his right cheekbone in a few hours.
The words were spoken tersely and with no room for argument. However, Mark was a Rogue and a Rogue was nothing if he wasn't prepared to face the impossible.
"I thought you said Rogues don't run," Mark said, "And here you are, avoiding the facts."
"Get the fuck out!"
Mark picked up his wand and got out of the car. They weren't too far from civilization, it wasn't like he'd have trouble finding somewhere to stay.
"Coward," Mark got in, just before he slammed the door shut.
He got a mouthful of dust for his insult as the car sped away. He spat on the ground and briefly considered hitting the car with lightning or something. He decided against it when he remembered all his books were still in there.
Maybe this trip had actually gotten to Mark somewhat. Normally he would've struck first, thought later.
Calling the wind to carry him, Mark set off back the way they came.
Axel was sat crossed-legged on a roof when Mark found him. Upon closer inspection, Mark noticed that the brat was surrounded by cans of spray-paint.
"Got a picture in mind?" Mark asked as he landed on the rooftop.
Surprise flitted across Axel's face, but it was quickly replaced with a mulish anger. Mark didn't blame him and took a seat opposite.
"Got a place picked out?" Mark tried again.
"That garage," Axel replied.
"Is this because I stopped you stealing that adapter?" Mark asked, "Because that's a bit petty, even for us."
"Hardly 'us'," Axel muttered.
"It was going to happen eventually," Mark said with a shrug, "Rogues might be made for sticking together, but we're not good at putting up with each other. It keeps us sharp."
"You know that mechanic thought you were queer?" Axel said, looking up at Mark with a bit of a squint when the sun got in his eyes. Mark could've done something about that, but he didn't feel like it.
"Bastard," Mark said, but there wasn't much heat in it, "No wonder he was trying to chat me up."
"No, he thought you were gay with Cold," Axel corrected, "He thought I was your adopted love-child."
Mark spluttered for a long moment, then finally gave in and laughed. That had to be the last impression they left, surely.
"That's why you're going to graffiti the building?" Mark asked.
"Yeah," Axel shrugged, "It's pretty gay if someone assumes you grew up with two dads, y'know?"
"As opposed to actively being assumed to be gay enough to adopt a child with another man?"
"Shut up," Axel said, hunching his shoulders up, "You wanna help?"
"Why not," Mark decided.
Neither Mark nor Axel were really artists, so the graffiti ended up mostly being a clashing mess of colour and patterns that looked similar to what would happen if Jesse and Bivolo had teamed up.
"So what d'we do now?" Axel asked through a mouthful of the noodles he'd picked up at a nearby Chinese restaurant, "I'm not looking to stop in a pathetic town like this."
"I'm going to head down the road," Mark replied, around his own meal of spring rolls, "There's a chance Len didn't get too much further."
"You think he's waiting for us?" Axel asked, hope clear beneath incredulity.
"No," Mark said, "But I know Len and he's probably broken the car again."
Axel frowned, but decided against commenting. He scrambled onto Mark's back when they reached the town outskirts and Mark pulled them both away with the wind.
It was always unbalancing, having someone else being swept along with the wind, and Mark nearly dropped the brat more than once – which, at the high-speeds they were travelling at, would have meant instant death. However, it never actually happened and Mark was even more convinced that Axel was secretly part monkey.
An hour or two later, they came across the car parked on the wayside and abandoned. Mark shrugged at Axel's confused look and started skirting around in widening circles to find Len.
"Well shit, you did come back."
Len was leaning against a tree, smoking. Half a carton's worth of cigarette butts littered the ground at his feet.
"Couldn't go on without us?" Mark asked with a lopsided smirk.
Len took a deep inhale. "Wasn't goin' back for you either, remember."
"Hell of a lot easier having targets for anger, isn't it?" Mark said, "That's why no matter how productive we can be on our own, Rogues always end up sticking together."
"Fuckin' parasites," Len said darkly, "You pick up the brat?"
