Chapter 1: Prologue and Chapter 1
Chapter by mtgat
Virgil was walking through the living room on his way to the kitchen for a snack when Sharon turned on the tv.
" ... breaking news! I'm Shelly Sandoval, on location in Metropolis, where the Justice League has just been fighting with the Legion of Doom."
Sharon changed the channel.
"Hey! Turn that back "
"You're not even watching tv, Virgil," said his sister, continuing to flip.
He jumped over the back of the couch and landed in the seat beside her. "I am now. C'mon, change it back!"
Sharon sighed her favorite martyr sigh and turned the channel back. "Just because your skinny butt has some juvenile obsession with the Justice League ... "
"Shh!" Virgil grabbed the remote from her and turned it up.
The camera wasn't steady, and Virgil felt a quick stab of vertigo as he watched. A huge building had been demolished, and dust and smoke and superheroes were everywhere.
" ... bodies have been removed from the building."
Uh oh. Sounded like the League hadn't gotten there in time.
"Unconfirmed reports have said Black Canary and Doctor Light have been evacuated for medical treatment. Their condition is unknown at this time."
Virgil hoped they were okay. Doctor Light had always been really nice to him.
"This just in. More unconfirmed reports are coming in, and I must emphasize, these have not been substantiated by any member of the Justice League, that three League members are still trapped inside."
Behind Sandoval, heroes surrounded a small area of the ruins. Virgil squirmed to see, and the cameraman must have read his mind, because they zoomed in. He saw a flash of purple being dragged from the building, and he got a bad feeling in his stomach.
"It's hard to tell from here, but that appears to be Metamorpho. Can we get a stock photo? Thanks." A picture of Metamorpho appeared in the bottom left corner. "He doesn't appear to be moving."
Just then, a dark hand covered his tv screen, and Batman's voice boomed through the speakers: "Get back. Now."
The reporter and the camera moved back a bit, and another paper was thrust into her hands. "More reports coming in." She scanned them quickly. "Green Lantern and Hawkgirl were inside the building at the time of the explosion, which was several minutes ago. Green Lantern is capable of forming a force bubble with his ring, so both may still be alive."
The phone rang. Virgil ignored it. Sharon stared at him, then made a grunt of disgust and went to answer it. "Yeah, he's here. Hold on." She thrust the phone into Virgil's hands. "It's Richie. When you're done watching the League be perfectly fine, because they always are, I want the tv back."
"Are you watching?"
"So you think they're okay?"
"I don't know. I really don't."
"I'm coming over."
"Good idea." He hung up, still watching.
When the channel went to commercial, Virgil ran up to his room and got out his comm from the desk drawer where he kept it. "Static to Flash."
"Not now, Static." Translation: we're busy, kid.
"Just wanted to know if Gear and I should come help."
"No. Just stay put." Flash's voice softened, and Virgil heard the worry come through loud and clear. "We'll let you know when we know anything. I promise." The link went dead.
About twenty minutes later, Richie showed up, and they sat on the couch together. The channel had resumed its normal programming, so they'd gone to CNN. No new reports, and no sign of Lantern or Shayera. An hour went by. Pops got home from work, saw them on the couch, asked why, then sat with them. After a while, he made sandwiches for them all and brought them out on a plate. Sharon walked back through a few times, making that same irritated noise.
"They're gonna be fine. It's the Justice League, hello!" She took a sandwich, though, and she read her book in the living room.
The hours went by. Virgil and Richie barely spoke to each other. Sharon looked at them over the edge of her book from time to time, but Pops just sat with them and watched the news.
CNN came back from commercial, and then the anchor said, "Breaking news. This just in from the Justice League."
Richie jerked and touched his ear, and said quietly, "He's here too. Go ahead." Virgil glanced to see if Sharon had noticed, but she was watching the tv.
The anchor said, "Metamorpho, Green Lantern, and Hawkgirl are dead."
Virgil's head twisted to Richie, whose finger was still at his ear and who looked pale as a ghost. He felt his father's hand on his shoulder. He shut his eyes.
Kyle felt conspicuous. He often did, being the only human out where he was among the stars, but life in the Corps had numbed him to that over the past few years. Everyone looked weird, so nobody did. Fact of life.
Today he stood out. Today, although he stood with a strong handful of his closest friends from the Lantern Corps, he wasn't like them anymore. He was on Earth, and he was staying. They'd arrived just in time for the memorial service - Metamorphing Guy had gotten a funeral besides, but he left behind enough of a body to bury - and now Kyle stood back, watching the Justice League mourn their dead, with his rucksack on his back and ready to move into a dead man's sector.
He knew he should be solemn, knew the League had lost three good people and the Corps one of their own, and he'd liked John aside from all of that. But right now, he just kind of wanted to throw up.
Should've dropped the stuff at the door. He hadn't seen a good spot, though, and he didn't want to leave his few important personal possessions just sitting someplace, hoping they didn't get taken. Which was stupid, when he thought about it, because no one was crazy enough to steal things when the whole League was standing right there.
A few of them stared in his direction from time to time. His shoulder was getting numb, but he didn't want to swing the bag and set it at his feet because there wasn't much room, and so he tried to shift the weight, and that just made it heavier.
Like he tended to do in these situations, he looked over at Katma and Kilowog. And then he saw the pain on both faces, pain he'd seen off and on ever since the League had contacted Oa. John had been their friend, more than a friend to Kat if the rumors were right, and here Kyle was ready to complain because his sketchbooks and underwear were getting heavy.
The urge to vomit came back.
A lot of people spoke. John had had a lot of friends, and Kyle supposed so had Metamorphing Guy and Hawkgirl. A pretty blonde thing cried her way through Metamorphing Guy's eulogy. An even prettier Black lady sat in the front row beside her, stiff and straight in her dark dress, but although Superman looked at her a bunch of times, she didn't get up to say anything and Kyle didn't see her crying. Kyle knew about the Hawkgirl thing with John, but he'd heard that John was engaged to someone else, and guessed it was the Black lady. Instead, the Flash got up and started telling stories about John and Hawkgirl too, stupid stories, funny stories, and soon everyone had a smile, even if it was a sad one.
That Flash seems like a good guy.
And then it was done, and the superheroes broke off in groups to talk quietly. Several went to look at the wall, where three gold stars had just been affixed with three names. They were the first three, and probably not the last. Superman was over there, and Kyle was about to go see him, say hi, maybe get a few pointers on things like where he should put his stuff. Then Flash zipped over to their group.
"Hey, guys," he said warmly, and to Kyle's surprise, he hugged Kilowog, and then Katma. "Glad you could make it."
"Of course we came," Kat said, trying to use her chiding voice and failing.
"If you need anything," said Kilowog. "Just ask."
"We've got it covered, pal of mine," said Flash. "It's not like the old days when there were just the seven of us taking care of things." He stopped, losing the smile he'd been wearing. A moment later, he put it back on. "Sorry."
"We understand," said Katma.
"How long are you guys staying?"
"Not long," said Tomar Re. "We came to honor John Stewart, and to escort ... "
Kyle coughed. "It's just 'Green Lantern,' Tomar."
Katma rolled her eyes. "I don't get the 'secret identity' thing with you humans."
"John didn't have one," Flash said, the first thing he'd said directly to Kyle, and it sounded like an accusation.
"Sure he did," Kat replied. "When he first started out as a Lantern. Wore a mask and everything."
Kilowog snickered. "I remember those days. Bad mask."
Kyle felt uncomfortably aware of his own mask on his face.
"But he dropped it," said Flash.
"He got outed," corrected Katma. "He was really mad, too. He sent me a message, yelling about it."
"I remember that," said Kyle. "Some newspaper did it." He did a quick check of his memory, and he didn't think it had been the Planet.
"Whatever," said Kat. "He was mad. And then he got over it." She patted him on the shoulder. "So will you."
Kyle wanted to object, but Flash was already saying his good-byes to everyone, and Kyle's hand was getting shaken, and Katma and Kilowog had ducked over to give their regards to people before they left. Katma talked in a low voice to Batman for a few minutes, Kyle noticed.
"I don't need to get over it," he said to himself.
"What?" said Flash, who was still standing there.
"Nothing. Hey, can you tell me where I can put this stuff?"
"Ask J'onn or Mr. Terrific." And before Kyle could ask who in the world they were, Flash had zipped away to chat up someone else.
A few minutes later, he was waving good-bye to the other Lanterns. They had their own sectors to patrol. If the Corps stopped working every time a Lantern died, nothing would ever get done. The greatest honor to another Lantern's memory was doing the best job he could, Kilowog had told him. Anyway, they'd had a private wake for John the day before.
Probably the day before. Kyle hadn't been on Earth for more than a three-day stretch at a time in years, and his time-sense was all screwy. It was supposed to be afternoon, and that looked right in the sky, but his body clock was set to Oa Standard and it was not quite lunchtime. With his stuff getting heavier and the room getting less full, he figured he needed to find a place to sit down, a place to put his stuff, and possibly something to eat.
Superman was still standing by the wall, and Kyle hauled his bag over. Superman nodded a greeting, but continued to talk quietly with Batman and Wonder Woman. Kyle wasn't sure if he should interrupt, so he stood there a while, pretending to gravely examine the new stars. Finally, the three of them broke their conversation, and he saw his opportunity. "Superman?"
"Hi, K -"
"Lantern It's just 'Green Lantern,' okay?"
Superman smiled. "Of course. Well, Lantern, I can't say I'm happy for the circumstances, but it's good to see you again."
"Same here," Kyle said. "Hey, can you tell me where I can put my things?"
"Ask Mr. Terrific or J'onn and they'll set you up." Superman touched his ear. "Superman here."
"But ... " Kyle started.
"I have to go. Excuse me." And he flew off.
The room was almost empty now, and Kyle hadn't seen where most of the Leaguers had gone. A few had gone past them into the Tower proper, but most had simply left, either to the other Watchtower or to their own homes. He looked around, saw a cowboy talking to a knight in swear-to-god shining armor, and figured he'd try his luck there.
The cowboy looked him up and down. "You the new Lantern?"
"That's me. Hi." He stuck out his hand. "Green Lantern. Yes. Hey." The secret identity thing was going to suck.
The knight shook his hand gravely. "Sir Justin of the Court of ... " Vigilante poked him in the ribs.
"Call 'im Shining Knight. Everybody else does."
