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Cold As Ice

Chapter Text

At first, the snowfall had been gentle. In the morning, they had woken to the soft flurries of January. Most would refer to it as a “late white Christmas.” The flurries grew in their intensity, however. At eight, they had only begun. By noon, a blizzard had swept up most of the country. Most cities were reporting at least seven inches having fallen in just these hours, with no sign of letting up. Vague guesses from meteorologists said that the snow should stop by the night, but there was uncertainty in that as well. No one was quite sure where the snow had come from, but usefulness was being made out of it every where one might turn. There was not a city, from Star to Gotham to Metropolis to Jump, where someone was not making use of the change in weather.

Some, however, were just trapped inside as the snow continued to fall.

“I shouldn’t be here,” was Damian’s complaint.

“Yeah?” Cheshire laughed, “Well, I didn’t expect to spend my day babysitting, so I guess we’re both not where we wanted to be.”

“I’m not some little kid.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re the son of Batman and Tally. I don’t care. One’d throw me in Arkham or Belle Reve. The other is my best friend and would still slice me to pieces.” A single piece of chocolate took flight from her fingertips. She caught it on her tongue. “Not like this is my place either.”

“I should be out there,” Damian gestured toward the window.

She found it almost entertaining. A ten year old like Damian being so fervent in his demands to fight alongside his father. No doubt, Talia and the League of Shadows had had some influence on him in that regard. He was, however, still smart enough to understand that Cheshire would be too much for him to get passed. Even today, when she felt like complete crap, he knew that she would still take him down.

So, Cheshire continued to watch him from the kitchen counter, as he slumped against the window and did his pouting and complaining.

After a few more chocolate’s were consumed, she decided to continue with conversation. “Why don’t you go play with the others?”

“I don’t play.” Damian didn’t turn around.

Cheshire sighed. “You are your mother and father’s son, alright. I’m tired, however, of hearing over and over about how ‘I should be with Batman,’ because we’re all stuck here until the snow blows over.”

There was a blur of movement between them. The curtains lifted by a breeze from within the apartment. Damian turned, catching the blur as it came for a second time. It was a streak of white and pink that cut the air before him. It cut a fish hook through the air and stopped beside him. A hand touched his shoulder.

“Tag,” Iris announced, “you’re it.”

Damian knocked the hand away. “I’m not playing games.”

“Damian, come on,” the speedster retorted. “We get sent back from school early because of the snow, and you decide you want to get all sad-faced at a window. Boohoo!”

Lian came sprinting down the hall. She stopped at the counter, to catch her breath. “Mom! Iris is cheating again.”

“I saw.” Cheshire tossed another chocolate into her mouth. “I can’t stop her.”

“Hmph!” Lian marched over to the other two. “Iris, no more cheating! You’re the only one here with powers.

“Damian’s being pouty again,” Iris interrupted.

“I am not being pouty!” the Robin-in-training answered.

“Pouty!” Iris shouted. She brought her hands to Damian’s cheeks and pulled his lips into a frown. “Poor pouty baby!”

Damian shoved her off.

“Children, play nice!” Cheshire called to them. She lifted a radio from her side. “Lian? Would you like to talk to grandpa Sportsmaster?”

Lian looked back from her friends. After a moment’s thought, she shook her head. “Not really.”

“Yeah, well… Me neither.” Cheshire clicked the radio and turned away from them.

Iris and Lian continued their focus on the pouting sidekick.

“I know you’re upset that our daddies didn’t take you with them,” Lian acknowledged, “but we’re all too small to join them on those trips.”

“My father is Batman!”

“And my daddy is the Flash. You don’t see me complaining?”

“It’s different.”

“You’re ten. I’m twelve. I actually have a costume. A name. I’m an actual sidekick. Technically, I should be out there with them. But, I’m actually enjoying the day off that I’ve been given.”

“Guys,” Lian attempted to interject.

“I think you’re just jealous.”

“Jealous! Jealous of what, huh? What, boy-wonder-in-diapers?”

“Guys!” Lian shouted again.

There was another blur. This one was a collection of colors. Black and oranges and pinks and reds and purples all zoomed between the three kids. They found themselves all spinning before falling onto the carpet, squealing as they did. They were dressed for the snow, jackets zipped and gloves forced onto their hands. Boots had been placed on their feet and laced up. The blur stopped in front of them.

“You guys woke me up,” Jai complained. He rubbed his eyes and then zipped up his orange snow suit. “All your shouting.”

“Blame Kid Robin here,” Iris complained to her twin.

“Me? It was you who–”

“Quiet!” Jai announced to them all. “We’re going to go out into the snow now. And we’re gonna make an awesome snowman, okay?”

The children nodded to him.

“Good. Iris, you get cousin Lian out to the snow. I’ll drag Damian out.” Jai instructed.

Iris stood with her cousin and the two girls made their way out. “We’ll be outside, mom!” Lian called back to Cheshire.