Len dropped his cigarette to the ground and stomped it out. Without waiting to see if Mark was following, he stormed off back to the car.
Axel had been looking under the bonnet while he was waiting, but quickly shut it and wiped oil-stained hands on his trousers when Len and Mark approached. It was surprisingly easy to read the apprehension on his face and Mark was beginning to understand why the brat used to wear his mask constantly back in Keystone.
"You gonna be a pain in the ass again?" Len asked, pulling out the car keys and tossing them to Mark.
"It's in the job description," Axel said cockily. Good that he was showing some backbone, but he could've picked a better time.
Len snorted. "Retired."
"On vacation," Axel corrected, "At least as far as I'm concerned."
"You're on thin ice," Len said with a bit of a snarl, "Mess up again and I'm not waiting for you to catch up."
"Gotcha, Cap," Axel said with a mocking parody of a salute.
Mark had to repress a smile as he got into the driver's seat. Rogues.
Mark was driving when an all-too-familiar red blur shot past the car. He swore and slammed on the brakes. The seatbelts stopped Mark from breaking his nose on the steering wheel and Len from smashing face-first against the dashboard. A thump and a yelp from the seats behind told them that Axel still believed in living dangerously. The car stalled.
"What the fuck?" Len hissed, rubbing at his chest where the seatbelt had caught him.
"Flash," Mark said, reaching down next to his seat for the weather wand.
"Don't," Len said, sharply, "Restart the car and keep going. There's no way he knows we're here."
Even so, as Mark twisted the key in the ignition, Len took his cold-gun out from the glovebox and held it at the ready between his knees.
"You sure you don't want me to throw something out the window at him?" Axel asked, pulling the seat down to get to his tricks in the boot.
"No, keep things quiet," Len ordered.
The atmosphere in the car was extremely tense for the next thirty minutes down the motorway. Mark hadn't tried to be anything approaching stealthy in years. He wasn't entirely sure he remembered how to look inconspicuous.
That was probably something he should remedy.
Thankfully the red blur didn't return and everyone gradually relaxed. Axel finally thawed out his arm from when he made a bit much noise and Len had been a little trigger happy.
"How has no one gotten frostbite from being in the same team as you?" Axel groused, poking at cold, but un-frostbitten, flesh.
There was an almighty shriek that startled Len awake. Next to him Mark already had the weather wand at the ready, illuminating the dingy motel room they were currently in. Axel was first to the window, having slept underneath it on the lumpy couch.
"Holy shit," Axel said, "You don't see that every day."
Len yanked back the flimsy curtains and sucked in a sharp breath when he caught sight of the swirling, red and black void that had torn the wooded landscape apart. It was messing with gravity or something, as the trees near it were all falling at unnatural speeds.
"Temporal anomaly?" Mark guessed.
"What makes you say that?" Len asked.
Mark just pointed at the large digital clock at the motel entrance. Its numbers were changing randomly.
"Could be electrical disturbance," Axel said.
"Either way, that's a hell of a large draw for capes," Len said, "We're leavin'."
They left. Or rather, they tried to leave, but somehow, no matter which way they went, they always found themselves heading toward the cracking portal.
"I wonder what it wants," Mark said, contemplating the mess of space-time, "There's definitely intent about it."
"Incoming!" Axel called, "Looks like a Lantern."
"We try another run," Mark said, eyes sparking up and fog rolling in, "He can get rid of this, but it'll buy us time."
A low hum started below the crackling shriek of the portal. It got increasingly loud until Len was certain something was going to blow up in his face.
The portal still wasn't letting them leave. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
"Mardon, blast it," Len ordered, pulling out his cold-gun and taking aim at the centre of the writhing mass.
Lightning and ice shot out. Nothing happened for a full second, even the sound had vanished.
The portal shot back crackling bolts of red lightning back at them. Len was blasted off his feet and landed several yards away. A quick check, nothing seemed broken.