"Hi," said Kyle. "Look, can you tell me where I can put this stuff?"
"You stayin' here?" asked Vigilante.
"I think so. At least for now. I lost the lease on my apartment years ago."
Sir Justin said, "J'onn J'onzz is in charge of League affairs, although Mr. Terrific has deigned to take on some of his responsibilities in J'onn's absence."
"I seen 'em both around today," said Vigilante. "They'll set you up good. C'mon, Ess Kay." And they turned and left.
Kyle stood alone in the front hall of the Metropolis Watchtower, his rucksack still on his back.
The inner door was unlocked, and after a moment, he went through. The outer door to the street had looked pass-coded and sealed, and he knew that if he went out, there was no way he was getting back in without a keycard or an escort, and currently, he had neither.
Inside the rest of the Tower, bare corridors stretched to either side, with windows looking out on the rapidly-purpling skyline over Metropolis Harbor. Afternoon was fading into evening, and the heroes had returned to their heroing.
"Hello?" Kyle called down the corridor to his right. No answer, and he decided to start walking. He'd either run into someone or set off an alarm, and at this point, any attention would be good.
The Tower was eerily quiet and empty, though, and Kyle startled when the lights automatically clicked up to full brightness as the daylight entirely died outside. He'd been to the orbital Watchtower once; the station had bustled with purple techs and multicolored Leaguers and the hum of the power systems keeping the impossible ornament floating along in space. When he'd gone back to Oa, he'd gone through two packs of colored pencils trying to capture it all in sketches before his memories faded.
He'd expected the Earth-based Tower to be even more vivid, an easier stopping-off place between missions for the League and a cozy assignment on the planet for the crew. Instead, as he picked up his pace nervously, this was a crypt, a mausoleum, a place for the wraiths of a dead colleague and his associates to wander, and Kyle had entrapped himself within by some sin, probably pride.
Stewart's voice was in his imagination: You really think you can handle this job, kid?
Kyle shook his head, ridding it of the voice. That was stupid. John had always been a good guy. Kind of a hardass sometimes, sure, but so were all the old-timers, and so Kyle expected to be someday, training snot-nosed kids with new rings. During the rare times they'd been able to just hang out and talk, John had always used the word "when" in regards to Kyle's taking the sector, never "if." Even in Kyle's fevered glow of just being in the same room as another human again, he'd picked up on that. It made the training a little easier sometimes, after John had gone back home and Kyle was still out there, still learning, still screwing up.
Stewart's voice again, kinder this time: No more room for screw-ups. This is your life now.
Or it would be, Kyle supposed, if he could only find someone to tell him where he could sit down. He felt like he'd entered a room where there was a surprise party going on. No one was jumping out, but he felt that there were people nearby if he could just find them.
He turned a corner and found an elevator. "Yes!" Elevators were good. They led to upper levels, where there could be people.
He glanced at the numbers on the panel, picked the second floor as a reasonable guess, and punched it.
He punched it again, waiting for the doors to close, anything, and then he noticed the card-access right by the panel. Different people would have different access levels to get to different parts of the Tower. Security procedures. Yay.
Kyle hit his head against the wall of the elevator. Then he dropped his bag and plunked himself onto the floor. Someone would come. Eventually. And then he would ask them who in the hell Mr. Terrific and J'onn were.
Clark rubbed the bridge of his nose. This day had been too long. So had the day before it. And the day before that had been almost unbearable. Confrontation after confrontation with the Legion of Doom was leaving the League tired and edgy, not sure when they could relax or what alarum they could trust was a real alert and not another trap.
Clark hadn't honestly believed Metamorpho could be killed, not by anything short of a nuclear detonation, and even then he'd have given the man even odds of pulling through. Doctor Light and Black Canary were still in the infirmary on the orbital Watchtower, but were expected to make full recoveries.
He'd been spending a lot of time over the past couple of days trying not to think about the other two victims of Toyman's snare, trying even harder to block out Grodd's grinning chuckle as he'd pointed out just how thoroughly he'd broken the "Lucky Seven," trying most of all to quell the dark place inside him that whispered his double's methods of punishment and control, just this once, might be for the greater good and not just for vengeance of two beloved friends lost.
He had a headache.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow was Sunday, and he would go to the church he'd been forgetting to attend lately, and while the minister talked, he would sit and he'd pray for a release from his own anger, hands folded and head bowed like Ma had taught him as a child. And maybe it'd work this time.
He flew onto the roof of the Metro Tower, landing lightly then striding to the rooftop entrance. He swiped his card, opened the door, and walked down the stairway to the Control Room.
Clark nodded a greeting to Wally and Booster, did a quick glance over the day's reports, then went to walk down to the canteen for a bite to eat before he went home.
Question came in the door he was about to walk out, and stopped him.
"Question." They were still not on the best terms after the Cadmus thing. Sure, Clark had saved his life, but the Question still watched him — well, the way he watched everything behind that blank face — with an air of detachment and worry that the future he'd theorized might still come to pass. And nothing Clark could say would ever entirely change his mind.
Question asked, "Did you forget something?"
"I don't think so. Why?"
"I found our new Green Lantern asleep in the elevator a few minutes ago."
"What? " The headache wasn't going anywhere. "Where is he now?"
"Still sleeping. He looked tired." Question's face, as usual, gave nothing away.
Clark sighed and went out past Question to the elevator. Sure enough, as the door slid open, Kyle Rayner was just stirring on the floor.
"K — Lantern?"
Kyle sat up and rubbed his head. "Ow. Thought that might work."
"What might work?"
"Staying in the elevator until someone came along."
Clark offered him a hand and helped him to his feet. "Why are you sitting in the elevator?"
"Because I don't have a card to activate it. Or the front door." He brushed invisible specks of dust off his uniform.
"Why didn't you use your ring?"
"My ... " Kyle paused. "You don't have alarms against that kind of thing?"
Clark opened his mouth and closed it. "You know, I've never asked."
"By the way, can you please introduce me to the guys you said would give me a room, since I've never met them?"
"You met J'onn last time, I thought. Tall, kind of green?"
"Sounds like half the people I know. You've seen the Corps."
Clark smiled. "True. I'm sorry. I forgot you didn't know anybody. Let me make it up to you?"
"As long as that involves food of some sort, you're on."
"There's a canteen here and a nice cafeteria on the Watchtower." Clark paused. Kyle was a Metropolis boy. "But I know a great steak place downtown if you wouldn't mind going in secret identity mode."
Kyle cracked a grin. "You're on."
"Let me introduce you to a few people first." Clark led him back to the Control Room. Question inclined his head at Kyle, politely declining to shake hands. Booster made up for it by shaking Kyle's hand so hard Clark was sure it would come off; Booster rarely mentioned anything about his life in the future, but Clark knew the man remembered some names.
"Flash, come meet Green Lantern."
"We met," said Wally, not turning away from his monitor. Clark thought about making him come over, and then dropped it. Wally wasn't ready yet.
Clark went to another station and called the Watchtower. "Terrific, you there?"
The screen crackled and then merged into an image: Vibe. "Mr. T's not on tonight, Superman. Anything you need?"
"No, I can do it here. Thanks." He closed the transmission and then pulled up a schematic of the Metro Tower with room assignments. There was a free room on Level Five. He keyed in his own code and got a code for Kyle, printing out a temporary passcard for him at the same time.
"All right," he said, coming back to where Kyle stood, craning his neck around to get a better look. "Code, passcard, you'll get the real ones probably tomorrow."
"Let's drop your things in your room and then go. We can change on the way."
Question watched them go; Wally never even moved his head.
J'onn is going to have to stay around for a while. And I know who his first appointment needs to be.
"Nice fellow," said Question.
Wally didn't say anything. He'd stopped looking at the data readout a while ago. He wasn't supposed to be on watch this evening, but there'd been an opening in the schedule because ...
He wasn't ready to put words around the gaps.
He really wasn't ready for someone else to try to fill one.
Wally hadn't slept in two nights. The first, he'd stayed at the site, digging superfast through rubble and debris, looking for anything and finding nothing. Metamorpho had been easy to see, and Doctor Light had been trapped under a fallen wall, and the rest had been wounded (mostly minor scrapes and bruises, except for Canary, who'd almost lost a leg) in the explosion by flying debris and ...
The second night, last night, he'd tried to sleep and he hadn't been able to, and he'd gotten a call at one am from Hall, who had been as drunk as any man Wally'd ever met, and Wally had run run run as fast as he could to Hall's place, and the alcohol in his bloodstream couldn't keep pace with his metabolism, and he'd spent the night awake and too sober listening to a man he didn't like sob like a child.
And now it was the third night, and Wally was standing a watch because she ...
Kyle devoured everything the waiter set in front of him. Superman — no, Clark — had been right; this place was fantastic Still weird, realizing that Superman was actually Mr. Kent. Now that he knew, staring across the table at the guy as he ate his own steak, he saw so many things in common he couldn't imagine not knowing.
Staring. He was staring. Kyle bent back over his plate, scooping up some gravy with another roll. Everything here was delicious and in huge portions, from the enormous potatoes overflowing with butter and sour cream to the hearty steaks, still sizzling on the plates as they stated to eat. Earth food.
"So," said Mr. Kent around a bite of steak. "Are you thinking about coming back to the Planet? I can put in a good word for you with Perry."
"Thanks. I'd like that." He rubbed his head. Then he looked to make sure no one was nearby and said quietly, "The Guardians give us a stipend to live on, based on the local economy. It's not a lot, though."
"John told me about that," said Mr. Kent. "I was wondering how he could afford to be a Lantern full time."
"I thought you were You Know Who full time. Until just now."
Mr. Kent said, "And I'd prefer it stay that way. You know to keep this under your hat?"
"Scout's honor. Nobody would believe me anyway." Kyle played with his roll, tearing it to little bits. "How bad is it?"
"You just lost three members, including two founders." There. That was the wince Kyle'd been expecting. "Don't tell me everyone's okay."
Mr. Kent sat back in his booth seat. An expression Kyle didn't recognize crossed his face, and his fingers itched. He wanted his charcoals for this, drawing the most famous face in the world in shades of light and dark. He forced his hands to hold the roll tightly.
"No one's okay," said Mr. Kent after a long time. "Some people are less okay than others."