“Kid Robin,” Jai teased. “Has a pretty nice ring to it. Imagine us, Kid Flash and Kid Robin.”

“That’s a stupid name,” Damian observed.

“And you’re a stupid kid. But, we can’t all be perfect, huh?” Jai held his hand out to the young Wayne.

Damian took hold and allowed the sidekick to help him to his feet. “Thanks,” he said, reluctantly.

“No problem. C’mon, let’s go make a better snowman than the girls. One that launches snowballs at them. Then, I’ll give you a better tour of Star City.”

Damian stopped, putting thought to that. “I’m in. I need a small tree branch.”

“Done.” Jai and Damian rushed out (Jai avoiding superspeed in favor of a normal human sprint.) “Bye aunt Jade, we’ll be in the back!”

“I’ll be right down!” Cheshire called out to them. She turned her attention back to the radio. “So, what were you saying, Sport?. . . No, I will not call you ‘dad’ on a business call… Bane? I gotta work with that psychopath?. . . Well, no, we’re not much better. . . No, I don’t think I could take the Young Justice contract. . . My sister– your daughter, my nephew, my nephew’s father, my daughter’s father are a few reasons. You know, I do have a conscience, sometimes. . . Yeah, Teen Titans are a different story, I can do that.”

 

Chapter Text

“Mr Wesker?” A voice uttered softly. There was no movement in response. Hugo Strange adjusted his spectacles, moving over to the wheelchair that Wesker had claimed. Wesker stared silently at the puppet in his hand, muttering softly. There was a conversation, somewhere in there. Strange gripped both handles and bent over Wesker’s shoulder.

“Arnold? Can you hear me alright?” Strange questioned.

“Huh? Oh… Yes, I’m sorry,” Arnold replied timidly.

“It’s snowing, did you see?”

“Mr. Freeze alerted us. He was saying that he might go out without his suit for a few minutes.”

“Indeed he did. And, indeed, he has. I had a few of the guards take him to the court yard. He wanted to read a little. Helps his rehabilitation to get out of the suit.” Strange lifted an electronic cigarette from his breast pocket. He took a slow inhale from it, exhaling a fine mist. “I understand you enjoyed snow in your childhood?” He set the e-cig back in his pocket.

“I liked it very much… Father built me a sled for Winter, when I was young.”

“This was before you became…?”

“Scared?” the puppet on Arnold’s hand announced. “Yeah, this was long gefore this little gucket of lard decided that the entire gig, gad world scared his little gritches off.”

“Now, Scarface, that isn’t very nice to say about your friend isn’t it?”

“Friend? This little coward ain’t nothin’ more than a… mode of transport, capiche?”

“Still not very nice.”

“Why don’t you suck my wooden–”

“Boss, we shouldn’t say anything too mean,” Arnold interjected. “This is the guy who… Decides if we leave. And we don’t have any…” His voice dropped to below a whisper. “Guns.

“Mr. Wesker?”

Arnold turned around quickly, like a deer in headlights. “Yes?”

“Would you like me to bring you over to the front window? I know you don’t wish to step out into the snow, but perhaps the sight of snow falling on Gotham will help to ease your nerves, somewhat.” Strange stood up straight now.

Arnold turned around to look up at him. “Perhaps, um– Perhaps, that would be nice.”

“I think you should leave Scarface here, for now. We’ll be back, soon, I promise.”

“I can’t just leave the boss behind!” Wesker announced, staring down at Scarface. Scarface stared back blankly at the two, mouth hung open.

“It’ll be just a couple of minutes,” Strange explained, “And we’ll be right back. Besides, you must understand that if you can’t think straight, neither can the boss.”

Wesker was silent. His eyes moved from Strange to the puppet. The doctor could practically read the internal monologue that Arnold was weaving for himself. There were some patients that he could read like a book. Riddler, Mad Hatter, Calendar Man, and Two-Face, to name a few. The Ventriloquist was just another of those. Closer to rehabilitation than one could imagine, but predictable as the Sun or the Moon. He could read the pained expressions, more than anything. The inter-personal struggle with the idea of relinquishing Scarface, if only for a few moments. It was all followed by the gentlest whispers that Strange had ever heard, confirming his thoughts.

Finally, as if by some miracle, Arnold reached back and gave Scarface to Strange. Strange grinned and set Scarface on a table nearby, sitting up, feet dangling off the edge. “Scarface will be right here when you finish.”

He returned to the wheelchair and started to gently roll him towards the window. Arnold continued to wring his hands as they slowly approached the window. Strange could sense the nervousness the man felt over his decision. Strange stopped once the wheelchair was a few inches from the wall. Wesker blinked.

The snow had calmed slightly. No longer a blizzard, the snow fell with large flakes, but gently. The sun was shining over the skyline of Gotham. The snow added a certain shimmering effect, as though the city were being slowly covered in diamonds.

“How do you like it?” Strange asked Wesker.

“It looks very nice.”

