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dcu: yj, fandom:dcu, fic:challenge, fic:gen, fic:non-gen

JBBS fic: Venn Diagrams by jamjar

For [ profile] jbbs

Author : [ profile] jamjar
Characters Used: Cissie King-Jones, Kon-El, Tim Drake, Bart Allen
Summary: Circles of people, and where they overlap. Spoilers: Identity Crisis, War Games.

Thanks to [ profile] liviapenn for beta-readin, and sorry I couldn't take more advantage of it. Mistakes, suggestions, corrections, all appreciated.

Greta does laps round the track when the rest of the class is swimming. Around the school, cross country and just the amount of practise she's getting means she's pretty much a member of the schools cross-country team by default. She's not a natural athlete, but she's not terrible at it, and she likes the way it makes her body feel.

Cissie is a natural athlete, and not just that, but a beautiful one. Long limbs and good muscles. The running is making Greta's legs kind of stocky, and she still has puppy fat over her stomach, and she's seen videos of herself running. Her face gets red and sweaty, and her mouth falls open and just-yeah, not pretty. Cissie's expression gets focussed and her eyes go clear and her movements are smooth and sharp and beautiful. Greta, exercise makes her solid.

It's not a bad thing, actually. She likes the thought of it. Honestly, it's better this way. It's not like she'd get to look at herself anyway, so really, from her perspective, it's better that Cissie has it, where she can look at it, and see and appreciate.

After class, she heads to the shower-room. There's one on the end of their corridor, but Greta likes the noise of the communal ones, the lack of any real embarrassment. There used to be music, but...

Okay, she doesn't actually know Cissie made them stop taking the radio in, but she can't think who else it would be. Cissie is good about that.

She doesn't like looking at Cissie in the shower, though, which is kind of wrong. She likes looking at Cissie normally, at where what everyone sees turns into what . Cissie has tan lines up to the shoulders and mid-thigh from standing in the sun practising for hours, and her arms are more muscled than Cissie's. Stronger. Greta's body doesn't have anything to show her past, but Cissie has scars from practise and training and (Harm) life. Greta loves to see them and observing Cissie is... it's practically a hobby, but not in the shower.

It doesn't take a shrink to figure out why, or even Cissie who's been to enough therapists to qualify.

She really hates looking at Cissie and seeing how vulnerable she is like that.

Cassie and Cissie are already in the room, sitting on Cissie's bed, when she gets back. They don't stop talking when she comes in and it's nice to have their conversation as a background. It's probably a bad thing, but it's kind of comforting being so familiar you can be ignored, almost, except for Cassie nodding at the bag of chips on the desk when Greta dumps her bag.

"You really think -pass me the Pocky- it doesn't matter?" Cissie is saying. She's got her back against the headboard and her knees bent. There's a hole in the knee of her sweats. Her hair still looks a little damp and Greta can smell chorine.

"He's just..." Cassie shrugs. "It's Kon, you know?"

"Yeah, how long have you crushed on him?" Cissie says, kicking her leg a little.

"Funny girl. No, really."

She wonders if Cassie doesn't see the bit where Cissie is actually worried about that. She makes it a joke, kind of, because she's actually...

Maybe Greta's just reading too much into it. Cassie has know Cissie longer, and they were friends more -best friends, still- and just because Greta knows some bits about Cissie that Cassie doesn't...

She's not dumb enough to think that just because she knows what Cissie looks like three seconds before she comes, that she knows Cissie better. Even if Cissie is her friend too.

_ _ _

The bitch of it is -and Cissie likes to think she knows bitch when she sees it- that Cassie and Kon are both really great people, they probably do love each other, they're attractive, have stuff in common, and just-

Yeah, it's not going to work, not for long. It looks like it should, from the outside. Cassie and Kon both have that strong and pretty thing going, charisma and *heroism* and that... it really sucks that she doesn't think they're going to make it. Not as boyfriend and girlfriend.

She hopes she's wrong and Cissie isn't exactly an expert on relationships not working, but... It's some kind of Aristotelian thing, but the relationships she has that do work, well, all she knows is they're not broken yet, and the relationships that were broken...