The Green Lantern landed where Len had been standing not two seconds ago. He glanced around, Axel was dazed, but getting to his feet, and Mark was nowhere in sight.
Fighting a Lantern with one cold-gun and a trick-less Trickster; Len had faced better odds.
Mind you, he'd also faced worse ones.
A swirling mass of hallucinogenic colour and bright rips in space assaulted Mark's senses, forcing him to close his eyes. It didn't help. Mark had a passing thought that this might be how Bivolo viewed the world. Poor bastard.
Mark felt a pull and squinted to see one particular tear ringed with scarlet lightning getting closer. He had the feeling that he really didn't want to go through it. Nothing he tried worked. No wind, no lightning, nothing.
With another sickening lurch, Mark tumbled through and found himself in a junkyard. An eerily silent, familiar junkyard.
"Fuck," the word didn't so much come out of Mark's mouth as stick almost tangibly to the air in front of him. The air which was thick and burned at Mark when he moved.
Figures falling through a temporal anomaly could put you at Flash-speeds.
Mark pushed through the molasses-like air and stumbled over a mound of broken dishwashers and car parts to see an unbelievably familiar sight. Familiar, because he'd been standing right over there not a full fortnight ago.
Libra was stood, still as a statue, holding an infant with forked lightning surround its eyes. The blade of Libra's staff was pointed at the infant's chest. The infant was unaware of what was going on, upset at only the cold and the fact that he was surrounded by shouting strangers.
Mark's past self was stood with the other Rogues, shock just beginning to make itself known on his face. Zoom was stood slightly apart from them and Mark was almost glad he was twitching the slightest amount.
The cause for shock and alarm was Inertia, standing next to Libra and the infant – Josh – holding up a hand that was about to perform a sonic-boom click.
Mark didn't even think. He ran for Inertia. The wand wouldn't be fast enough, Inertia too far into his motion to be stopped by lightning.
A solid right hook did the trick instead.
Inertia fell slowly, until he got a foot underneath his body and pushed himself back into standing, speeding up as he went until he was matching Mark.
"You want to die first then?" Inertia cackled, apparently uncaring as to why Mark was moving faster than sound. Like Mark's voice earlier, Inertia's was flat and Mark understood it more because he saw Inertia's mouth form the words than because he heard the words themselves.
Inertia darted forward in a way that was probably meant to be quicker than Mark could react, but it just looked clumsy and Mark elbowed him hard in the shoulder when he got close.
Indignation flickered over Inertia's face and his stance shifted into something tighter, more deadly. Mark had a fleeting wish that he was one of the Rogues who regularly got into bar brawls and waited for Inertia to come to him. If there was one thing speedsters could be counted on for, it was to always make the first move.
Inertia actually took longer to attack than Mark had expected, but then they were moving at several times greater than the speed of sound, so that possibly translated into a shorter time than a speedster usually had to wait.
This time Mark wasn't so lucky. He might be matching Inertia's speed, but while Inertia normally relied on his superior reflexes to deal with enemies, he'd also been built to take down speedsters and could therefore fight opponents at equal speeds perfectly well.
Inertia's first punch landed squarely in Mark's solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him. Inertia followed that up with a blow to the back of Mark's head as he curled up, causing stars to dance across Mark's vision. A vicious kick to the back of his knee made Mark crumple, but also shot a jolt of electricity up Inertia's leg as Mark's natural lightning-aura caught up with it all.
Mark fought to get his breath back as Inertia was blasted away with a yelp. Seconds were everything when fighting a speedster, even a slowed one. They just didn't react like normal people.
Mark had only just made it to his feet and half-turned when Inertia slammed into him shoulder first. Thankfully Inertia was still only a teenager and didn't have his usual extra momentum backing him up, so Mark was able to stay upright this time.
Hurt like hell though.
He caught Inertia by the hair and used it to drag his head down into Mark's knee before flinging him away. Inertia licked the blood trickling down his face with a sadistic grin. Why was everyone with superspeed either a goodie-two-shoes or a psycho?