"I'm coming in blind here. I know you. I knew John. I met a few other people, but I don't really know anyone. Flash already hates me."
"He doesn't. He's just ... He's one of the less okay people right now."
"He shouldn't be on duty, then. One thing Katma drilled into my head was that if you know your emotions are going to guide you instead of your brain, you get the hell out of there before you do something stupid and get someone killed."
Mr. Kent watched his face for a moment. "Smart woman, that Katma," he said after a moment.
"Anyway, it doesn't matter. Flash insisted on taking the watch tonight. He's on until midnight. The criminal element have been quiet the last few days because they're afraid we're going to go all Justice Lords on the next person to stick a toe out of line."
"Don't worry about it," said Mr. Kent, and there was that look on his face again. "He'll come around. Everyone will, eventually. Give them time to adjust. It'd be easier if you told a few of them your name. Some people are going to feel like you're trying to make them choose between you and their memories of John if you insist on using the codename."
"Maybe." Pick. Pick. And now there was nothing left but crumbs. "Who do I stay away from?"
"Everyone will come around eventually. Fine. But Flash isn't the only one who's not going to be my best friend right off the bat."
"Vixen. Give her room."
"Was she the one at the memorial service?"
Mr. Kent nodded. "She and John were together, but ... " He sighed. "It was complicated, and John managed to complicate it a lot more about two seconds before he died. You're going to hear a lot of rumors about that. Ignore most of them."
"All right. Anyone else?"
"Hawkman, if he decides to stay. He's not officially in the League," Kent lowered his voice, "and to be frank, none of us can really stand him anyway. Don't be surprised if you don't see much of him."
"What about Metamorphing Guy's girl?"
"Metamorpho," said Superman sharply.
Mr. Kent was tense, and then he tried to relax. Under his suit, Kyle saw the roll of his muscles as they adjusted. An hour, just one hour with Superman and his charcoals under a good light, and Kyle would have three Christmasses all tied up for what he wanted.
"Sapphire is welcome to visit, but she's not in the League."
Kyle had stopped thinking about the League for a moment. "Hey, does Jimmy know? About you, I mean?"
"No one at work does. And again, you need to keep it that way."
"I can. And Mr. Kent?"
"Thanks for trusting me."
Another smile, like pure sunlight, and Kyle wasn't going to sleep tonight, was going to find paper wherever he could in the Watchtower and draw all night.
"Do your job," said Mr. Kent. "Do it the best you can, every day. Be someone we can trust and rely on. You've got some big shoes to fill but the man who wore them last never had anything but good to say about you. Even if I hadn't already known you, that would be good enough for me."
His voice was thick now, and he looked away, taking a long drink of coffee. Kyle spent time placing his silverware on his plate just so and drinking his soda while Mr. Kent composed himself.
"Come on," said Mr. Kent finally. "I'll walk you back so you don't get lost."
He pulled out some money from his wallet, shooing away Kyle's feeble attempt to pay. Which was good, Kyle supposed, since he had an ATM card for a savings account he hoped was still there, and that was it. The bill and the tip Mr. Kent left was more Earth currency than Kyle had felt in his hands in the last five years.
He had so much to do. He'd try to get his job back, try to find a place to live in Metropolis, try to reestablish himself as an actual person with things like a credit history. Kyle felt sick again.
Mr. Kent glanced at him, and maybe one of Superman's powers was telepathy, because as they walked, he said casually, "We have some contacts who are good at creating identity paper trails, backgrounds, that sort of thing. It comes in really handy for the aliens."
"Aren't you ... ?"
"I'm a special case," he said, and that was all.
They were among the evening crowds tonight, people shopping, talking. It was cold, and Kyle realized he didn't even know what month it was anymore. He stopped, over and over, just staring at the sea of humans on the sidewalks and in their cars, not at all surprised or put out or overjoyed at seeing so many of their own species in one place.
The first time John had come to Oa to check up on him, Kyle had hugged him like a long-lost brother, and that after having only met him twice before. Now there were hundreds, even thousands of humans all around him, not in masks, not in uniforms, just walking by.
It was amazing, and a little scary.
"How do you get used to it?" he asked Mr. Kent.
"Used to what?"
"Being different. Knowing all the things you've seen, all the places you've been, and still being able to walk down a street like this. How do you not feel completely alone?"
Kent shrugged. "You learn."
"I was afraid you were gonna say that."
Chapter 2: Kaddish Chapter 2
Watch had been quiet, when he'd wanted action. He'd almost taken the overnight watch just for the off-chance of kicking villain butt, but Green Arrow had shown up for his shift after all, though he otherwise hadn't left Canary's side in the infirmary.
a Justice League Unlimited story
by Merlin Missy
Linda had left four messages on his machine by the time Wally got home. He listened to them then deleted them and crawled into his bed.
Watch had been quiet, when he'd wanted action. He'd almost taken the overnight watch just for the off-chance of kicking villain butt, but Green Arrow had shown up for his shift after all, though he otherwise hadn't left Canary's side in the infirmary.
Truthfully, Wally couldn't wait to get out of there anyway. While Booster Gold was a fun guy most of the time, Wally couldn't stand to be around him right now, and had finally broken down and called Beetle to come distract Booster already.
The Question was just a freak, and only liked to talk about things that secret groups of people were trying to do while no one was paying attention. The first time they'd met, Wally had spent two hours awestruck, listening to the man spin complicated stories, and he'd run out of Question's quarters, sure in the knowledge that the Chocos Company had influenced the SATs so that people who answered properly on certain questions could be recruited into a secret paramilitary organization. Ten minutes later, while explaining this to Batman, Bats had given him the Look of Death, and Wally'd realized Question was full of it. So now he tried not to listen to the man at all, which meant no one else to talk to the whole watch, except Supes and the new guy.
Wally didn't want to think about the new guy right now.
He'd known that working tonight wasn't going to take his mind off of what had happened. He wasn't stupid, no matter what everyone assumed. But he'd thought it would be a little better, just a little.
Hadn't John told him once that after a Lantern fell, the best thing the other Lanterns could do to honor him was do their jobs even better? Technically, tonight he'd been doing that for Shayera, but Wally thought she wouldn't mind the principle.
Hungry. He was hungry. Wally had quit his last fast food job around the same time Shayera had rejoined the League, and he'd been drawing a small salary from the Wayne Foundation as a full-time Leaguer ever since. Better pay, better hours, but his next check wasn't due to hit for another few days, and he only had five bucks in his wallet. Barely enough for a snack.
He ran anyway, over the bridge to the hamburger joint across town that was open at this hour, pinching his pennies on the dollar menu for four burgers and a mini shake. Since he was a regular, the guy behind the counter spotted him the tax out of the "leave a penny" tray, and Wally thanked him and ran home and took his food into his bed with him.
He'd have to eat at the Tower for the next few days and put it on his tab. Back on the old Watchtower, the 'fridge and freezer were always stocked with pizza, hamburger, sodas, all the good things in life. Other stuff too, but Wally had aimed for the carbs and didn't care about vegetables or actual food groups. He guessed Bats had paid the bills for that, too, but he'd never thought about it. Everything was just simpler back then.
Turning off his brain, he wolfed three of the burgers, made himself chew the last one just to savor it, and then sipped his shake.
Food was simple. He ate. He felt better.
He needed sleep.
He hoped he was finally exhausted enough to do so without nightmares, but he didn't think he was going to be that lucky.
The prison was heavily guarded, and even so, Batman knew the ins and outs, could have slipped in without detection and gotten out again. He was confident of it.
Instead, he asked Jim to arrange the visit. There was no paperwork, nothing signed. He sensed the eyes of the other prisoners on him as he walked down the metal hallways. He hadn't put a single one here — all his captures were in Gotham — but they all knew him, hated him, wanted him dead. The braver ones, or perhaps just the most stupid, snickered in their cells as he passed, whispering: "Two down, five to go."
Batman ignored them.
Grodd's cell was on the interior, hundreds of feet from the nearest window. Five guards stood outside, all fitted with the best psy-blocking devices Wayne Tech had been able to design. They were taking no chances.
The guards moved aside as he came to the door. The warden punched a ten digit code into the pad by the door. Then he waited out with the guards as Batman went in alone.
Half the room was barred. The ape sat in his cell, relaxing, a patient and pleased smile on his face. Where the Ultra-Humanite had been a man once, and favored a minimum of clothing, Grodd prided himself on his species and always went bare. This was a pity, as Batman would have loved to see him in orange; the psychological effects of prison garb were well-known, both on inmates and the people who saw them.
"Ah. I was wondering which of you it would be. I should have guessed they would send you, although I must admit, I was hoping to see Superman."
"Don't bother with your games. They don't work on me."
"Don't they?" Grodd stayed seated, stayed smiling. "And how is your lovely companion? As I recall, before you came along, her only interest in men was to use them as targets. But I'm sure she simply hadn't met the right one. And of course your objections to sleeping with a coworker were overcome by her logical arguments in the matter."
He wouldn't let himself be goaded. He didn't dare.
"It's a pity my last project ended so prematurely," said Grodd. "I wonder, which one do you think Mr. Stewart would have chosen, if he hadn't died twisted and screaming under twenty tons of concrete? I have to say, my money was on the fox rather than the hawk, but then, I do have my standards. A woman who can keep her knees together for five years and suddenly can't for more than five minutes, well," Grodd spread his great hands, "there's no accounting for taste." His tone and smile went more lascivious, and Batman's stomach twisted as Grodd continued, "She wasn't easy to push, but one of my better efforts, don't you agree?"
"Perhaps," said Grodd. "And perhaps you're only hoping I am. Why are you here? If you were going to kill me, you'd have done so."
"I'm not here to kill you. I'm here to interrogate you." He removed a small package from beneath his cape and set it on the metal table outside the cell.
Grodd chuckled. "There are ten thousand members in the Legion of Doom. Our headquarters is located next door to yours but our cloaking technology makes you unable to see us. Our next plan is to steal Mount Rushmore."
Batman ignored him. "What did you use to bring down the building?"
"No. There were no residuals." Bruce had spent two sleepless nights checking. "Try again."
"You seem to already have a theory."
"Green Lantern power rings can't be broken and are almost impossible to damage. I asked the Lantern who trained John to be sure. Nth metal objects are also nearly indestructible, and as a bonus, are impervious to magic. We didn't find his ring or her mace, and we didn't find their bodies." Three feathers, but she could have lost those during the fight. "Toyman sent Superman to the future once. Was it the same weapon?"