Strange handed a slip of paper to Wesker, smiling. “I am going to step outside for a moment. They don’t let us smoke in here, as why I’ve had to resort to this.” He set the electronic cigarette on the wheelchair’s armrest.

“Hm?”

“Keep that. I know Scarface has a bit of a nicotine problem. I think this could help him, significantly.” Strange lifted a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. He began to unwrap the plastic. “Arnold, I believe we’ve made some very nice progress here today.” The doctor walked down the hall, to join Victor in the courtyard for a few minutes.

Arnold looked curiously at the cigarette. He removed the cap and slowly unscrewed the top. He found it was hollow on the inside. In the hollow space, a small scalpel occupied the area. Arnold took a deep breath and quickly screwed the top back on.

Arnold lifted the piece of paper up and read it.

Have Scarface proceed as planned.

Pass it along to Mr. Zsasz.

 

Chapter Text

It was cold, but it wasn’t the snow. It was mostly the skin, he came to realize. Or, at least, he hoped. He walked along the surface of the snow, which had now reached a staggering eleven inches. His foot steps were not gentle. Each foot was brought down hard against the snow, but only along the surface he was able to remain. Somewhere, he saw that there was probably a deep metaphor in this. But, he could not find exactly what it might have been.

Hollow. That was an accurate description.

That was what he had started to feel.

Eyes twitch, roll left and right. He found himself in a cold cornfield. Mostly barren, what little crops might have been growing after the harvest having been crushed beneath the snow.

If he remembered his geography, Smallville should be nearby.

That was Genesis territory. Important wheels started turning there, decades and decades ago. No one would realize how defining all of those decades would be, for everyone, everywhere.

No wonder he was drawn to this place in his mindless wandering.

Hopeful. That was a sensation running through his body.

A beam of solid black came from nowhere. It entered through where his heart would have been, but it passed through him.

He tucked his hands into his pockets and stared at his feet. Another beam phased through him.

“You are NO FUN!” a voice screeched ahead of him. The boy was floating a few feet off the snow. The orange cat was tucked under his arm, mewling softly.

“Not in the mood, Klarion,” Deadman said simply. He continued on passed the witch boy.

The beams of black continued to blast through him, leaving steaming holes in the snow beneath him. “You’re NEVER IN THE MOOD FOR ANYTHING!” Klarion followed after Deadman. “I’m just trying to have a little fun,” he called out in his nasally voice, “But you have to do all that ASTRAL PROJECTION stuff. It’s stupid. And no fun!”

Leave him alone, witch boy,” a booming voice announced from nowhere. “Deadman has a journey that he must weave, under my own service. And if you interfere with him, I will be forced to use my power on you.

“Who are you kidding, old man?” Klarion declared. He was looking to the skies, searching for the source of the voice. He cradled Teekl in one arm, petting her gently with his other hand. “Do you have any idea how POWERFUL I am?!”

I respect the power of chaos you have mastered,” Deadman turned around and watched the flowing, green robes of his fellow spirit. He came up behind Klarion and put a hand on his shoulder. “But, if you were anywhere near as powerful as you pretend to be, you would not have allowed this.

Klarion seemed to fall in on himself, collapsing into the snow. He was writhing in pain, muttering something against the “stupid, bastard, old man” that the Spectre was.

The Spectre took a few steps away from the fall witch boy, holding his abdoman with his forearm.

“You good?” Deadman questioned as he approached him.

Fine. Tampering with the physical form of Klarion and his familiar took much of my energy. Continue onward with the plan.

Deadman nodded and made his way to Klarion. He knelt down beside him and laid his palm across the witch boy’s hair. He shut his eyes and tried to transport himself into the witch boy’s mind.

 

There was a coldness to this. A coldness he was unfamiliar with. A painful kind of cold.

Blood was everywhere.

Laughter. Echoing off the corridors of some distant memory.

Louder and Louder.

 

Get out of MY HEAD!

“You imply I even want to be here.”

This is my mind, and you AREN’T ALLOWED to have it!

“You couldn’t pay me to want this mind.”

GET OUT!

 

That last shout rang.

The sound seemed to travel forever. Into worlds that even the spirit would never see. The walls of this mind seemed to be pulsating. Beating.

Bud-ump.

Bud-ump.

And Klarion’s words had stopped. Replaced only by an internal shriek.

Block out the Deadman. That was his plan.

But the sounds did nothing to stop him. A dead man no longer cared about loudness. It was an inconvenience and an annoyance. But, it would not stop him.

The halls of this mind became cramped. More narrow as he continued. He found himself squeezing between every new entrance. No phasing through here.

Thoughts raced passed him. There was no order to them. Chaotic, like Klarion’s soul.

The witch boy was convinced that the Spectre and the Deadman were trying to destroy him from within. Every new door Deadman opened was a fresh spark of pain he felt in his unconsciousness.

Tear him apart. Deadman pondered the thought. He decided against it, remembering that the cat needed to stay alive.

He squeezed through the most narrow of any entrance way and found it.

A core.

It sparked with electric clicks of black and red.