Inertia charged again and they descended into a proper brawl. The junkyard ground was littered with jagged piece of metal and lumps of plastic or concrete. In short, Mark had rarely felt so battered as he did when trying to pin Inertia and avoid being pinned in return.
Mark screamed when a rusty blade – from either a lawnmower or a dishwasher – stabbed through his thigh. Inertia took the chance to push it in further, until Mark's lightning zapped him away.
Shaking and unsteady, Mark couldn't put any weight on his injured leg. Inertia was holding back, waiting to see what Mark did next. The bleeding had stopped, but the grin was still as crazy as ever. Mark wasn't going to win this fight. He'd faced stupidly impossible odds before, but this one he wasn't going to walk away from. He'd be lucky to crawl at this rate.
"Maybe I should kill the kid first," Inertia mused, "You'd find that tragic, wouldn't you? And we're all about the tragedy tonight. Heh."
He strolled over to where Libra was standing, kicking Mark on the way past. Mark pushed himself to his feet, using a bent stop sign in place of a crutch, and flung a piece of debris at his enemy. Inertia dodged out of the way, but it gave Mark enough time to limp closer and just reach Josh with the tip of his finger.
A howl tore through the unearthly silence and rage twisted Inertia's face. The last Mark saw of him was the speedster desperately trying to snap his fingers before Mark was ripped away by an unseen force.
Whether it was because he was used to it, the time stream had decided he'd been fucked with enough, or because Mark had just gotten lucky, the next reality-warping journey took less that a second. Mark landed on both feet, hard, on the dusty, wooded plane and his leg gave out.
"Fuckin' hell, Mardon!" Len snapped, as he caught Mark and helped him stand upright, "What the hell just –"
Whatever Len had been about to say was cut off by a loud wailing and Mark becoming aware that there was something squirming in his arms. A baby.
The roaring shriek suddenly cut out, taking the portal with it. Mark staggered as the twisted gravitational pull returned to normal. Josh's sobs sounded unnaturally loud in the silence and Mark didn't know how to fix it.
"Let's get out of here," Len said. He took a good look at Josh and rolled his eyes, "Give him to me."
"No!" Mark shouted, pulled away and nearly ending up on the ground again. He held Josh tighter, which only increased the wailing. He didn't care, he wasn't going to let someone else take his child and get him killed again.
Len's mouth twisted. "At least hold him right," he huffed, "Put your arm lower down, so you're not havin' to squeeze him so hard to keep him up."
Cautiously, Mark let Len rearrange his arm and Josh until the kid was held much more comfortably against his side. The crying calmed down, but didn't stop entirely. Mark shouldn't have been so grateful that crying meant Josh was alive.
"Holy shit! Where'd you pull the kid from, Wiz?" Axel said, announcing himself. He was moving carefully and his right arm was hanging limply.
"Save it, we need to get out of here," Len said, looking around, "Before that cape gets back on his feet. We only got him 'cause he got caught by slowed time."
Mark could see a mass of ice with a green glow trapped inside. The glow was getting brighter with every second. Time to leave.
"Can't you shut the kid up?" Len groused. He was tired, sore, his stomach was feeling queasy, and he had a headache pulsing with every whimper of Josh's.
"I don't know how," Mark replied, trying to bounce the baby on his uninjured leg, "It's not like I've ever spent any time with children."
Len was currently driving them as fast as he could toward the nearest town and subsequently hospital he could find. Mark's leg would need patching up, Axel's arm needed sorting out, and Len could do with better painkillers than the pharmacy ones that were all the car held.
"I've got a few things that might shut him up," Axel said.
"He's not playing with anything that might explode," Mark said darkly.
"Not all my stuff explodes," Axel whined, "C'mon, Wiz."
"No," Mark said, a note of finality in his voice.