Grodd leaned forward in his chair, and the smile was bright on his face. "Yes It was a time-travel device. We sent them ten seconds into the future and they were crushed to death anyway."
"I can get the information from you."
"No. You can't." Grodd sat back. "Why don't you ask Toyman?" Batman stared at him. The ape's smile deepened. "Did he die in the blast or did your woman murder him?"
"You don't seem choked up."
"Collateral damage. He was mentally disturbed. I won't cry for him."
Batman turned away. "So you don't know what he was using."
"And I don't care. One of mine to three of yours, and they said Mason was unkillable. I win. Terry."
Bruce turned his head back to Grodd, confused and trying not to show it. Half of being the Bat was convincing criminals he already knew everything.
Another infuriating smile. "The boy was a lovely fountain of information."
"The boy," Bruce said.
"Pity what happened to him."
Bruce had no idea what Grodd was talking about, but felt for some reason that he should. He was suddenly and strongly reminded of the dream he'd had during a quick nap earlier that day: digging and digging through the rubble, desperately searching for John and Shayera, and instead finding Ace's broken body, and her eyes had opened, and Bruce had woken up. The only connection he could make was that John and Shayera were dead, and Ace had died recently. There had been no boy.
Batman shrugged. "As you indicated, collateral damage."
"I'm surprised. I wouldn't have expected such a cold response from you."
"I already told you: you don't know anything."
"I know your name, Terry."
Bruce allowed himself a tight smirk. He approached the bars of Grodd's cell, leaned close, and said, "My name isn't Terry. And if you think it is, then that tells me you're probably wrong on everything else, too."
He looked at the package. It flowed into the normal shape of J'onn J'onzz, and Grodd's smile faded as Bruce turned back to him. "But even if you are, we need to know. I already knew you wouldn't tell me. But you will tell him. And then you're going to forget everything that you've ever learned. It worked on a Thanagarian once, it'll work on you."
J'onn's eyes glowed red as Grodd took a step back. "You can't," said the ape. "That's cruel and unusual."
"You're not human," Batman said. "And as J'onn can attest, our government turns a blind eye to procedures performed on intelligent non-humans."
"I want my lawyer "
Batman went to the door. "I'll make sure he brings plenty of bananas."
He left the room, shutting the door securely behind him. J'onn would slip out quietly when he was finished. Grodd had expected Clark, but Clark had an honor code that Bruce relied upon too much to allow another threat like this one. J'onn would strip the ape of his memories and leave him at the same level of intelligence as a normal gorilla. He would spend the rest of his life in a government-controlled facility, where he would be given all the fruit he could eat and all the play equipment he could swing on, and it wasn't a good end, not a clean end, but it was better than letting Superman get blood on his invulnerable hands. And J'onn agreed.
Hours later, J'onn came to the Manor. Bruce was reading in the study when Alfred ushered him into the room.
"I have names and plans. If Luthor is in charge, he will change the plans and they'll be useless."
Bruce nodded. They would of course check what they could regardless, because Lex would know that they knew that.
"What about the weapon?"
"He knew nothing. It was Toyman's plan, and Toyman's design."
"So we don't know if they're dead or just lost."
Bruce closed his eyes. "If they could find a way back, they'd do so within a few days of their departure like Clark did."
"I believe so."
"Do you think they're really dead?"
"Grodd did. I can feel no trace of John's mind anywhere, and I have searched as far as I can reach. If they are not dead, I doubt they will come back to us, and it is the same."
Bruce nodded. "J'onn ... "
"He was lying about Diana."
"I wasn't going to ask."
"I know." J'onn's eyes flowed again. "She has just arrived. We can confer in the morning."
"Now would be better."
"You haven't slept in days. I will be at the Watchtower tomorrow. Good night." He went to the door of the study and opened it just as the doorbell chimed. Bruce watched from the study as Alfred greeted Diana pleasantly, as she and J'onn exchanged hellos, as J'onn left and Diana came into the room.
Grodd lied. He didn't push her into this. But J'onn had said nothing about pushing Bruce himself, and as he welcomed her into his arms, he wondered.
The candle had dribbled down its own sides, pooling and congealing in the base where she'd placed it, and now it guttered low in the puddle of melted wax at the last half-inch of stub.
Had there been someone to watch her, the dying candlelight would have glimmered in Mari's eyes as she stared at it in the darkened room, but no one was there to mark the sparkle, and no one but she watched it expire, drowned in its own making.
She didn't speak to the candle. She wanted to, had wanted to, but her voice was gone. Another thing stolen from her. Her friends, her coworkers, strangers on the street, they'd come to her and offered their condolences, and she'd only been able to nod her thanks until her head was half about to fall off.
We're sorry. We're sorry. So sorry.
The strangers, the friends from her other life, they were sorry for the loss of her fiancé; everyone called him that, and she never corrected them. The friends from the League said they were sorry too, but there were two edges to that blade. They'd heard what he'd said to Shayera right before the end, or they'd been told in whispers and gossip, and every one of them was so kind to her right now that she wanted to scream.
Except nothing would come out. Not words. Not even tears.
She'd be damned if she would cry for someone who said he loved her, and then go and show her and the whole world that there was someone else he couldn't live without. And she would be happy to tell everyone exactly that.
As soon as she remembered how to speak.
"We need to decide," said Bruce. Alone among the rest of the League, he didn't seem to be grieving, but Clark guessed that acting more somber would be almost impossible, considering.
"It can wait," Clark said.
"It shouldn't," Diana replied. "We have Grodd, but Luthor's still out there and he's got most of the Legion still intact, and we have no idea how much Brainiac is helping him. We need to show the world that the League is still strong, that we took a glancing blow, not a fatal one."
As he often did, Clark wondered how many of his conversations were or had been mirrored by the Justice Lords once upon a time, if it was this comment or that which separated them. They'd lost their Flash, and had shown strength by killing his murderer and taking over the planet. To avoid this, Bruce's idea — and it occasionally did worry Clark to think about how much of what they did and how was based off of something Bruce thought up — would merely be a reorganization. They'd done something similar after Shayera had left: hide the hole by restitching the entire quilt.
"I'll run it past J'onn and Flash," he said, finally.
"I'll tell Flash," Bruce said.
"No." Bruce gave him a Look. Clark didn't waver. "You are not going to scare him into saying 'Yes.' I'm going to ask him. That's all."
Diana said, "Let me talk to J'onn."
"Diana ... "
She held up her hand. "I promise not to try to convince him. But I think he'll take the idea best from me." She was probably right. The two of them had been much closer lately. Clark had been a little relieved to see J'onn interacting with someone.
"All right. But we decide as a group. The five of us." Diana twitched, a rare response from her, but Clark knew she was remembering the last time the five of them had put something to a vote, and she and Batman had been outvoted. He was certain Wally would remember, too, and Clark absolutely didn't want Batman anywhere near Wally when he did.
He mouthed a good-bye to the two of them, no longer missing the fact that they'd arrived together and would probably leave together after Diana spoke with J'onn.
For a guy with like fifty kinds of vision ... Clark shut down the voice from his memory.
Flash was in the cafeteria, picking at something with even more calories than Clark would consider, when he finally found him.
"Can I join you?"
"Sure." Wally had worn a number of smiles over the past few days. Clark wasn't nearly stupid enough to think any of them had been real.
"Batman and Diana and I have been talking," Clark said.
Flash set down his fork. "Are you going to invite in a hundred more people to the League?"
Clark stared at him. "What?"
"When we lost Shayera. The first time, I mean," he said, making a fist. "You three talked, and the next thing I knew, we invited in fifty new people to take her place so we wouldn't have to say someone in particular was getting her job."
"That's not what happened."
"Whatever." So much pain, and Clark wanted to hug him, but this wasn't the place and he didn't think Wally would sit still long enough.
"We're not inviting in new people."
"Except the new Lantern."
Clark paused. "That's different. The Green Lantern Corps always has had someone to watch this sector."
"That doesn't automatically make him League material."
Clark thought, The only thing that made the rest of us League material was happening to hear J'onn's mental call for help at the same time. Instead of saying that, he just said, "I'll vouch for him."
"Good for you."
"I'll be nice to him. Are you inviting Psycho Boy in to replace Shayera?"
"That depends. Is he stepping over my dead body?" He cracked a smile, and was relieved to see one peek on Wally's mouth before he forced it away again.
"We're talking about making the leadership of the League into a council. Ten people. Five permanent seats, five rotating, one year terms for the rotations. Everyone eventually gets a turn being in charge, but we still get a say in overseeing things."
Flash sat back in his chair.
"I mean it's ... Okay? You're sure?" Clark had prepared a speech in his mind: they weren't replacing John and Shayera, they were expanding the governance of the League to more members.
Flash nodded. "I'm sure. It's a good idea. More butts at the table mean we don't go off the deep end so fast. That's the idea, right? To keep us honest and not go all Justice Lordy after we lose people?"
"It was a thought."
"When do we start?"
"We have to vote first. Diana is talking to J'onn now."
"Why? You like it, so you'll vote for it, right?"
Clark thought for a moment before nodding. Once again, it was exactly the thing they needed to do to save themselves from each other.
"Okay, well I like it. I'm sure Bats thought it up, so he's all for it, and Diana will vote with him. That's already four to one, and J'onn is probably going to go for it just to make it unanimous." Flash reached for his drink and took a long sip. "Easy."
"I have to admit, I didn't think you'd go for it."
Because you just shouted at me for letting Kyle in, for starters. "No reason."
"Go tell Bats and the Princess I'm all for it. But right now, I want to finish this before it gets cold, okay?"
"Okay." Clark stood and clapped Wally gently on the shoulder. "Why don't you come by sometime? We don't talk as often as we should."
"That'd be great!" Wally grinned widely.
You sure can be blind, said John in a child's voice in his head. Except he wasn't, not really, and Clark knew this smile wasn't any more real than the rest. He also knew what to listen for in heartbeat, breath intake and tone of voice to indicate someone he knew well was lying. He just didn't know what to do about it.
Chapter 3: Kaddish Chapter 3
Chapter by mtgat
He'd gone by Ops earlier, just as an alarm had sounded.
a Justice League Unlimited story
by Merlin Missy
After his lunch, and he'd been careful not to take as much as he wanted because every time he ran up his tab too high he got a lecture from Batman, Wally hung out in the rec room, not really wanting to play any games or talk to anybody, but not wanting to go home, either.
