“Join me or die time, is that it?”
“That’s it exactly.”
“Rot in hell, Max.”
Ted wakes up, dizzy and disoriented, to someone shining a bright light in his eyes and a variety of ambient beeping sounds.
“Do you know who you are?” someone asks him, their voice not quite sounding human. It’s distorted in some subtle way, almost like a low quality internet video after being downloaded and uploaded one too many times. Like little fragments of sound are detaching themselves and rapidly turning into satellite signals.
He belatedly realizes he hasn’t answered the question.
“I’m Ted Kord,” he says, bringing one hand up to block out the light. His hand feels heavy—his whole body feels weighted down and strange.
The light flicks off and Ted finally gets a good look at his surroundings.
He’s in what appears to be a makeshift hospital room, really just a small twin bed with some EKG equipment and monitors strewn about to track his vital signs. He’s naked, but covered in blankets. The source of the voice is a tall, intimidating, thoroughly alien looking man with golden skin and flames instead of hair.
Ted immediately reaches up and touches his own face, tracing his forehead and eye sockets. The last thing he remembers is the sensation of the bullet piercing his face, shattering his skull. Now he feels nothing. No scars, no bandages, no pain. He doesn’t feel like he’s drugged up on pain medication either.
“Am I dead?” Ted asks, not sure what else to say. “Is this the afterlife?”
“No,” the strange man answers, and Ted watches, somewhat fascinated, at how his metallic skin seems to still move as naturally as flesh. “It took a lot of work and the combination of magic and time stream manipulation, but you’re alive.”
“And you are…?” Ted says, squinting. The guy looks oddly familiar.
They stare at each other for a moment before the man speaks.
“Waverider,” he says, finally.
“Oh,” Ted says. “Okay. I think…. That sounds familiar. I think I might have run into you once or twice at the Watchtower.”
“Once or twice,” Waverider agrees, with a slight tilt to his mouth that would almost be a smile on someone else’s face. “I have clothes for you.” He sets a pile of neatly folded clothing on the bed. “I’ll just wait outside.”
“Why not?” Ted says, watching Waverider leave. He pulls off the sensors stuck to his body, ignoring the sound of each machine flatlining. Something about that feels a little hysterical. He should be dead. He should be flatlined.
Getting out of bed is difficult, and getting dressed feels off-putting, like his hands are wrapped in thick wool mittens and trying to button up his shirt anyway. Overall, his body just feels rusty and unused. He wonders if that actually is the case. Waverider mentioned magic being a factor, so maybe this body is newly conjured. The clothes are a perfect fit, which is vaguely creepy.
Waverider is waiting patiently just outside the door, and he leads Ted down a long hallway and into mundane looking kitchen.
“Coffee?” Waverider offers, and Ted sits down at the kitchen table, feeling somewhat numb.
“Sure,” he says. “Where are we?”
“A place called the Vanishing Point,” Waverider says, grabbing a coffee pot and pouring out a mug of coffee for Ted. “It’s outside of space and time.”
“Of course it is,” Ted says, taking the mug and letting the heat radiate from the porcelain to his fingers, soaking in the warmth. “And you brought me back to life…. Because…?”
Waverider looks at Ted in what Ted imagines to be a stern manner, although his expression hasn’t really changed.
“You, Ted Kord,” he says, “are the key to saving the universe.”
“Ah,” Ted says, taking a sip of his coffee. “Right, okay. Are you sure? Because I’m just Ted. You might want to try contacting Superman. Or the Green Lantern Corps.”
“I understand that you may not be ready to accept your fate,” Waverider says. “It will take many years of training before you are ready.”
“Can I pass on that?” Ted asks, but Waverider continues on.
“Months of strenuous physical exertion, to be sure,” he says, his intense gaze unflinching. “Fasting for weeks on end.”
“Is this like, negotiable?” Ted asks. “Because I gotta say: New me, new body…. I have a lot of pizza eating to make up for.”
“Absolutely no pizza,” Waverider says, shaking his head. “You’re only allowed to eat green food from now on. Salads, Brussel sprouts, avocados, celery sticks…”
“Wow,” Ted says brightly. “I hate this!” He’s eyeing his coffee and wondering how much time he could buy for himself by throwing it in Waverider’s face and booking it, when the kitchen door opens and Michelle Carter walks through.
She stops dead in her tracks and stares at Ted. Ted stares back at her.
“You’re dead,” Ted says, which he immediately regrets because a) that is patently not true and b) as a former dead person himself, he has no room to talk.
Michelle narrows her eyes, hands on her hips, and glares at Waverider.
“You little shit,” she says. “You didn’t.”
“Coffee?” Waverider asks her.
“Oh my god,” Ted blurts out. “Oh my god, you’re some kind of crazed Booster Gold fan and you’re assembling a living museum of everyone he’s ever been close to. Oh my god.”
“You know what’s sad?” Michelle says, still seething at Waverider. “Everything he just said is true. You are terrible.”
“Oh my god,” Ted says again. He throws his cup of coffee in Waverider’s face. “Michelle, we have to get out of here!” He springs up from the table and moves to grab Michelle’s hand. Michelle swats it away and storms over to Waverider, poking him in the chest with one accusatory finger. Steaming hot coffee is streaming down Waverider’s face, apparently about as painful as a warm shower.
“Did you seriously send me and Rani on a wild goose chase looking for ‘The Last Unicorn’ just so that you could secretly resurrect Ted?” She snaps. “We went to the Amazon for you, you dick. There are mosquitos there as big as my head!”
Waverider calmly walks over to the sink and dries himself off with the dishtowel.
“I think I’m a little lost,” Ted offers, looking back and forth between the two of them. “Is this not a hostage situation?”
At this point, when Ted is positive he can’t get any more confused, a little girl runs in and tackles Waverider.
“Mikey!” The girl yelps. “I saw an ocelot and an okapi and a bunch of capybaras, and I even got to swing from a vine like Tarzan!”
Waverider scoops her up and holds her over his head, swinging her around like she’s a toddler.
“Did you have fun, Rani?” he asks, and Rani launches into an excited explanation about her adventure and how they didn’t find any unicorns, but it was still so cool and—
Waverider is beaming. His smile radiates all the way up to his eyes, which are crinkling around the corners. His teeth are gleaming with a metallic sheen, but there’s something overwhelming about that smile, like it belongs on a billboard.
Mikey. Michelle. Magic and time stream manipulation. That damn smile that Ted would recognize anywhere.
“You tremendous asshole,” Ted says. “You enormous douchebag. You piece of shit.”
Waverider sets Rani down, looking concerned. Rani stares at Ted, noticing him for the first time. Ted sees Waverider’s—no, Booster’s hands sneak down to cover Rani’s ears.
Michelle looks smug.
“I cannot believe you,” Ted hisses, moving closer. “You brought me back to life and then you lied to me? For a prank?”
Rani dances out of Booster’s hands and retreats to behind Michelle, peering around her to see what’s happening.
“It seemed like too good an opportunity—“ Booster starts, but Ted grabs him by the back of the neck and pulls him down to kiss him furiously.
“This is the worst thing you’ve ever done,” Ted says, pulling away to punch Booster a few times. His fists bounce harmlessly off of him, and he gives up in favor of more kissing.
“I think I can live with that,” Booster says, laughing into Ted’s mouth. His breath is minty. His lips taste a little bit like copper. He is… currently sticking his tongue into Ted’s mouth in front of his sister and a child.
Michelle clears her throat, and the two of them spring apart with no small amount of guilt.
“I think Rani and I are going to let you two… catch up in privacy,” she says, smirking. “I’ll see you at dinner, Ted.” She leaves, pulling Rani gently behind her. “You owe me, Mikey,” she calls behind her.
Ted turns back to Booster and grins at him. Now that he knows, he can actually see Booster’s face underneath all the gold. Booster does a quick turn for him (and those abs are actually gold-plated now, there is a God) and gestures to his body.
“New look,” he says, in that classic way of his that sounds neither humble nor conceited.
“Very nice,” Ted says, nodding and feigning a look of serious contemplation. “Did it come with any upgrades?”
“Oh, you know,” Booster says causally. “Time travel at will. Constant mental link with the time stream. The ability to read people’s futures through physical contact.” He lifts one hand and starts counting. “Super strength, enhanced invulnerability, quantum energy blasts, invisibility, the power to turn intangible…. And did I mention that I can fly at the speed of light?”
“Shut up,” Ted says, forgetting to play along. “You hit the jackpot, Boost.”
“You ever wanted to fly, Ted?” Booster says, grinning. “I’ve got a Legion ring with your name on it.”
That sounds awkwardly like a proposal, and they both snicker nervously.
“Seriously though,” Booster says, taking both of Ted’s hands in his. “You’re okay with this? I know it’s a big change.”
“Remember the 90’s?” Ted asks fondly. “When you were in that god-awful robot suit?”
“Nothing but phone sex for months,” Booster groans. “Don’t remind me.”
“This is more than okay,” Ted says, laughing. “Here.” He holds out one hand, palm up. “Read my future.”
Booster gently traces the lines on Ted’s palm with one finger.
“Spoiler alert,” he says. “I’m seeing something along the lines of ‘Happily Ever After’. Oh, and pizza for dinner.”
And for once, everything in the world is perfect.