Well, they can be fixed. Made to something like functioning, enough for affection to cover the rest. She's pretty sure that's what's going to happen with Cassie and Kon when the romance implodes. Probably. Maybe.

Whatever. She's just glad Cassie isn't one of those girls to talk about her boyfriend all the time. Probably because there's always other stuff to do, but maybe because Cassie's picked up on Cissie's discomfort and is being careful of. Which might be why she never says much about Cissie's love-life either. Not that Cissie is embarrassed, or uncomfortable or anything, just...

It feels like there are circles and circles of things she can talk about, and where they overlap, she can talk about things. She thinks-no, honestly, she knows-- she could talk to Cassie about that stuff. Just that it's easier not to. Those conversations would be more work, more stuff to be dealt with, and she already has enough of that that take *effort* with Cassie.

"You want to go over the math before class?" Greta says.

"Yeah. We can grab Cassie and Traya after breakfast and go over it then."

Cissie pulls her "Property of Cadmus Labs" T-shirt on over her head and traces the "C" where it's starting to fade. The T-shirt was a gift from Kon, showing humour or bitterness, or, most likely, a combination of the two. Greta has a matching one, and Cissie knows she's asked Anita to get a "Property of the US Government" one for her for Christmas. Ex-lab-rat sense of humour, and it's the kind of in-joke that'd get you sent to therapy if you ever had to explain it.

Greta puts a hot-water bottle under the covers of her own bed, then comes over to Cissie's. Greta's putting on weight. It's mostly muscle and it's not a bad thing, but it doesn't stop being strange. And she doesn't smell of smoke, which, actually, she never did, but it always felt like she should.

Greta runs the backs of her fingers along Cissie's arm. "It'll be okay. It mostly is, you know. In the end."

Cissie grabs her hand and kisses the back of it, quickly enough that there's only a moment of pressure. "Yeah, I know. Just, sometimes it takes along time to get there, you know?"

"I'm sure... I mean, they probably won't mess up too badly."

Cissie laughs and sits down on her bed, tugging Greta down too. "Yeah, but sometimes you have really different definitions of bad to the rest of us."

"Cissie..." and there's the hesitation, which is them figuring out what kind of moment this is, before hormones decide that right now, this kind of comfort would work. Greta's fingers are warm and her mouth tastes of the orange juice she shouldn't have drunk after brushing her teeth.

"It's okay," Cissie says. And she thinks she means it.

_ _ _

Saturday brunch at Anita's is a trial by fire. Kon's heard stuff about the Green Arrow chilli -really, pretty much everyone gets warned about that the moment they enter the caped community- but he thinks it probably doesn't have anything on Anita's version of scrambled eggs. Cissie and Greta are wolfing it down. Proof that exposure can make you immune to anything.

Cassie is with her mom on this Titans-free weekend and Kon thinks that's a good thing. Not that he doesn't want to spend time with her, and spending time with her away from anyone with enhanced hearing or direct links of the security cameras is appealing. Very appealing. Just that it's nice to spend time with the other girls as one of the guys, and not a boyfriend. Not that they've treated him differently, just that...

And when he's confusing himself this badly, it's probably a clue to stop thinking about it. Anita's mom needs to be steered away from the chilli sauce, subtly because she's an Olympic-level crier, and Agent Maad is looking at Kon like he's going to start asking questions about the tower's contacts with the San Francisco city council, again.

"No, that's not for-" and TTK comes into play again, because Agent Fite doesn't like Kon paying attention to his wife, even when they're both about knee-high, and is pretty swift with a well-aimed bowl of scrambled eggs. His look of disappointment when it stops a foot away from Kon gives Kon a degree of glee that's probably inappropriate, when the enemy still sleeps with a teddy bear.

He's about to start crying when Cissie distracts him by waving a fluffy toy snake in front of his face.

"Kon, stop teasing the regressed parents."

"He started it."

"I'd tell you to act your age, but..."