Energy surged up from it.

“I’m just gonna take a charge, kid.”

Deadman stepped into the core.

 

And found himself falling against the snow again.

Deadman took a few heavy breathes. His head turned upwards and his eyes met with the Spectre’s.

“Do you feel an increase in your power?” Spectre questioned. He extended a hand and helped Deadman to his feet.

“Hell yeah.” Deadman rolled his neck, imaging the sounds of the cracking bones more than anything. “I feel strong as all hell. I could inhabit anything.”

I’m glad. Continue on with the plan, as it has been foreseen. The snow will continue until nightfall. You have it as cover until then.” Spectre took a few steps away, before he faded into the blizzard that had kicked up at full force again.

Deadman sighed. He walked over to Klarion’s familiar. Teekl had been buried halfway in the snow. He touched the head of the cat and shut his eyes. When his eyes opened, he found his vision changed. Sharper, more vertical, lower to the ground.

He attempted to speak, but only a small meow escaped his lips. He nodded to himself and continued to walk on the way he had been planning.

 

Chapter Text

Some people might start the conversation by asking how he got inside. That was the simplest part. People seem to underestimate the usefulness of a front door when you are staging a robbery. No one will ever notice you if you are simply going to enter a store, without setting off suspicions. There also seems to be this general consensus that supervillains only steal from high-tech places. If that were the case, this story would be relayed from the center of S.T.A.R. Labs.

But, this was not a laboratory. This was not some kind of heist meant to claim an advanced particle accelerator. Or some briefcase that controlled nuclear missile codes. Villainy did not need to follow the same foolish cliches that an age of villains had to create decades ago.

This was two kinds of criminal activities in one. This was a slaughter and this was a robbery.

In the downtown districts of Gotham City, there sits a jewelry store called “Elegant Stones.” There is nothing out of the ordinary about this store. It has no particular value to the city. There is nothing special within the store, aside from the actual jewels and gold they are attached to.

There is nothing that would separate this store from any other jewelry store in the entire world, really. There is nothing strategic about the position, either, that provides a greater advantage to the villains robbing it, being located right on mainstreet.

Even the snow had no real effect on the decision to rob this particular store. The two had decided days before that this would be the location they hit. The reason being because it would be fun.

Despite the foot of snow that had fallen by this point, it was actually impressive how on top of the snow Gotham was. The only other city that was doing better than Gotham was Metropolis, only because they had the Man of Steel himself assisting. But, Gotham Sanitation and the GCPD were doing well to keep most of the snow out of the streets, though it meant sacrificing parking spaces.

People were still moving about on mainstreet. Buying their groceries, making purchases for extra-late Christmas presents to family members that were only just now visiting. A few had stopped into the jewelry store, as well, perhaps in preparation for a certain holiday of the lovers that was coming next month.

Those were the unfortunate ones, and the only ones that at least one of the villains felt sorry for.

The jewelry store was not big. There were about seven display cases around the store. THey all had the showcase versions of the rings and earrings and necklaces and so on. There were more in the glass display cases behind the counters. There was a back area for employees, where they would grab extras of certain items for purchase. It was a quaint little store.

One man, a red helmet under his arm, had entered a while ago. He had been looking through each of the cases with extreme interest. He had slowly begun to zip up his leather jacket, preparing for the cold. He looped a finger through his belt, on his hip.

With one hand, he slipped his helmet back on, after taking inventory of everything around the store. He tapped the side of his helmet. “Red Two, this is Red One. Do you copy?”

Loud and clear, Red One.

“Bring the ride around front in exactly seven minutes.”

ETA set for six minutes, thirty.

“Smart ass.”

Clock starts now, over.

He turned towards the crowd and drew the pistol from his side. The TEC-9 fired four bullets. They all found their marks within the arms of the employees behind the counters. A few screams came from the people, a few of those screams were from the pain.

Red Hood climbed onto the top of one of the display cases. He stood and a security guard came rushing from the front door. A bullet in his neck brought him down and sprayed one of the hostages with a dark red. He let out a louder scream once the blood squirted on him.

“This is a robbery!” Red Hood announced to the crowd. “No more, no less. Don’t be a hero and you get to say hi to your families again to night.” Most dropped to the floor at that point, if they hadn’t already.

Red Hood went through the process of quickly shattering each display case and stuffing his pockets with jewels. He worked until his jean pockets were full, then began the process of stuffing his jacket. Six minutes and thirty seconds passed, before the car drove in front of the store. The vehicle had no roof, was painted in chrome red, and the hubcaps were specially modified with X’s on them.

The driver leapt out of the car and rolled into the store. He surveyed the blood and the few bullet casings that were strewn on the floor. A chuckle emitted from him and he started collecting the jewels with Red Hood.

“I see you’re doing great,” Red X said to him.

“You should be covering the car.”

“Just because you forgot to bring a damn duffel bag doesn’t mean I’m gonna willingly give up on some extra cash.” Red X leapt over the counter, shattered the display cases on the walls and started filling his own pouches.

“Well, settle for diamond profits, we don’t have time to hit the safe.”

“Watch me,” Red X declared as he rushed to the back area.

Red Hood sighed, taking a look at his watch. Fifteen seconds to rush out. There was a blast from the back room, sending plaster from the adjoining wall cascading down onto the people. The hostages let out a collective shriek.

Red X rushed back to the front, stacks of bills in his hands. “Let’s move!” He declared and they both rushed out. Red Hood fired a few bullets into the walls as they exited, to keep everyone down.

They leapt into the car and dropped whatever they had been carrying onto the floor, to sort out between them later.

“Coldest day of the year, biggest snowstorm of the decade, and you decide to get a convertible.” Red Hood complained.

“It was convenient.” Red X retorted. He wiped the snow off of his skull of a mask and stepped on the gas. The car took off down the icy roads.

It only took a second for Red Hood to notice that they were being followed. “Police,” he informed. “I’ll handle this. He reached into the back seat and lifted his rifle. A Springfield rifle, which Red X always declared was a “pointless weapon, with our jobs,” but Red Hood had gotten better with it since his rebirth.

He aimed and fired a shot. The police car took a hit in the tire and spun out on the roads. He ejected the bullet and dropped another in from the pile in the back seat.

Another tire was aimed. A sharp turn from Red X brought his aim off, and the mirror of a parked car went flying.

Hood took a deep breath, releasing an annoyed sigh. He loaded another bullet. This time the bullet met its mark. The car spun out as X turned into an alley. The car blocked up the way.

As they turned back onto the streets, Red Hood spotted them above. One hero flying, carrying the other by the arms.

“Young Justice is in.”

“Which ones?”

“Grayson– Nightwing. M’Gann– Ms. Martian.”

“I don’t consider late twenties to be much of ‘Young’ in the ‘Young Justice’ name, but I’ll take your word for it.”

“I’m not up for fighting them today.”

“Agreed. Gather up the loot.”

Red Hood understood the plan. He gathered up everything they had and dropped it all into Red X’s lap. Once he was sure it was all there, he turned back towards the approaching heroes.

“Waiting on your cue, X.” He lifted his rifle again and took aim on them. The bullet fired before they could move. M’gann dropped Dick before the bullet had a chance to strike, and she phase shifted so the bullet would pass through her. Nightwing forced himself forward and got close to the car before he found himself rolling along the powdery snow. Red X lifted an orb from his belt and threw it onto the hood of the car.

A crimson smoke covered the car and Red X leaned back to grab Red Hood.

Nightwing and Miss Martian rushed toward the cloud of smoke when they heard the sound of metal crashing against metal. horrifically. Nightwing took a stance with his batons as Miss Martian landed beside him. The smoke cleared as they made a slow approach. The car had struck the side of a brick building, and had folded in on itself. It was just a pile of scrap now. In the car, however, there was no sign of either of The Reds.

“Teleported away,” Dick observed. “Damn it.”

“They can’t be far,” M’gann announced, looking around.

“Far enough,” Dick continued. “We’re not gonna find them now.”

 

A few blocks away, they sat in a warehouse, collecting all their fallen goods into the duffel bag they should have had in the first place.

“Good haul, for one heist,” Red X announced, inspecting a few of the diamonds.

Red Hood lifted his red helmet off and sighed.

“Jason,” Red X said. Hood could practically hear the grin.

“What?”

“This is the beginning of a beautiful crime spree.”

 

Chapter Text

“Your hot cocoa is ten times better than Wally’s ever is,” Artemis commented. She took another sip from her mug.

“Well, when you’re married, you pick up a few things,” Barry explained. He was moving Artemis’ weapons to the other side of the room.

The house was surprisingly warm, considering the dramatic decrease in temperature outside. When asked about the houses warmth, Barry only responded with a simple nod and an explanation of “Justice League benefits.”

Artemis took a look around the living room. She could not help but to tap into her own natural abilities. She knew what had taken place in this house. Her eyes caught little details that others had missed. There were small rips in the couch’s upholstery. Small miscolorings in the rug, clearly blood from the fight. The kitchen tiles still had the tiniest hints of skid marks from the encounter. Artemis took another sip of her hot chocolate.

She had heard about the incident from the Watchtower’s news alerts. Everyone had heard about it. Dick had even sent out an alert to the Teen Titans, to keep them up-to-date. But, no one on the Young Justice team had been keeping up with Barry since the attack.

Artemis set her mug down. Barry hung up her costume for her, water dripping onto the carpet. “Sorry about bringing half of the river into your house.”

“No problem,” Barry said, with a smile. “I know what it’s like. Don’t blame you. What got you in there?”

“Oh, Nightwing had a lead on some scheme from Deadshot. Since everyone else is busy, I took the assignment.” She chuckled. “He shot the tires right off my cycle.” She held up a finger gun and pretended to fire it. “Bang.”

Barry moved into the kitchen, faster than she could follow. He poured himself some of the hot chocolate he’d made. He sat across from her. “This kinds of days are nice.”

“Yeah, ten degrees, frozen cement. It’s great, really.”

“You know what I mean,” Barry continued. “Quiet little days with members of the League. I haven’t had one of these since Batman took a vacation. I think Wally was still Kid Flash then.”

“I think it was us who convinced him, so I think you’re right.” Artemis chuckled.

Barry laughed with her for a few minutes. Then, he sighed. “Thirty-Eight in a few months,” he seemed to lament. It was true; Barry Allen would be turning Thirty-Eight soon, marking twenty years since he had donned the costume of the Flash.

His mind always went back to the lab, to his decision to be a hero. He remembered the feeling of loneliness that built, thinking he was the only person like this. Before he met Jay Garrick. Before Garrick introduced him to Superman and Wonder Woman. There was a lot of joy he had shared with the Justice League over the years.

A lot of near death experiences. Too many apocalyptic circumstances to count. Immeasurable odds that they always managed to overcome.

“You know,” Barry finally said, breaking the silence, “After all the Captain Colds, and Darkseids, and Lex Luthors, and Secret Societys, and everything, really… I’m honestly looking forward to my retirement.”

“You’re really going through with it, huh?” Artemis leaned in to listen.

“Yeah… I mean, I love the gig. I love helping people as Flash, and that isn’t gonna stop… But, twenty years… It really starts to take a toll after a while. I’m getting slower. No one else might see it, but I can feel it. Every time I take a bad hit, I get slower. And, now, with Zoom…” He was silent for a while. He seemed to be searching for the words, but they were lodged in his throat.

Artemis set her hand gently over his. “How’s Iris?” She asked simply.

“Irey is doing alright,” Barry said. “She’ll never be happy about her niece having the same name, though.”

“What can I say? Wally wanted to mess with his aunt. At least I got to name Jai.” Artemis took a sip of her cocoa. The mug was nearly empty, she noted.

“I wanna be there for Irey,” Barry continued, after a chuckle. “Zoom’s attack was… scary. She almost died, you know? I’ve never had one of my enemies hit…”

“...So close to home?”

“Yeah. So, I think it’s best that I hang up the tights after my birthday. Give Wally a few months to ease into being Flash, finish training Jai.”

“Oh, you don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”

“No, I’m happy to. He really wants to be Kid Flash, so I intend to make him the best Kid Flash.”

“Yeah…” Artemis downed the last of her cocoa. She stared into her empty mug for a while. Finally, with an effort, she said, “I think I might hang up the quiver this year, too.”

“Really?”

She nodded. “Wally and I are turning Thirty-One. Wally’s not slowing down, but me? I don’t have super powers. I don’t even know how Batman does it–”

“I’ve always suspected beautox.”

“–But! I know I can’t. I’ve never been as strong since the twins were born. Always worrying about them, worrying about Wally. I thought that all I could ever want was to be a League member. But, now that I got it… I’m ready to turn in my badge. Fight the good fight from home.”

“Well,” Barry started with a grin, “I’ve got some exercise tapes I was gonna give to Red Tornado, if you wanna really keep fit.”

She started laughing. “Red doing squats is an image that gives me hope, Barry.”

“Just wait until you see him,” Barry exclaimed. The laughter died down after a few moments, when Barry finally continued. “Have you told Wally, yet?”

“I’ll let you think about that question, and who you’re talking to.”

There was a nod of understanding. “When are you gonna tell him?”

“I dunno,” she sighed. Barry watched her rise from the table make her way over to her costume. A hand brushed along the fabric gently. “Where is Mr. Inverse-Tights, anyway?” She inquired, without turning toward him.

“Anywhere, in theory.” Barry stared down the hallway for a few minutes. He rose and made his way passed Artemis.

“Excuse me,” he said, “I need to check on Irey.”

Chapter Text

A foot and a half had dropped in Metropolis by now. Deep in the heart of the city, the man of tomorrow was helping in the clearing effort. The further that one moved from the Daily Planet, the more snow they would find in the streets. It was in one of those far-out suburbs that Billy Batson was busy enjoying the snowfall. Although Billy didn’t actually feel cold, Uncle Dudley had insisted that he dress for the snowfall. He felt encumbered in the puffy, blue jacket and pants.

“I feel like I’m wearing bubble wrap!” he complained.

“That means you’re doing something right!” Dudley affirmed, before throwing Billy his favorite wool hat. The one with the lightning bolts always struck him. “Go play.”

The snow plows had come through his neighborhood a few times, but the inches they pushed away were quickly replaced. Billy guessed that a good six or seven inches were still on the ground. Though, however much it was, he still found it hard to trudge across his lawn. He reminded himself, “at least this isn’t Smallville.” Nearly two feet had begun to pile up in the streets of that small town.

Billy got started on a project.

A snowman stood a good foot over him eventually. It still only stood at a chest height. Now, he was trying to figure out how he was going to place the head at the top. Honestly, making the body as tall as his arms could go was a miscalculation, at best. He rolled his snowball across the powdery surface. It grew and grew as he walked along slowly. Soon, Billy stood there, an orb of snow in his hands, and contemplated how he was going to get the head to stay.

This was not, technically, an emergency that called for Captain Marvel to make a brief appearance, but the thought tempted him. His biggest concern was if the lightning bolt would wreck his new snowman friend. He set the sphere down in the snow gently and shuffled his way behind the snowman. Once he dropped to his knees, Billy started the process of piling and packing the snow behind his new friend, looking to make a way that he could reach the snowman’s shoulders.

The mound of snow eventually reached the height he was hoping for and he got back to his feet. He grabbed the snowman skull and prepared to set it on top. He lifted his foot onto the mound, preparing to take that daring step. In one motion, he planted his foot into the snow mound and pushed himself off the ground, orb in hands. Just as quickly, the powdery mound gave in to his weight and the Batson boy went tumbling into his snowman.

His wits came to him after his face left the snow. He rolled over, realizing that he had sunk a few inches into the snow. It took him another moment to realize that he had accidentally committed the manslaughter of an innocent snowman.

“DANGIT!” Billy shouted.

“Somethin’ the matter, sugar?” a voice asked, somewhere far away. A hand slowly came into his view, reaching into the pit he’d fallen into. “Let me get you out of there.”

The voice seemed familiar, and the feel of the hand was one that Billy recognized. He grabbed the hand and felt himself lifted from the snow. Once she set him down, Billy got a clear look at his savior.

“Hey, Raq,” he smiled. She was fully geared up. The tight fitting headpiece was wrapped around her hairline, pushing her hair into a wave of auburn. The usual red and blue tights hugged her skin. He noticed a new jacket, ebony instead her usual chestnut (wondering for a second if the specifics of color he noticed came from Solomon), but the jacket seemed puffier, heavier, built for the cold. If he squinted, Billy could even make out the shimmering of her force-shield, which she’d slowly pulled down to the lowest setting. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, Icon’s handled the snow in most of Dakota City, so I decided to take a flight to Metropolis and see my favorite ten year old!” Rocket swooped down to him. She laid straight across the air, meeting him at eye level. Raquel brought her arms around her fellow League member and kissed his forehead. “How are ya?”

“Cold, mostly.” He pinched the jacket’s zipper and started tugging at it to knock the snow loose.

“I didn’t think strong, wizardy types like you could get cold.”

“Captain Marvel doesn’t get cold.”

She placed a finger on his nose. “But Mr. Batson does. One of the things that makes him special.”

He smiled. “Wanna help me rebuild my snowman?”

“Billy, we’re gonna make an even better one,” she promised.

Billy took on the job of working on the torso, while Raquel worked on the base. She hovered just above the ground and rolled the little packed orb of snow along it. It took her a few attempts before finding the correct angle to start its growing. She rolled it around Billy and his work while he got the chest started. Finding a groove, the heroine let her speed build up and let the snowman’s legs go beyond the original plan. When Raquel decided she was finished, the base had already become double what Billy had made on his own. Meanwhile, Billy’s task had gone as expected. The torso he had created came to be about the size it was on his first snowman.

When Raquel returned with the base, Billy planted the torso on it. They stared at the unevenness of this snowman’s body for a while. “There’s a joke about child bearing hips somewhere I could be making,” Raquel laughed.

Billy had started work on the head. It didn’t take long to roll up, as the chest wouldn’t have supported anything too big. Once it was done, he lifted it above his head. Raquel took it and set it atop the snowman. She hovered away and Billy took a few steps forward to admire the work.

He wondered how he was going to get the eyes and nose onto the face. He thought about just shouting the word and letting Captain Marvel handle the rest, but he bit his lip and held it back. His hands rose up to the sky and Raquel took the items from him.

Billy watched her place the items into the snowman’s head. “Did they get to make the vote today?”

She frowned, but didn’t stop giving the snowman a face. “No, the snow kind of broke up the meeting.”

“How’s it, uh… how’s it looking?”

“Honey, don’t worry,” she assured, “You aren’t getting removed from the League.”

“I really was gonna tell everyone about how old I really was! Honest!”

“I believe you, Billy, I really do. Don’t worry, you’ll be shazaming it up and saving the day, willynilly, in no time.”

He nodded.

They heard the call from across the yard. “Hey, Billy!”

Uncle Dudley was standing in the doorway, waving out to him. “I’ve got the hot cocoa ready if you wanna come inside!”

The two exchanged a smile and made their way back towards Billy’s home. “Uncle Dudley, this is Rocket. She’s from the League.”

Rocket lowered herself onto her feet and shook Dudley’s hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dudley.”

He returned the gesture and grinned. “Well, I hope you’re fueled with cocoa, Rocket. Make yourself at home.”

Chapter Text

Within a matter of hours, Metropolis City’s downtown area was clear. The League members had finished with the main streets, most of them moving on to other cities or districts. Some, however, simply decided to take a break.