"Make yourself useful with somethin' else," Len interrupted before they could start arguing properly, "Find out where the nearest hospital is."
A sigh and some obnoxious beeps later, Axel read out a list of directions. They were maybe thirty miles away. Good, that shouldn't take too long.
A twinge shot through Len's gut and he put his foot down harder. They couldn't get there fast enough.
Len had one thing to say about the staff of St. Mercy's Hospital, and that was that they were efficient. He'd barely made it through the door, lugging Mark along, when they'd descended to help Mark onto a gurney and set up emergency surgery.
Mark wasn't letting go of Josh though and the nurses were getting annoyed at him.
"You can't take a child into surgery with you," one of them tired to explain patiently.
"He's not getting stolen again," Mark argued, though it was weak, probably from the lack of blood.
"We can keep him in the observation room," another nurse tried, "He'll be near you all the time."
"Fuck's sake, Mark," Len snapped, "Just hand him over."
Mark's eyes went yellow for a moment, but faded back to normal brown before sparks could shoot out. Whether he was just too damn tired to make a threat or whether he didn't want to blow cover, Len wasn't sure.
"Look after him, Len," Mark said suddenly, "Don't let anyone else have him. Or so help me, your forecast will be grim."
Len didn't want to take the kid. However, Mark staying alive was more important than a few hours' discomfort on Len's part. With a disgusted sigh, Len relieved Mark of his son and went back to the reception area where they'd left Axel.
On second thoughts, it probably wouldn't hurt to make sure there was nothing wrong with Josh after dodgy time-travel and temporal and spatial anomalies. Better they find out now than in a few months once Mark had gotten properly attached.
"'Scuse me," Len said, trying and failing to be polite with a screaming infant in his arms, "Any chance this guy could get a check-up?"
The nurse at the reception desk didn't even raise an eyebrow. "Name?"
"Uh... Josh," Len said, "Joshua... Star."
"Uh..." Len looked at Josh, but it was hard to tell with babies, "Maybe a year? He's got most of his teeth if that helps." Len knew that for a fact, as the little bastard had tried biting him several times already.
The nurse looked deeply unimpressed.
"Look, I'm just a friend of his dad's, alright?" Len said defensively, "His dad who's in surgery right now to get a chuck of metal the size of my hand pulled out of his leg."
The nurse's skepticism didn't lessen in the slightest, but thankfully she pointed Len to the waiting seats and told him a paediatrician would be along to see Josh at some point.
Axel wasn't there when Len sat down. Hopefully that meant someone was setting his arm and the brat wasn't making a nuisance of himself. Not that the brat had been a nuisance recently. Len was actually mildly impressed by how well he'd responded tonight and how quickly he'd gotten the car with only one working arm.
"Be quiet," Len mutter to Josh, "Can't you go back to sleep?"
Apparently not. Josh continued to wail for the next twenty minutes, resisting Len's attempts to feed him anything and not even stopping once he'd gotten a clean diaper. Mardon'd better get out of surgery soon, or Len was dumping the kid, weather powers be damned.
"Joshua Star?" a nurse called. Len thanked the heavens that it was a quiet night at the hospital and followed her to a room brightly decorated with zoo animals.
"What appears to be the trouble?" the doctor asked, he was a large man with an even larger strained smile, "Lego up his nose?"
Len took a moment to check, but all that seemed to be up Josh's nose was an obscene amount of snot.
"I can't get him to stop crying," Len said, "He's in need of a check-up anyway; thought I'd kill two birds with one stone."
"Hmm, let's see then. Sit on the examining table and I'll give him a look-see," the doctor said gestured at the green table covered in pictures of frogs, "No need to leave him in the hands of a stranger and get him even more worked up."
Being upset at a stranger's hold might actually be the problem, Len reflected as he sat down and held Josh out.
"Doesn't appear to be a fever," the doctor said, holding a hand against Josh's forehead, "Nothing wrong with his eyes or ears. Throat seems to be... aha. Looks like we've got a few final teeth pushing through at the back there. I'll give him the rest of the check-up, but I'm betting what's got him so upset is those little milk teeth there."