Anita sits down next in between her parents and puts a plate of sausages and bacon in the middle of the table. There's a mad grab for it, which she shuts down pretty quickly. "Animals. You're all just animals. Honey, don't put dat in your mouth," she adds, grabbing the snake away.

Food gets served and put away quickly. Kon's promised to have a look at the plumbing in the upstairs bathroom. It's good to do something for someone he cares about, and fixing stuff like that is easy. He knows what to do with blocked pipes. It's not his idea of fun, but it's a relief to be able to *help*. He ropes Cissie into helping, purely on the basis that misery loves company.

"What happened here," he says, looking at the damage.

"Anita said something about a demon, Agent Maad and my mom in the shower and poor plumbing, and she's trying to repress the details."

Kon looks at the shower. "Doesn't look like it'd fit-"

"It didn't, which is why we need you to repair it. C'mon, Super. This is what you get the big bucks for, isn't it?"

Kon glares at her, just a step below heat vision, and shakes his head.

"If I wanted to spend my weekends doing chores, I'd have stayed on the-where I was," he corrects himself. Cissie's raising an eyebrow, and he doesn't know if that means she's heard about the farm from Cassie or not.

"Okay, we're going to need to make a run to the DIY store." He goes to step in the shower to get a better look, then changes his mind. "Uh, did they clean this up at all? I mean, after they were finished..."

Cissie shudders. "I don't know, but there's a reason I'm standing in the hall. I'll just take notes or something."

Kon grimaces, then steps in the shower. "So," he says over his shoulder, "you and Greta, you're..."

"We're good," Cissie says. She doesn't ask him about him and Cassie, which he picks up as a clue that relationships are off topic. "How's Tim?"

He looks at her, surprised. "I thought he wrote. Didn't you get the emails?"

She smiles. "Yeah, but they're kind of non-specific. I think he's worried about them being intercepted. And he's not really good at spilling the personal stuff."

Kon nods. "He's... He's coping. You know...?"

"Yeah, Cassie said."

Kon turns back to the shower. There are tiles that need to be replaced and he pulls one of the broken sections of one off the wall. "Okay. You know he didn't tell us? I just found out by... It was in the obits, about his father, and then Superman confirmed it." He can see Clark's expression there, feel the weight of his hand on his shoulder as he told Kon. You'll have to be there for him, because they don't grieve gently.

He doesn't know if Tim would have said anything if they didn't already know.

"He knows where we are," Cissie says. "There's not much else we can do."

He nods. "Add some plaster to the list, okay?"

_ _ _

It's bizarrely hot, watching Kon do household maintainence. Like some primitive bit of her mind is sending signals about how anyone that can do grouting, fix plumbing and still look good in a tight T-shirt is someone that should be *kept*.

"My secret identity is kind of a dork," Kon says. "Only without the grades that sacrificing any and all cool should get you."

"You do know that studying is part of that, right?" Cissie says. She stirs the plaster with one hand, then gives in to temptation and puts her fingers in. It's cool and brings back vague memories of making mud-pies and she has a sudden urge to find a swing-set. "And technically, I think Superboy is your secret identity."

Kon doesn't turn around when he answers. It's funny watching him use his TK to do this, tiles floating up to his hand without him even realising it. "No, that's my real identity. The one I'm me for."

Maybe. Cissie's seen the glasses, and it's the closest to a mask she's seen on a Super. "You know you don't have to be a social reject, don't you? You're big and pretty and reasonably intelligent-"


"-you could be cool, if you wanted. Or have friends that don't spend half their lives wearing spandex and Kevlar."

"I have friends like that," Kon says. "Friends I met when I was being me."

"You could have them where you are," Cissie says. It's kind of frustrating, but Kon was born wearing the costume, literally, and he's never seemed to get that he can be himself apart from that. That Kon is still Kon, even when he's not Superboy.

Kon looks at her. "Friends that don't know me? That probably never will? I don't have much of my-I don't have much life, period. I can't exactly compare grade school or junior high, or talk about my family." He spreads his hands out. "I can't even talk about my first girlfriend or my home town."

"Kon, you don't talk about that much anyway," Cissie says. "*Tim* shares more than you, sometimes. And people-you could talk about the last two seasons of Wendy, The Werewolf Hunter, and clubs in New York and the Cheerleading Championships."

"They were a thing of beauty, last year."

She throws a put out grouting at him. It bounces off his TK and stays in the air until he reaches back and grabs it. "You don't need to give the details. Just make something up that fits."

"I'm not that good a-actor," he says.

It wasn't the word he was going to say. She lets out her breath. "The public identity isn't a lie, exactly. It's true in spirit. Just not the details." She pushes her hair back with one hand, realising a moment too late that it was a mistake. "You can make up an identity that's the kind of person that you want to be."

He turns round to look at her, standing up. The tiles slide in to place behind him. "You probably don't realise how that sounds, right?"

"...okay, maybe there are better ways to put it, but Kon, you have to..." She waves a hand, frustrated. "From what Cassie says, you don't like it there, you don't seem to want friends, or make the effort to fit in and no, keeping your cover is not the same thing. You're just-- you're not--"

"It's not *me*."

"And you don't want it to be," she says. "You don't want to be *you* there. You're so invested in--"

"Cissie, enough." And it's one of those moments where she feels this *gap* between them. Takes a moment to remember that Kon is older than the last time they really talked by more than the months in between. "You can't understand the choices I make-"

"Why? Because-"

"-Any more than I can understand yours. Not really." His eyes are clear and focussed and she has to work to meet them.

"You... Are you going to hold that against me? Because it was the right choice, Kon, I had to."

"No. No, I..." Kon's always been tactile, and she accepts the hug as what he needs. It''s not a hardship. Kon gives good hugs. "I respect your choice, and I can see why you did it, intellectually, but not..." He squeezes her a little tighter.

"But it's your choice, and it's part of what makes you, you. I don't have to get everything about you. I don't know why Greta gets so excited over quadratic equations, but I can accept it. You're still our friend."

Our friend. She wonders if that was deliberate or not. "You... Sometimes, you say almost the right thing." She smiles a little.


"Like, 95 percent." She leans out of the hug.

"Oh come on, I got sincerity, approval, confirmation of affection, what did I miss?"

"Well, you could have said something about my hair..."

He raises an eyebrow. She doesn't know for sure that he got that expression from Robin, but it seems pretty likely. "Cissie, it's long and blonde. It's always been long and blonde. Usually, it has less plaster in it, but..."

"Oh, great. I got to wash this out before it dries." She pulls away and picks up a stand of her with her relatively clean hand. "Kon?"


She wants to say thanks, except she's not sure what she's thankful for. Maybe just for accepting it and maybe for not pushing, however much he wants to, and maybe for forgiving her for being able to make that decision. She's not sure Cassie ever has, not completely. She's never asked. "Nothing. Just-nothing."

_ _ _

Cassie likes to imagine how Diana might have done this. She hadn't got to archery with Artemis, but she can picture it so clearly. Not exactly the same, no plastic on the arrows or complex poly-something bow, but still. Bodies making the same movements for generations.

Cissie stands behind her and adjusts her position. Shoulders back a little bit more, fingers there. Her hands pull Cassie's hips a little more into place and she's close enough that Cassie can smell the tea-tree oil shampoo Cissie's been using.

"Okay, now hold that position. This bit should be easy for you," Cissie says. Her voice is steady and focussed. Cassie doesn't need to see her to know she's looking at the target.

"Pull back, aim and... okay, next one."

Cassie looks up from where the arrow's thudded into the ground, six inches deep.

"I just... I'm just not as good at this as you," Cassie says.

"You've just started. Next one."

Six go in, then she has to collect them from around the target. "I should be better than this."

"Hmm." Cissie looks at her. "Maybe. You should have an easier time with the bow, since you don't need to worry about the pull and your arms won't get tired. And you can hold the position without your muscles getting tired in theory, so... You need practise."

"I know." She goes back to the mark and takes position, then waits while Cissie corrects it again.

"Look at the target."

The first two fit the ground, the third and fourth hit the outside ridge of the target. "I suck at this."