He'd gone by Ops earlier, just as an alarm had sounded.
"Great " he'd said to Mr. Terrific. "Where am I going?"
"You're not," Mr. T. had responded. "It's a small problem in Midway City. I'm dispatching Ice and Fire."
Wally had instinctively backed off a half-step. He wasn't going on missions with Beatriz anymore.
"Okay," he'd come back. "So send me on the next mission."
Mr. Terrific had said, "You're off-duty until further notice."
And Wally had said, "What?"
Standard procedure, he'd been told. Which was a crock, as nothing was standard about what had happened, but there he was, ordered to stand down like some kid. He didn't ask who'd given the order, and didn't care when he'd been told, after a moment, who else was benched. He'd already figured Vixen was going to be sidelined for a while. He half-expected her to quit.
"But I worked last night," he'd tried. "And I was fine. And anyway, what are you planning on doing of there's an Omega Level alert? Just letting us sit it out while the Earth is destroyed?"
Blood had been high in his cheeks, under the hot mask, and he wanted to shout that he'd saved the world from Luthor and Brainiac before while the other six had almost been killed and he wasn't a child.
And Mr. Terrific had said, "If that's what it takes to keep you, any of you, from killing the next Legion of Doom member who crosses your path, yes."
Because it was about killing. It was about the line they didn't cross because they'd seen where crossing that line led them. And even though Wally knew he wouldn't, couldn't, the others also wouldn't and couldn't chance it from him, from Vixen, from any of them.
So he'd run, run through the Watchtower's corridors, speeding away from the thoughts in his head and the lead in his heart, and he'd run until he was exhausted, and then he'd gone to eat something, and Supes had come in all smiles to tell him they were breaking and remaking the Lego castle all over again because that's what they did when they were wounded.
And now he was here in the rec room, still a little hungry, still a little angry, and knowing the only way he was going to be able to afford dinner was to stay up here and cool his heels while everyone else did their jobs.
He grabbed a window seat and stared outside for a while, shutting down his brain as much as he could.
"Hey, buddy," said a voice, and he turned his head. Ralph had stretched the top half of his body into the room and over to where Wally sat. "How're you doing?"
"Fine," said Wally automatically.
"Sure you are," responded Ralph with a kindly smile and a patronizing tone. The rest of his body walked into the room and he shrank back to normal size. "Want to play something? The X-Box is free."
"No. Thanks. Not really in the mood."
"I get that. Hey, if you want to talk ... ?" Ralph spread his arms and shrugged. "I'm around. And I'm all ears."
Wally stared. "Shouldn't you have turned into a giant ear right then?"
"That's more Plastic Man's shtick." Ralph frowned.
"You and Plas not getting along?"
"No, we're good. It's just ... " Ralph let out a half-sigh, half-snort. "I thought it might be nice if Plas and J'onn and I did something just on our own for Metamorpho. You know, shapechanger thing. Plas said it was dumb."
"I don't think it's dumb," said Wally. "Did you hang out with Metamorpho much?"
"Not really," said Ralph, sitting down beside him in the window. "I don't think many of us did, you know?"
"I know." Metamorpho had really been John's friend. He'd joined when everyone else did, and he'd come and done his job, and he'd had a smile for most of them most of the time, and now there was a woman down on the planet whose lover was never coming home. Two, actually.
Vixen was on the no-fly list with him, and Wally hadn't seen her except at the memorial. Should go talk to her, he thought, and knew he'd find excuses not to.
Ralph asked, "Are you sure you don't want to play something?"
The door opened again, and there was a flash of a green uniform and Wally's brain wasn't nearly as fast as his heart, which jumped in his chest before the brain finally caught up and had its say. The new guy.
"Hi," said the new Lantern, with a friendly smile. "This place is huge, isn't it?"
"Yep," said Ralph. He turned back to Wally. "Well, buddy ... "
"I want the green one," Wally said, managing not to flinch as he pushed past Ralph to go to the Battlin' Bots table.
"Oh wow," said the new guy. "I haven't seen one of those in years."
"Well," said Ralph, "you could always ... "
Wally interrupted. "Butt in the chair, Dibny. Unless you're scared."
Ralph glared at him and plopped down. Wally didn't even look at the new guy, just started playing. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the green-clad figure move around the room, poking at the different terminals they had set up, looking at the movies they had, not really saying much.
Jerk, Wally thought, knowing it wasn't fair and not caring.
When Ralph finally begged off to go home, claiming his wife would start worrying, Wally left the rec room too without a word to the new guy, and went for an early dinner alone in the cafeteria.
He lingered over his pasta as much as he could, chewing each bite to make it last. When he went back to the rec room, he saw that the Lantern was sitting in the same window seat Wally liked, looking out at the planet moving slowly below them and writing or something on a pad in his lap.
The rec room was boring anyway. Wally dashed to the Transporter and ordered a beam down to the planet. For some exercise, he ordered it sent to Argentina.
There were another two messages on his machine from Linda when he finally got home. Wally deleted them both and went straight to bed.
Thank God for email.
Mari had tried picking up the phone to call her agent five times, and each time she'd placed the phone back in its cradle. But she could sit at her slim laptop, and she could read the condolences he'd sent, the others from the people who knew her real email address, the many more covering the bulletin board at her official fan website. Later, she would respond to everyone, thanking them, but for now she only emailed her agent and asked him to cancel all her gigs through the middle of March.
Spring was a long time away, but she wanted, she needed the break. Too many people, too many stares.
She went to the website for the bank that handled most of her investments. Her stocks had taken a dive today, the first real trading day after the accident. Three heroes were dead and people were scared. She wasn't scared, and she didn't tell her broker to sell, and she didn't want to look at her retirement fund because it was linked to the second fund she'd set up on a whim six months ago after she'd gone to the movies with John and she'd mentioned kids and he hadn't quailed.
Love was believing you were going to grow old with someone.
She felt prickly like mermaid's feet: all abraded skin too tender and painful to touch. She would need to leave her loft soon, get back to the Watchtower, back to the world. Her job was to help people, and she needed to do that, but at the moment, all she could make herself do was finish a piece of toast and sleep and sleep and sleep.
Mari stared at the crust beside her coffee cup, and realized she was wrong about the toast.
It wasn't the first time Diana had let herself into Shayera's room uninvited, and again, she was there to take something, but now Clark was by her side and she wished more than anything that she didn't have to be there.
She set a few cardboard boxes on the bed. Clark stood back, clearly uncomfortable.
"Maybe you should go through her dresser," he said.
She considered arguing with him, and gave up. "Fine. Clean out her closet." He still looked upset. "For Athena's sake, Clark, they're uniforms. They won't bite you."
He reddened. "I don't like the idea of going through a woman's things."
Diana placed her hand on his. "She won't mind, Clark. Shayera loved you. We need to do this for her."
He nodded, and swallowed, and then took a second box to the closet. Diana went to the small dresser. A few trinkets, her cellphone, these went into the first box. Shayera hadn't been a collector, and most of her private possessions had been taken onto the Thanagarian Command ship during the invasion, which had left with them and without her. Around the room, Diana spied a few items from the Thanagarian scout ship Shayera, Vixen and Vigilante had commandeered: a spiked standard, a fire lamp, the unusual bedding.
As though he read her mind, Clark pulled out a Thanagarian military helmet from the closet, not Shayera's, but one looking much like that worn by the scientist who'd built the bypass. He set it in the same box as her mementos and went back to folding her uniforms.
The top drawer of the dresser was oddly empty, and held merely socks and a single pair of nylon stockings with a creamy garter belt. Diana raised one eyebrow and then packed everything away. The other drawers held neatly-folded shirts and jeans, which she transferred without refolding. They were going to be done in less time than it took to have a nice dinner, and that would be all of Shayera's life, packed away and finished.
"This is odd." Clark pulled out five boxes from the closet. "Candles?"
"Oh," Diana said. She remembered the night after Shayera's run-in with the rogue Thanagarians. Shayera had come to her room, grieving for all the pain she had caused so many. Diana had given her candles and told her to pray, in whatever way she could, burning a candle for each soul lost. Shayera had said there could be billions dead. "That's ... That was between us."
Clark looked at her curiously. "All right. Then how about you take these?" He reached in and brought out another four boxes.
Diana nodded her acceptance, knowing Clark couldn't understand what he'd asked . Diana had already lit her prayer candles for the souls of her three friends, and another for Toyman's lost soul. But she would light these candles for the souls Shayera had wronged, taking on her friend's self-imposed burden for her own, at least through these many boxes. She didn't know names, and could not imagine faces, but she believed the souls of the dead would recognize the lights of their own torches regardless, and if it truly mattered, she could always put in a prayer to her father and ask.
She went back to cleaning, humming a hymn in her throat as she did.
"Thanks," Kyle said, hanging up the phone. He crossed another listing off the newspaper. Affordable apartments in Metropolis were hard to find and harder to keep. Superman had told him his credit rating was going to be quietly repaired of its unusual absence of recent data, and Kyle was grateful, but he still wanted to get a jump start on putting his life back together here on Earth.
He needed an address, so he'd gotten a P.O. Box this morning. He needed a job, so he'd spent a good two hours on a terminal typing up his resume, with a nod from Superman that he should put "Wayne Foundation: Executive Intern" for the past few years. He needed to get his stuff out of storage, but settled for just getting more clothes out from the storage locker so he didn't have to buy civilian garb right off the bat. He needed money, and his ATM card had expired but his account was still active, so he'd spent the afternoon waiting at the bank to sign up for a new card and arrange for an unusual direct deposit.
He hadn't called anyone. He didn't have any immediate family left, but his grandfather was still alive, or had been. Kyle had sent a few letters home with John but had heard nothing back in years.
He stared at the phone on the table. It was a cell, small, prepaid, untraceable. He could call his Grandpa right now and tell him he was back. But he'd have to decide if he would tell the old man everything, or make up a story.
It was like coming alive again, like relearning how to walk after a stroke, and John had told him once it would be this way, but Kyle had never really known until now how much he'd taken for granted his own basic existence.
There was a chime in his room, and he looked around, wondering where it'd come from. The chime sounded again. Doorbell, right.