"He's teething? Fu- wonderful," Len muttered.
The doctor continued with the check-up until he pronounced Josh 'surprisingly fit for someone who's been in a car crash' – it took Len a moment to remember that had been their excuse for their injuries. After giving Len directions on how to ease the teething process, the doctor waved him out of the room.
White-hot pain stabbed Len up the side the instant he got to his feet. His vision blacked out for a moment and he found the doctor pushing him back onto the table.
"Is everything alright?" the doctor asked, already flashing a penlight into Len's eyes.
"Fuckin' hurts," Len moaned, "Been feelin' a bit sick, but – fuck!" the last word came as an exclamation after the doctor poked him in the side.
"Internal rupturing," the doctor said grimly, "You're going to need surgery to sort that out. Leave the boy with me and I'll have a nurse take you to the emergency room."
"No," Len said, batting away the doctor's outstretched hands with one of his, "Promised Mark... Wait, Axel. Blond kid. He's havin' his arm set. Give the kid to him."
Josh was finally asleep, supported unsteadily in Axel's working arm, when Mark woke up. Despite the anaesthetic, Mark's awakening was sudden and his vitals spiked on the monitor the second his eyes opened.
It was only when he started to get out of bed, without a care for all the work that had been put into his leg that Axel bothered to say anything.
"They said if you try walking you're gonna be a cripple."
Mark's head whipped around to face Axel and he froze. His mouth opened, but all he managed was a coughing fit.
"J-Josh..." Mark finally rasped.
Axel passed the kid over. Mark calmed down the instant Josh was safely in his arms.
"Cap's got appendicitis," Axel said, "He's still in surgery. That, my arm, and your leg wiped out our entire stash put together. Even the extra stuff you stashed in the car. I would've ran out on the bill, but neither of you can run right now, so that'd be hard. Also, the car's been ganked for parts."
"...Someone robbed... us?" Mark said, disbelief thick in his voice.
"Yeah, ballsy I know," Axel said, "I look into getting them back when my arm's up to scratch. It's not like we can get far without a car."
Josh snuggled closer into Mark's arms with a quiet, "Da." Mark looked down at Josh, an odd look coming over his face. Axel felt something drop heavily into his stomach, he'd had the same look when they'd gotten back from Salvation and announced they were retiring.
"Maybe... maybe it's time to stop running," Mark said quietly.
"You want to finish up in the ass-end of nowhere?" Axel asked.
"We were never going to end up in paradise," Mark said, "However... 'Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.'"
"I'm not gonna retire," Axel said determinedly, the slightest hint of poetry going right over his head, "You two old men can do what the fuck you like, but I'm not giving up being the Trickster."
"Heh," Mark shook his head, "Do what you want, but break our cover and I'll fry your ass."
Despite the threat – probably because of it – Axel grinned. "I'd like to see you try, old man."
On a piece of paper found by Mick's shaving mirror:
Hey, heard you settled down in Mexico, though doing what I didn't hear. Just to let you know we're in Alaska. McCulloch knows the actual address if you're interested.
Scribbled on a napkin found by the kitchen pots:
Fuck no, way too cold for me. And what the hell was on the back of that paper? I'm working at a bar.
On a note left by the long mirror in the bar Mick works at:
Shit. Send it back? That's one of Josh's drawings and Mark'll have my hide if he finds it gone.
On a wad of paper found by Josh's mobile:
Hastily scrawled on a page that looks suspiciously like it's been torn from a book:
Long story. Mark's considering writing it for extra cash.
"Huh," Mick said, turning from the note to continue wiping down the bartop. All in all, he was pretty content with his life here. Sometimes though...
Thrown out of the bathroom mirror when Len's shaving:
Might visit sometime. Make sure you're not in jail.
Dropped through the tacky metal lampshade in Mick's apartment: