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Shadows and Shade

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She'd thought that getting out of Europe would be the most difficult thing she'd ever do.

She'd never figured on trying to get back in.

Leaving in the dead of night with little more than the clothes on her back had led to problems. Lack of identity documents was a big one. Lack of money on hand was another.

She hadn't been thinking, too busy trying not to throw up or pass out, to just stay upright as she fled. If anyone had asked her at the time how she planned to get back, she would have laughed in their faces.

Now… now, it's an issue. Most of her family and friends are either safe or dead, but there are others – not least Olga, the young Russian woman she had spent the previous summer with. They had met clandestinely when they could, using secret signs to signal 'I love you' and 'you're wonderful' to each other when anything more would be too risky. Once, she had brought Olga to her synagogue on a quiet day, and they had sat just a little too close to each other, legs touching. The thrill had outweighed the fear, if only just.

Last she heard, Olga was signing up to be a sniper in the Soviet army. There are bands of partisans in Eastern Europe who will allow women to join, Resistance groups in the west if she can't make it out east.

She can't just sit here and do nothing.

*

Samuel passes her the note with a hand that trembles only slightly. If she is generous, she can put it down to his advanced age, rather than sadness or fear on his part. The tailor – an old friend of her great-uncle's – has been her guiding light in New York, providing her with whatever help he can give her to start a new life.

He's also her contact for other, somewhat more clandestine matters. He has already managed to procure her some new travel documents, although finding a way into Europe for her is proving more difficult. She knows that she's willing to die if it means saving others, but she's not sure if she's willing to die in the process of getting there. It seems somewhat counterproductive.

She opens the note. Sees Olga's name, and a few other short words.

She stands in silence for a long time, alternately crumpling and smoothing the paper between her fingertips as she assesses her options. Samuel, bless him, is respectfully silent.

She can do more here. Better to be the hunter than the hunted.

"Samuel… would you be able to make me something in black leather?"

 

*

Tonight's criminals are mostly small-time, and they capitulate disappointingly easily. On nights like these, when she needs something to hit, she seeks out Hooded Justice for some sparring practice. The two of them share a relationship that is more amicable hatred than anything else; sometimes, Hooded Justice is almost protective of her, in an awkward, big-brother kind of way. They can't stand each other, and they're both happy with that.

What Silhouette isn't happy about is that, in a way, Hooded Justice could end up being a victim in much the same way as she could. It galls her to think that they have anything in common at all.

Tonight, Hooded Justice offers to liquidate the Liquidator for her while they beat the shit out of each other. It's a nice thought, but she doesn't want to give him the satisfaction of taking down her archenemy. She breaks his nose to express her appreciation of his gesture. He doesn't seem to notice.

When she fights, she becomes the thing that other people are afraid of, instead of being the one living in fear. It's grimly satisfying and stomach-clenchingly horrifying at the same time. Hooded Justice would probably congratulate her.

Silhouette doesn't fight so hard now out of guilt over abandoning another, more important war. Silhouette is incapable of guilt. Ursula is not so fortunate.

She's at the point of exhaustion where she can't fight anymore, and so she lights a cigarette, savouring the warm smoke in the cool night air.

"Those things will kill you, you know."

"Be quiet."

*

There are parts of the superheroing business that aren't superheroing at all. Like the fancy fundraising dinners, populated by people who can't quite let themselves forget that the dinners aren't quite as fancy as they used to be.

Get used to it, she wants to tell them. It won't be getting better any time soon.

Not all of them do the dinners, the gala events, the charity work. Out of those who do, they all have their own reasons. Silhouette mostly sticks to those that are raising money for things that are most important to her.

Tonight, it is to raise money for fellow Jews who have fled Europe and are looking to settle locally. Silk Spectre is the only non-Jew in attendance, doing her best not to look out-of-place as she dazzles the men with her smile.

She fits in better than Silhouette. Silhouette has never been welcome at any of these events, no matter who's organising them. Everybody can always find something to hate about her, whether it's her religion, her sexuality, the way she dresses, or any of a thousand other things. Society bores her, and leaves her restless.

The Jewish women stare at her the same haughty way the Gentile women do, somehow managing to look down their noses at her despite their relative deficiencies in height. She's just as ostracised by a good deal of her own people as they are by everyone else, but she buries the hurt beneath an arched eyebrow and a dry remark. There are some things that are more important than her hurt feelings, although sometimes, just for a moment, it's difficult to remember why.

It's easy enough to at least put on airs, to say that she's Austrian nobility, to create an aura of mystique. She's yet to encounter someone in America who knows that the Austrian aristocracy was disbanded years ago – that even when it existed, Jews had to buy their way in, and they didn't stay there after they passed away. She trades on the fact that, many decades ago, her great-grandfather bought himself a noble title, and hopes that nobody questions it too closely.

She doesn't even have all that much money; of what she did have, much of it was left behind when she fled. She's lucky enough that her family had some money in a Swiss account. When she goes to these functions dressed as the Silhouette, it has almost as much to do with the limited amount of clothes she can afford as it does with her staying in character.

As the evening fades and the people start to drift away, Silk Spectre catches her eye.