Kyle grabbed his mask and put it on, then said, "Come in."
The door slid open. Two very pretty blonde girls stood on the other side, and Kyle's mouth went completely dry. Note to self: if this is a dream, do not wake up now.
"Hi " he said in a voice one octave too high.
"Hi," said the taller one, and Kyle's brain snapped back into use. She was dressed like Superman, and unless Mr. Kent had developed his very own specialized and kind of crazy fanclub, that meant this was Supergirl. "Can we come in?"
"Sure. Um. There's not really much room to sit in here. Sorry," he said as they walked in together, each taking in the room with a single sweep.
The shorter girl stuck out her hand. "I'm Stargirl. You can call me Courtney." Kyle shook her hand. Now that she was a little closer, and he'd heard her speak, he was pretty sure she wasn't legal, and he kept the handshake friendly but polite.
"Green Lantern. Nice to meet you, Courtney." He held out his hand to Supergirl. "And I think I can guess who you are."
"Call me Kara," she said, shaking his hand gently. Kyle realized she was trying not to crush his fingers.
"Hi, Kara." He turned back to his stuff and hurriedly started piling the papers on his bed into a neat stack to set on the little table. "So, to what do I owe the honor, ladies?"
Courtney giggled. Kara elbowed her. "You're new. We figured you might like some company for dinner. If you haven't already eaten, that is."
"That'd be great. Thanks. Let me just … " The top of his stack started sliding, and physics took over. He momentarily thought about using the ring to gather everything together, then gave up and let it all fall before he bent down to pick everything up again.
Both girls bent down to help him, and Kyle made a point of not staring.
"What's this?" Kara asked, picking up one of his sketchbooks.
"Just some pictures," he said, taking it carefully from her. Courtney took another book from the floor and flipped through the pages. "Hey "
"These are pretty good," she said, finally handing over the book.
"Thanks," he said, a little irritated. No reason to be, he supposed, but he still felt exposed. "Are you ready to go?"
"Whenever you are," Courtney said brightly. Kara stood half a step behind her, and the roll of her eyes was meant only for Kyle to see. Kyle couldn't stop his smile as he gestured for them to go out first.
The canteen on this Tower was small but serviceable. He'd had some trouble at lunch (he'd slept through breakfast) with the cashier; yes, the Green Lantern had a tab, no, he didn't look anything like the guy the cashier knew as Green Lantern. Different cashier this time, and they were merely waved past with a smile.
The girls sat to either side of him at a square table, chatting, trying to coax a few personal details out of him. He ate his food and gave away only what he thought wouldn't be especially revealing. Stargirl laughed at almost everything he said, and she'd just turned seventeen. Supergirl laughed less and watched him more, and she had just turned twenty.
Cousin. Superman's cousin. Be good, Rayner.
They all went back for soft-serve. Stargirl excused herself to go get her Star Staff, after Kyle said it sounded a lot like his ring.
"Nice kid," he said, when he was sure she was out of earshot.
Kara played with her spoon, then took a bite of her ice cream. "Courtney? She tries. I think she has a little crush on you."
"I picked up on that, yes." He smiled at her. Smiling at Kara was easy.
"It's not easy growing up with powers, or in her case, an all-powerful artifact."
"Was it hard for you?"
She shrugged. "Not having the powers was a lot harder." There was something behind her words, matched with a hard line in her eyes, and he wanted to set her down, clad in green silk and surrounded by crimson flowers, and spend days drawing the tickle of her golden hair against the curve of her neck.
"You know," he said, "it's been a while since I've been on Earth. Maybe you could show me around?" Even as it came out, it sounded like a line, and a bad one. The glare she gave him said it had sounded like that to her, too. "I mean … Just forget it," he said, looking down at his melting raspberry and chocolate swirl.
"I'm seeing someone," Kara said quietly.
"Sorry. You know, I'd claim I'm out of practice reading signals from human girls, but that would mean I was good at it before, or had any practice at all." That brought a smile back to her face as he realized what he'd just told her. "Can we go back to the conversation before I completely embarrassed myself?"
"Nope," she said, taking another bite of ice cream. "But I'm okay with pretending it never happened."
Stargirl came back with her staff in hand, and Kyle made a great show of being impressed with it. He was far too aware of Kara watching him as he did, a smirk on her face.
He'd want oils for her, bright clothing and background to contrast her icy-pale features. Instead, he was allowing Stargirl to extract a promise from him to draw her in his pencils in her costume with the staff.
Definitely oils for Kara, and he supposed also for her boyfriend, whoever the lucky bastard was.
Wally had walked into the canteen and zipped right back out again without pausing. Did that guy have to be everywhere? Wally's check would hit his account in the morning, and then he could buy more groceries and he wouldn't have to do the embarrassing thing of coming to work just to eat anymore.
But no. Mr. "Call me Green Lantern" had to be there tonight, chatting up Kara and Stargirl. And since they were the only ones there, he'd either have to get his food to go and take it back to his place, or sit in the canteen with them. It would be weird either way. He wished his quarters were in this Tower instead of the Watchtower. He wished he could talk himself into wasting the transporter power to go to the Watchtower to eat instead, even though Batman would likely kill him. He wished Green Lantern would get the hint and stop following Wally, or showing up where he wanted to be which was practically the same thing.
He wished John and Shayera and Metamorpho were still alive.
He had a credit card that wasn't quite maxed out. He'd get a few pizzas from Alex's; they were cheap and Wally saved coupons religiously.
As he turned to go, the alarum sounded through the Tower.
For about a millisecond, Wally considered going home anyway. Screw that. He zipped into the Control Room, the others not especially far behind him but far enough. Captain Atom and Gypsy were on duty.
"What's going on?" Wally demanded.
"Legion of Doom activity, downtown Metropolis," said Captain Atom. "Luthor, Captain Cold, Cheetah, positive identifications. Unconfirmed four, no, six other hostiles. Looks like they're makin' their move."
"All right," said Wally, just as Kara arrived with Stargirl and Green Lantern. "Put in a call to Superman and Steel, since this is their town. They can meet us there. Tell the Watchtower to get a backup team on the transporter but not to send them until we know what they'll be walking into." He looked over his shoulder. "You three, you're with me. Captain Atom, Gypsy, make those calls and meet us there."
"Negative," said Captain Atom, grabbing his shoulder. "I'll lead the team. You're sidelined, remember?"
Wally felt the anger start at his feet and move up through his body. When it reached his gut but before it made its way to his mouth, he knew he had to channel it or else there'd be bloodshed before he left the room.
"Funny," he said, in a very low, very even voice, "you don't look anything like Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman. So unless you're J'onn in disguise, I'd suggest you let go of my shoulder right now. We have a job to do, and if you stand in my way while I'm doing mine, I'll be happy to show you what I did to Brainiac the last time I saved the world. Got it?"
He stared at Captain Atom. Captain Atom dropped the hand. "Got it. Sorry."
Without a word to him Wally turned. "You three. Come. Now." And rather than waiting to see if they actually listened, he dashed out of the room and towards the fight.
This This heady exhilaration, this iron-clad confidence built of equal parts conviction and sheer pissed-offness? This had to be what Batman felt like all the time.
Luthor was perched in the middle of a six-way intersection in the middle of downtown Metropolis, and had a very big and nasty-looking weapon on his shoulder. If it wasn't for the fact that Superman swore the power disruptor was destroyed, Wally'd have been more worried. The other Doomies were spread out, frightening the citizens clogging the intersection in their cars and climbing out of those same cars to run away.
Moments later, Kara landed behind him, Stargirl and Green Lantern at her back.
"What doesn't look right about this situation to you?" Wally asked her.
Kara looked around. "They're not doing anything. Luthor is blasting here and there, but they're not stealing anything and he doesn't have a pattern to his fire."
Wally put his finger to his ear. "Flash to all League. Trap. Proceed with caution."
crackle "Superman to Flash. Get out of there. You're off duty."
Wally turned off his comm. On the other side of the mess, he saw Steel flying into view. So did Captain Cold, who sent a blast of ice right at him. Steel dodged it easily, but now he'd attracted the attention of the rest. Wally didn't miss Kara's intake of breath as Luthor aimed his Whatever Ray right at Steel.
In half a second, she'd be flying out to save him.
In a tenth of a second, Wally was already there. He stopped right in front of Luthor and blew a big raspberry.
He was long gone before the gun blasted a hole in the street where he'd been standing. "Missed me," he said from the top of an empty Hummer, which disintegrated a few seconds later.
Okay. He could draw their fire and their attention, leaving Steel free to continue to attack, or better yet, join the others and try to figure out what the hell the plan was.
Kara soared in over the battle, and Luthor was again shooting at a moving target, but Stargirl was behind her, firing right back with her staff.
A purple blast hit her. Courtney screamed and fell to the street. Wally dashed under her to catch her, seeing as he did Star Sapphire coming out of nowhere. A wall stretched up around them, entrapping them before he could dash away with the unconscious girl in his arms.
A giant yellow hand grabbed Steel and Kara, crunching them together, and Wally knew their plan. The League was down its Lantern. The Doomies were trying to draw them out and take down as many as they could with their own mock Lanterns, Star Sapphire and Sinestro. Not a sophisticated plan, but Grodd was captured and Lex was getting sloppy.
Closer. Lex was also getting closer, and the smile on his face as he raised his stupid raygun at Wally was the last thing Wally was going to see before Lex got a big scoop of vengeance with a cherry on top.
Something fell from the sky. Wally had time to think it looked like a disco ball, before it glittered emerald green and beams shot out of it from a dozen directions. Each one formed a fist and decked a Doomie, including Lex.
"What the — " Lex said, stumbling but not dropping his raygun.
The purple field dropped and Wally didn't need an invitation. He ran Courtney well out of the line of fire, set her down gently, and dashed back in to see Green Lantern attempting to fight both Sinestro and Star Sapphire at the same time, splitting his ring's beam off car mirrors and broken windows. One beam was an emerald tiger fighting a yellow elephant, the other was blasting back a solid green beam to Star Sapphire's purple blasts.
Wally saw Luthor aim his raygun at Green Lantern, and not a second later, Wally had taken the thing from him and broken it, hoping belatedly that it wouldn't do more harm that way. Luthor ducked behind a car and started blasting normal gunfire at Wally, forcing him to dodge out of the way and watch to make sure the ricochets didn't hit any civilians.