Red Tornado had chosen to sit out the entire snow problem. His main body was currently undergoing repairs, and his alias body, the John Smith model, would run too many risks with the heavy snowfall. The synthetic skin was just that and would not stand up against such a downpour of water. So, to avoid the possibility of a short circuit, he decided to stay in his Metropolis apartment.

Honestly, he was thankful for the opportunity. A few of his fellow League members had told him, if he wanted to try being more human, he should give sports a try. He had particularly found himself falling for baseball and had missed the last couple of games while on League business. Now, he had the chance to catch up on them. His recorded games were playing on a small television in the back of his apartment.

He was sitting in his kitchen, listening to the color commentators, while he applied some oil to a squeaky elbow joint.

“And, stepping up to the plate, number twenty-four, “Lucky” Lacy Driller. You know, he really is one of the best hitters in the league, he really is. I stand by the fact that he is their ticket to the playoffs, no doubt about it…”

John was distracted by a knocking at the door, an involuntarily loud one. He rose, testing his elbow joint, and opened the door.

“Reddy! Buddy! What’s up?” Hal Jordan answered, inviting himself into the apartment. John shut the door for his fellow League member.

“Ah, hello, Green Lantern–”

“Hal.”

“–What brings you here, today?”

The pilot brushed the leftover snow off his heavy jacket. He set his jacket across a nearby table. “Well, Metropolis is clear, the League is handling everything else. So, I said to myself ‘Hal. You know who you haven’t had a conversation with in a little while? Ol’ Reddy.’ So, I came around.”

“I thought you said only ‘crazy people’ communicated vocally with themselves, Green Lantern,” John answered straight. He returned to the couch and continued watching his baseball game. “I was catching up with the National League games from the last fifteen days.”

“Is this Wednesday’s game with the Metropolis Metros and the Gotham Knights?”

“Correct.”

“Oh, that was a great game, I’ll watch with you.” Hal leapt over the back of couch. John walked around and sat beside him.

After a few moments of squinting, Hal tapped his friend’s shoulder. “Hey, Reddy, what’s up with the Vietnam era TV?”

“My occupation down at the Daily Planet does not supply me with adequate funds to purchase televisions of greater sizes. Besides, I can see it fine.” Hal swore that he heard the sound of zooming from his friend’s skull.

“You’re part of the Justice League, buddy. Government funded. If a walking kinetic bomb like Barry Allen can have a blank check for upgrades on his house, I’m sure you can get a little funding to spruce up your apartment.”

“In the case of The Flash, however, priority was handed to him on account of–”

“Let’s not talk about that inverse idiot, alright?”

Tornado nodded. “Can I get you anything?”

“You got beer?”

“Of course.” The cyborg made his way to the kitchen. The apartment remained silent for a time, filled with only the color commentators.

“Up for the Gotham Knights is number nine, Gary “The God” Gilbert. Future hall-of-famer and one of the best hitters in the League, but he hasn’t needed to put up with any outfield as well coordinated as the Metros this season. While you can’t argue with Gilbert’s natural ability in this game, it’s just as important to realize that the Metros have really pulled themselves together since last season. Speaks volumes about their ability, as well… And there’s the pitch. A hit!”

When Hal had a cold beer in his hand, he felt himself shivering. After a day like today, he felt that having something cold was not optimal. “Why do you keep a stocked fridge?”

“Others visit besides you, Green Lantern.”

Hal shrugged at that and took a sip anyway. “Did Barry ever give you those exercise tapes?”

“He did not. Although, I do not see the functionality in receiving them, as musculature is not a major issue for someone of my condition.”

“Well, I guess he doesn’t think you can live as a person without at last acknowledging the human activity of working out with someone on a screen.” He pointed the nose of the bottle toward the television. “Enjoying the game?”

“Highly. I look forward to watching the victory from the Knights, even though I am a supporter of the Metros.”

“Why are you so sure the Knights are gonna win, Reddy? Tell me, in simple terms, please.”

“Green Lantern, I have committed to memory the statistics of every player in the current National League, and have cross referenced that with all of the factors from the day and time of this game. It is very clear that the Knights have the advantage.”

“John,” Hal started with a smirk, “there is one thing that all of your data and predictive programming will never be able to accurately account for, and that’s good, old fashioned spirit.”

The Knights taking the field, now. The Metros were sending up a rookie hitter.

“Hal,” Red Tornado said. At hearing his name said in that robotic monotone, the Green Lantern found himself frozen. “I can assure you that victory for the Metros is a statistical improbability at this point. Case: the current fifth inning reliance on rookie hitter number twenty-nine, who has a current batting average of–”

“IT’S A HOME RUN!”  

John’s head snapped towards the television at the commentator's words, in time to watch the ball soar into the seats.

Hal Jordan lifted his beer and laughed. “Human spirit!” he cheered, taking a long sip.

“Indeed,” John Smith agreed after a moment. “Human spirit.”