"Want to head out?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

*

They're never scheduled to fight crime together. Two women, out alone at night – it's unthinkable to the male members of the Minutemen, despite the fact that the two of them can hold their own against most of the men, and they know it.

It's all the more liberating, then, when they go out together on a whim. They know that it will all be more than worth it, even when they head in to their next meeting to be greeted with disappointed looks, or Captain Metropolis moaning about his precious roster.

Sure, they don't actually like each other all that much, but that's not the point. Most of the Minutemen don't like each other very much. It makes it easier to fight criminals when they're not constantly worrying about the wellbeing of their teammates.

The two of them are like night and day. Silk Spectre, the darling of the masses, takes out her opponents with heavy punches that seem to be powered by patriotism and home-made lemonade and the American flag itself. Even when she's fighting, she's squeaky clean.

Silhouette, on the other hand, sticks to the shadows. She fights hard and dirty, and does the things that Silk Spectre won't… or, at least, won't admit to. There have been times when Silhouette has seen Silk Spectre with a certain look in her eye, a certain fierceness to her punches that cannot be explained away as simple crimebusting.

Silhouette does not ask Silk Spectre about these times, although she can guess. They all have something inside themselves that isn't quite sane, could all quite easily end up in a little white jacket like Mothman.

The general public don't find Silk Spectre threatening, because she's one of them, with her apple pie smile and her suspenders and her pale skin, all woman. They think that, at the end of the day, she's someone they could settle down with, someone who will bring them their pipe and slippers. They're almost certainly wrong, as far as Silhouette can read the situation, but that's how they see it.

Silhouette, on the other hand, is a freak. With her pants and her dark hair and her refusal to let Schexnayder dictate who she loves, she's everything Silk Spectre isn't. As long as she keeps putting criminals in jail and keeping other people's children safe, she's an acceptable freak, but a freak nonetheless. She's seen the kind of publications her 'fans' put out, twisted fetish material that makes Silk Spectre's Tijuana Bibles look like children's stories.

It drives her, forces her to push herself. Although she has never been shy, now she is brash, ruthless – bordering on careless, at times, taking bigger and stupider risks to see what she can get away with. When she's Silhouette, she's invincible, and acts accordingly, leaving Ursula to pick up the pieces later.

Schexnayder does damage control – V-Day had been particularly trying – and she tries to work out new ways of infuriating him. Americans are caught in a strange limbo, where they'll insult Hitler in one breath, and Jews in the next. But they can't hate Jews quite as loudly anymore, so they find other ways of diverting their anger. Some days, Silhouette is all too glad to give them other things to hate about her. It means she gets to hit more of them.

It helps to be exotic – exotic, not foreign, and certainly not Jewish. Sometimes she can almost make people forget about her supposed shortcomings. Other days, she rubs them in their faces as hard as she can.

 

*

She fumbles the key out of the custom-made pocket on her costume, letting herself in just as the sun dares to peer cautiously over the horizon. Between her work and Vera's, they keep some strange hours.

She navigates the security devices she set up when she first moved in, re-setting them behind her when necessary. Vera thinks it's a cute quirk, and humours Ursula, to an extent.

There are less of them than there were when Silhouette was living alone – she has capitulated somewhat to Vera's teasing. Silhouette wishes it were the other way around, that she could move her entire apartment underground somewhere and bolt up all the windows. What is the use of loosening security now, when she finally has something worth protecting?

She checks the money stashes, the hidden weapons, how much food they have and how long it could conceivably last. She has developed habits since she left Austria – some deliberate, some less so.

Eventually satisfying herself that they're not in immediate danger, she makes her way towards the bedroom, stumbling slightly when she trips on the edge of a rug. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing, but it leaves her feeling shitty when it wears off.

She pauses at the doorway, stunned and breathless by the view as morning sun creeps around the curtains, highlighting the curve of a thigh and a small, perfect breast beneath a spill of dark hair.

"Schatz, komm ins Bett," comes a sleepy voice, and she raises her gaze to Vera's face, where she is greeted by a tired and welcoming smile. Vera's German is halting and basic, but she insists that Ursula teach her.

She doesn't need to be told twice; she collapses onto the mattress and flops backwards, half-heartedly prying off her boots with her feet while trying to simultaneously remove her jacket. She's exhausted enough to settle for a half-success, and passes out with a smile on her face and a woman in her arms.

 

*

Blood on her knuckles; some hers, some his. It accessorises nicely with her belt.

The Liquidator snarls and spits beneath her heel like a rabid animal. Silhouette digs the heel in further, and feels him howl as much as she hears it.

She jerks him to his feet, and he grinds himself back against her, one hand roaming freely, even as he hisses the foulest of profanities. A slight tilt of her head, and her cigarette is put out against the back of his neck; another quick movement, and he's in handcuffs and being lead towards the young police officer hovering uncertainly nearby.

She makes sure to pull on his cuffs just a bit harder than strictly necessary when handing him over, and leans in to whisper in his ear.

"I should have you put down like the dog you are."

But she won't do it, and they both know it. There's still a part of her inside that recoils from such things, even as another part of her insists that they're necessary. The kinder part of her nature prevails, for now. Maybe next time, it will be different.

"I guess today is just your lucky day."

He smirks back. "Baby, you don't know how true that is."