Captain Atom arrived, and he and Wally trapped Lex in a pincers maneuver, spoiled only a little when Gypsy walked out of the wall beside the man and punched him unconscious herself.
Steel and Kara were pummeling their way through the other Doomies. The transporter beam glimmered, and Superman had half a dozen of the big guns with him, loaded for bear. Green Lantern was looking winded with his double battle, and grinned when he saw the backup. A minute or two later, Stargirl joined them all, but by then, it was all clean-up, and she sulked about not getting in a single good shot during the whole battle.
Wally let her kick Lex after they had him in custody, but just once and only in the shins.
And then, before Superman could yell at him for leading the mission when he was supposed to be sitting around at home thinking about how miserable he was, Wally waved an acknowledgment to Kara and Courtney, and he went home and he ordered four of Alex's worst pizzas, and he ignored the phone and the messages blinking on his machine, and he watched himself on the news until he couldn't stand it anymore, and he took a shower and he went to bed.
Chapter 4: Kaddish Chapter 4
Chapter by mtgat
Groggily, Wally stumbled to the door in his dark apartment and opened it. It was Clark, and it was easy to think of him as "Clark" since he was all glasses and suit and stuff.
a Justice League Unlimited story
by Merlin Missy
A few hours later, his doorbell rang.
Groggily, Wally stumbled to the door in his dark apartment and opened it. It was Clark, and it was easy to think of him as "Clark" since he was all glasses and suit and stuff.
"Can I come in?"
Wally blinked the sleep out of his eyes. "Depends." But he wasn't quite awake enough to form a good comeback on what the "depends" was, so he just stood aside and said, "Sure."
Clark came in, and Wally clicked on the too-bright light. His place was a mess, but his place was usually a mess, and he knew he wouldn't have cleaned anyway. He pushed past the other man to get to the refrigerator.
"Do you have any pop?"
Pop? "Soda? Yeah. Hold on." Wally pulled two Cokes from the 'fridge and handed one to Clark. Then he sat at the little two-legged thing that attached to the wall under his window that he called his table. Clark joined him.
I'm sitting in my kitchen at midnight drinking soda with Superman.
"Thanks," Clark said politely as he opened his can and took a drink.
"Are you here to lecture me?"
"What? No. Why? Do you want me to?"
Wally shrugged. "Just figured you would. Why are you here?"
"Your comm is off, you're not answering your phone. I was worried."
"I'm off-duty. Right? Only you're not, and Diana's not and J'onn and Bats aren't. Just me."
"It's not just you."
"Right. Vixen too. Well great. Thanks. Now everyone is thinking I was sleeping with one of them, and if I'm very lucky, they're saying it was Shayera."
"Nobody thinks that."
"I don't care what they think, okay? I don't. Care." He sat back in his chair. "Are you here to tell me I'm not one of the 'five permanent chairs' at the table anymore?"
"No." Nothing but honesty in his eyes.
"But you talked about it. The three of you."
"We talked about a lot of things. We talked about disbanding. That always seems to come up, doesn't it?"
"Yeah." And every time, the same spectre: the League fractured into twos and threes and lots of solo players, all getting picked off by a group of villains who could learn from example about playing together. It had happened, the one time the original League had split under Grodd's direction. That led to bad thoughts, memories, and Wally shoved them away, as he had been shoving them all away.
"Have you talked to Vixen?"
Wally shook his head. "Why?"
"No one else has, either. Zatanna and Barda went over to her apartment building, but the doorman wouldn't let them in. He said she isn't receiving visitors, whatever that means to you."
"She's not going to want to see any of us. Not yet."
"I know. But someone's going to have to clean out John's apartment. Diana and I boxed up Shayera's things this morning."
"You … Oh." Another hurt, one he wasn't expecting. "What are you … Who … "
"We're not sure yet. If you have any ideas, that'd help. It seems like we should give some of them to Carter, but I'd prefer not to."
"How much did she have?"
"Not much. Mostly clothes. She didn't collect things."
"I was thinking maybe we should give the clothes to a shelter, or Goodwill."
"I think she'd be okay with that."
Clark reached into his pocket and pulled out a snowglobe. "Did you give this to her?"
"Yeah." There'd been a Christmas where he'd run out of ideas and everyone had gotten snowglobes. He stared at Shayera's globe, realization creeping in that Clark had brought it back to him to keep.
They sat. They drank their sodas. When the cans were empty, Wally brought two more.
Wally asked, "Do you know if John had any family left?"
"A couple of second and third cousins. We were his family."
Wally nodded, the lump in his throat refusing to dissolve no matter how much soda he drank. "I'll call Vixen. We'll take care of it."
"Good. Tell her how sorry we all are."
"For which part?"
Clark's eyes flickered. "Don't bring that up."
"Everyone heard." John had opened his comm to coordinate back with the rest, telling them Shayera had been trapped in the initial blast, and he'd forgotten to shut it off. Everyone, including Vixen, had heard Shayera plead with him to leave her there, had heard his reply, had heard what was almost certainly a kiss. What should have been a private moment between them had been shared with the entire League, and then the second, much bigger blast had gone off.
"I've got superhearing. I've overheard plenty of conversations I've had to pretend I never noticed."
"Mari's not stupid."
"I'm not saying she is. I'm saying, don't make this even more painful for her than it already has to be."
"I wasn't planning on it." Wally finished his Coke loudly and Clark got the hint, draining his in one gulp and then standing.
"Thanks for the pop."
"Oh, before I forget. You've got watch Friday morning shift, main Watchtower. Bruce says don't be late." There was a hint of a smile on Clark's face as he reached the door.
"He would," said Wally, not trusting his own face for a real smile yet, but for the first time in forever, almost ready for one. "Good-night, Clark."
Mid-morning. Mari knew it by the light coming from her alarm clock. The rest of her loft was enshrouded in darkness; the curtains had been drawn for days; the lamps were darkened; a scrap of light crept around from the clock and that was all to indicate the time of day or night.
The phone rang again, and she knew why she'd wakened. She lay in her bed, surrounded by pillows, listening to the muted ring from the phone in her kitchenette, the only one she hadn't turned off. After three rings, the machine picked up, and that she hadn't turned down so her own voice echoed through her home: "You've reached 847-8804. Please leave a message." She'd stopped saying her name on her machine after the first Sports Illustrated shoot.
The Flash started talking. "Hey, Vix. It's Flash. I don't know if you're screening your calls or what. I'll give you a sec to pick up if you are. Um. Not that you wouldn't be screening me too. You know what? I'll be there in a minute, so I hope you're home and I hope your doorman doesn't shoot me. Okay?" There was a pause, perhaps while he waited for her reply, and then a click.
She stayed in bed, watching the alarm clock's tiny pulse as it counted the seconds. Ten passed and there was a knock on her door.
"It's me." A pause. "Are you in there?" Another pause. "Look, I think you're there. Can you please open the door?" She waited. "I need to talk, and I think you need to talk to me too. I mean," she heard a slight thump, like someone resting his head against her door, "we both loved him, right? Not the same way," he said quickly, "but you know what I mean. And I think your security is coming up the elevator right now, and while I can kick their asses, I'm not gonna. Please open the door."
She stared at the ceiling, and then slid out from under the covers. Her robe was on the floor where she'd left it, and she tied the knot at her waist.
"Hey, guys," said the Flash from outside her door. "I'm just here to see my friend. I'm not here to make trouble."
Mari unlocked her door and opened it.
"Morning, Ms. Macabe," said Harry. He'd been one of two security guards for the building over the past five years, and his daughter Laura had an autographed poster of Mari on her wall and he'd always been polite. "Are you all right?"
She nodded. She looked at Flash, then stood back and allowed enough room for him to come inside. When he didn't come in, she grabbed his arm and shoved him. Then she smiled at Harry as best she could, and nodded a little, and shut the door behind her. She clicked on the light switch, letting the lamps cast a warm glow around her loft.
Flash stood in the living room — she'd set up tall, billowy gauze and muslin curtains around her bed and dresser to make a rose-tinted bedroom to one side — staring but not poking at her things. She wondered if he thought the spare decorations were a sign of grief. She wondered if he'd expected blown-up prints of covers she'd done, or images from her better work in frames, instead of the two black and white Japanese abstracts to either side of her entertainment center, which were the only items on her walls at all.
Mari patted the couch for him, went into the kitchenette, started the coffeemaker, came back, found him still staring at her two pictures, looking back and forth between them like he was trying to discern the shape of some riddle.
She sighed. There was no riddle, nothing deeper than that she'd seen the prints and liked them and bought them. Sometimes art was just art, pretty for the sake of being pretty.
She sat down, patting the seat beside her again. Flash sat down.
"Hi," he said, finally.
She twitched her mouth. It wasn't a smile, wasn't anything but an acknowledgment that he'd spoken.
"You're not doing good with this."
Mari shook her head. No use lying.
She nodded. Then she reached out and patted his hand. He was right: they'd both loved John in their own ways. Plus, while Mari had liked Shayera, Flash had loved her, and he'd spent time with Metamorpho, far more than Mari herself had. Rex Mason had been John's oldest friend in the League, and one of his oldest friends, period, and now even that link to John was gone.
"I miss him," said Flash. "And I miss her. I think I'm going to miss Metamorpho, but it feels … " He looked away from her, up at the pictures again, and then at the floor. "It feels like I don't have any room left to feel anything else, you know?"
She nodded again. She knew.
"Anyway. Superman came to see me last night, and he said." Flash stopped, and he breathed. "He and Diana cleaned out Shayera's room. We need to clean out John's apartment."
Mari closed her eyes. This was real, then. John wasn't going to appear in a sudden flash of green light tonight, and tell her it was all a mistake, and sweep her up and hold her close. She was going to go with this kid who'd for no apparent reason been John's best friend in the world, and she was going to pack up John's things and put them away, and she was going to have to see if John even had a lawyer and a will, and John was gone and the world should mourn its beloved dead.
She opened her eyes again, saw him watching her, and she nodded once. She would dress and they would go.
From the kitchen, the coffeemaker began to percolate, sputtering and muttering like some small god of drains stirring at last to life.
There was a long pause. "Kyle?"
"Yeah, Grandpa. It's Kyle. How've you been?"
"Where are you? Why haven't you come to see me?"
Kyle changed his hold on the phone. "I've been out of town, Grandpa."
"It's been four years."
"Did you get the letters I sent?"
"I got 'em. Postmark was from Detroit."
"Yeah. Yeah, I ... went through there sometimes." His first lie, and he stuttered through it badly.
"You could've come to see me."
"I want to. I ... Will you be home this weekend?"
"I can be. You remember the way."
"Yeah. I remember. Grandpa?"
"Is there anything you need? I've got ... " Not much, to be frank. "I can get things now. I'm doing good."
"No. Just come. Unless you've got a girlfriend. You can bring her."
"No girl," Kyle said, smiling a little sadly. "Maybe now that I'm settling down."
"Okay. Come Saturday morning."
"Early. I'll be there. Love you, Grandpa."
"Kyle." Grandpa never said "I love you," and that was fine. "Bye." Grandpa hung up the phone and Kyle closed his.
He hadn't been up to the cabin in years, but he knew Grandpa always had solid staples stashed away. Kyle could bring perishables and they could sit on the porch eating ice milk and drinking beer and that would be a perfect weekend.
But before then, Kyle had a project to finish.
It wasn't as bad as Wally'd feared. Vixen had a key. Wally picked up the spare from its usual place and gave it to her without a word. She clasped both keys together in her palm. She'd give them back to the landlady when the apartment was finally emptied.
John kept everything so very neat. He always had. So the records were in their proper sleeves and were alphabetized. The bathroom was clean. So was the refrigerator, despite the food, which Wally packed up for his own home. Never let food go to waste, said the voice of his grammy in his head, and Wally never had.
He set the unrefrigerated food on the dark orange couch next to the boxes of records and books, then helped Vixen finish pulling the videos. John didn't own a lot of dvds since he'd only recently broken down and bought a player.
He packed the bathroom stuff, allowing Vixen to take the corner set aside for the bedroom. He didn't want to ask how familiar she was with that place, didn't want to be there as she stripped the sheets from the bed, emptied John's clothes from his drawers, took his suits from their hangers in the wardrobe.
The bathroom was weird enough.
He found a small bottle of shampoo and another bottle of conditioner. He figured both were probably Vixen's, and he set them aside politely. No shampoo for John, not for over two years now. A sliver of soap left in the shower, five bars left in a pack under the sink. Tissues. Half a tube of toothpaste, rolled firmly from the end. Shaving cream. Beard trimmer. Razor with blades. Nail clipper. Stick of deodorant, and another stick of a ladies' brand that he set beside the shampoo. Another look through the shower located a pink razor, which went into Vixen's box.
The shower curtain was free from mold or buildup; Wally thought about swiping it to replace his own, which so wasn't. He left the shower curtain, and the rest of the toilet paper. Two boxes in hand, he brought everything back out to the pile on the couch.
Have to bring the van back and find someone to take the furniture. For a moment, he thought maybe the new Lantern might need a couch, and then he pushed the thought away angrily. He looked over to see how Vixen was doing.
In the corner, John's closet door was open, and looked empty. His top dresser drawer was open and full of socks and underwear. Vixen sat on the still-made bed, knees pulled against her chest, holding herself tightly and staring.
"Hey," he said, as gently as he could. When she didn't respond, he went a little closer, but knew better than to sit on the bed with her. He spotted a chair against the wall, grabbed it, and sat down in front of her.
"Vixen, maybe you should go pack the stereo. I can handle this."
If she heard him, she didn't show it. She kept staring at the open drawer. Wally had heard of people going crazy after someone they loved died. When he'd lost his grandmother, his last living relative, he'd been inconsolable for weeks. There'd been kids at the orphanage, especially the newer arrivals, who were practically catatonic.
He placed a gloved hand on her shoulder. "Vixen? Mari?"
"I hate him."
The words were cold in the air, held there. It was the first thing she'd said to him all day.
"I hate him so much." She wasn't crying, but he could hear the pain in her voice, so deep it must've tickled her feet.
"You don't mean that," he soothed.
"He never intended to stay. I thought he did. He made me think he would. But as soon as she needed him, he was gone. She whistled, he went running, and I didn't even register on his radar."
Wally wanted to say something, try to console her, and there was nothing he could say. Even had John walked out of that building alive, there was only a slim chance Vixen wouldn't have dumped him that same day. Instead, he hadn't walked out and she'd never had the chance to end their romance officially, and so she was the grieving fiancée rather than the recently-jilted girlfriend, but Wally knew the truth and he couldn't make an ounce of the whole mess better for her.
"I'm sorry," he said instead. It wasn't his place to say so, it was John's, but John wasn't here.
"So am I," she said quietly.
"Why don't you let me do this? There's still stuff in the living room that needs packed."
"No. I'm the one who gets to clean up after him. That's the job I was signing up for, wasn't it?"
"He loved you," Wally blurted out, not even sure it was true.
Vixen stared at him. "You know," she said, after a while, "I think he did. And I'm not sure it makes it any better." Finally, tears formed at the edges of her eyes, rolled down her face. Vixen was professionally pretty, and she even managed to cry beautifully.
Wally dashed over to the couch and dug out the tissues from the bathroom box. He brought them back, handed her one without a word. She crumpled it in her hand, sniffling.
"Is there anything I can do?"
She nodded. "Yeah. Are you still seeing Linda?"
He hadn't called her in days. "I guess."
"Do you love her?"
"I ... Probably."
"Figure it out. If you do, tell her. Every day. And if you don't, don't be an ass and tell her you do."
He nodded. He would.
She wiped at her eyes until the tears were gone. Then she put on the bright smile he'd seen in half a dozen magazines he'd never admitted to John that he'd bought and kept. "Let's clean up this mess."
Wally showed up for his watch just on time Friday morning. Plastic Man and Waverider were with him, and so was Doctor Light, her first shift since she was discharged from the infirmary. The hours went by quietly, and he sat with Doctor Light at lunch because she felt like family.
He'd called Linda the night before. They'd talked. She'd yelled at him for making her worry. He'd told her he loved her. She'd yelled at him a little more.
After lunch he went to the rec room alone. His favorite window seat was empty. He wasn't sure how long he'd spent watching the stars when he heard someone behind him.
He turned his head. The new Lantern. Wally felt himself tense up. He forced himself to relax. "Hi."
"Look, I'm not good at talking to people," Lantern said. "Never really know what to say." Wally stared. "So anyway, I made these, and I think I should give one to, Vixen, is it? And Sapphire. I don't know about Hawkman. Nobody seems to like him much."
"He's all right," said Wally on autopilot.
The Lantern smiled. "Okay, then. Maybe I'll give it to him. Anyway, I wanted your opinion first."
He pulled a black case out from under his arm. Then he unzipped it and handed it to Wally. Wally took the thing, looked at the eager expression on Lantern's face, at least what he could tell under the mask, and almost threw it back at him. Instead, he opened the case.
The picture of Shayera was on top. She was in profile, wearing that not-quite-sad look on her face Wally knew too well. Her hair wasn't right, and she was wearing a green top Wally'd never seen, but it was a very pretty picture.
Metamorpho was next. He stared back up at Wally from the page, a big grin on his face, arms crossed over his chest. The weird colors on his skin jumped off the page like a technicolor scream from the calm blue and white background.
Wally turned to John's picture. Wally couldn't quite stifle his smile. It was John with hair, a stern and slightly impatient look on his face and his ring brandished in both promise and threat.
"These are really good."
"Thanks. I did John's from memory, but I had to talk Superman into letting me look at a couple of security tapes for the other two."
"I think you should definitely give Metamorpho's picture to Sapphire. I think ... Yeah. Give that to her."
"Thanks. I will. What do you think about the other two?"
He thought about Vixen, and knew the last thing she wanted right now was a picture of John. But maybe in a few months. He had no idea about Hall and he didn't care. Wally was as much Shayera's family as anyone.
"I don't think Vixen's ready yet. Wait a while. But she'll appreciate it."
Lantern nodded. "What about Hawkgirl's?"
"If you don't mind, I'd like that one." He flipped back to her picture. "Yeah."
Lantern nodded. "That's fine. Hold on." He took the drawings back a minute, then handed Wally just Shayera's portrait. He closed the portfolio with John's and Metamorpho's pictures inside.
"So. I'll be going then," Lantern said, and turned away.
"Hey. What made you decide to go with Classic GL?"
"John with hair."
"Oh. Like I said, I went from memory. He looked like that more when I knew him." He smirked. "Had that same expression most of the time, too."
"I remember. I never had the guts to tell him to pull the stick out."
"Me either," said Lantern.
"Do you wanna sit down?" There was just enough room for two people to sit across from each other. Wally scooted a little to make more space.
"Sure," said Lantern, carefully sitting far enough away from him not to be a pain. "When he had that look, he always got this tone in his voice, you remember?"
"Yeah," Wally said, cracking a smile. "That was his 'I'm too mature to be dealing with this shit,' tone."
"I always thought of it as his 'I'm surrounded by idiots and they just elected you their king,' tone."
Wally laughed. Lantern grinned.
"John was a good guy," said Lantern.
"What was Hawkgirl like? Superman told me you two were pretty close."
"Well, for starters, she hated being called 'Hawkgirl.' That whole invasion thing."
"It's okay." And it was. "Shayera was great. Back in the old days, I used to hit on her. But she ended up being like my sister, you know?"
Lantern nodded. "I get that. I wish I could have met her."
"So do I."
Wally looked down, away from Lantern's face. He focused on the picture in his hands. Shayera looked back up at him. "Hey, what's that?" He pointed to a little scribble in the corner he hadn't noticed before.
"Oh. Since you're keeping that one, I went ahead and signed it. I always sign the good ones," he said, a note of pride in his voice.
"You make the weirdest 'G' I've ever seen, dude."
"That's a 'K,'" came the reply. Lantern held out his hand. "Kyle Rayner."
Wally's head jerked up. Lantern's hand was still out, and he watched Wally from behind his goofy mask. Wally had known his friends for two years, more, before Batman had gone and done the "everybody out" thing, and here was this guy, fresh on the team and obviously protective of his secret identity, holding out his hand and introducing himself. It was the kind of thing John would have done.
Wally shook Kyle's hand. "Wally West. It's ... It's good to meet, you, Kyle. Um. Do you ... " He paused, then blurted all at once: "Do you need a couch?"