"You don't suck. You've just got a high standard to compare to. You're a lot better than most beginners."

"I just want-"

"To be as good as me." Cissie shrugs. "You'll probably never be as good. Many if you train six hours a day for the next fifteen years... but I'll be better by then too."

"This is your pep speech?"

"Hey, you were the one that wanted to learn." Cissie looks at her. "You don't have to do this, you know."

"Yeah, but I want to. Trying to get in touch with my roots. Adoptive roots."

"Your Inner Amazon," Cissie says. "I think I've seen that in the self-help section."

Cassie touches Cissie's hand. "C'mon. It's nice to do something together, isn't it?"

"Bad movies and good chocolate aren't enough for you?"

"I get enough of that at the Tower. Beast Boy has issues. They come out in strange ways." She tries to look sincere. "I just wanted us to do something that's, you know, us."

"...I could get paid for this, you know. People will pay a lot of money for the professional advice of an Olympic gold-medal winner."

Cassie smiles, because Cissie's already standing back so she can judge Cassie's shot.

It really is nice spending time just them. Not just nice, but necessary, if she doesn't want to lose the Cassie-and-Cissie-friendship in the group-friendship. It's not that she doesn't like spending time as a group, but Cissie is her best friend. She just wants to spend time with her. It's not as easy as it used to-no, it was never easy, exactly, there was always something that could have been an obstacle. Parents, boys, leaving, girls, all things that could have been issues, and only weren't because they worked to make sure of it.

It's hard now, because there are whole areas of conversation that are off-limits.

She's okay with Cissie dating Greta. Or not dating, exactly. They never seem to go out on dates, or do relationship stuff, but Cassie can't put a better name on it. They're involved, they're not seeing anyone else, and they're friends.

There's part of her that thinks it's almost funny, because honestly, it probably should have been her. Not her dating Cissie or Greta, but her with a girlfriend, because she's the one with the Amazon connection. She's the one who can actually recite three of Sappho's poems in the original Greek, and have her pronunciation corrected by Diana.

It's almost a shame about the whole really liking guys thing, because she does have a sneaking suspicion that she's not quite living up to her Themyscarian connection. Donna did it. Donna liked guys -Donna was married-- but Donna was Donna.

The past-tense is hurting less.

So it's not the girl-on-girl thing that's weird, or even the fact that it's Cissie and Greta. It's the way they are together. Like most of the time Cissie and Cassie are closer than Cissie and Greta, and then there are odd moments when it's the other way around. Only for a second.

Cissie doesn't really like talking about Cassie and Kon, though it took Cassie some time to figure that out. That's okay. Cassie's not 100% comfortable talking about her relationship with Kon yet. She limits it to one conversation, usually long, on any incident, and then no re-hashing. Cissie doesn't talk about Greta much --not about any bit of Greta that Cassie doesn't already know-- so it probably works out.

_ _ _

"You want to go over the English assignment?" Cissie says. There's a stubborn knot in her second favourite pair of trainers, and she's contemplating just cutting the lace.

Cassie heads over the shelves. Cissie's bookshelves look like they were designed by Escher, and she's seen Cassie secretly try and alphabetise them when she thinks Cissie's not looking. Cassie pokes a book and prepares to take cover if it looks like they're going to avalanche. "Yeah. You did Lear last term, right? Can I borrow your book? Kon's doing it at school and I promised I'd help him study."

Cissie nods. "Sure, but you should get Traya's. She makes notes in hers. Four different ballpoints and colour-coded post-its."

"Think she gets that from her father's side of the family?"

"No, I think she gets the tendency to do even five minute oral reports with a powerpoint background from him. She's asked for a laser-pointer for Christmas."

"That's... disturbing."

"She wants one with Gir on it, which is kind of reassuring. I think." Cissie stops trying to unpick the knot and looks at her. "Is your mom okay with Kon going round to study at your house?"

Cassie nods. "Yeah. She had a look at some of Kon's papers and started talking about how modern education is failing our youth, before we had to remind that Kon didn't really have much in the way of full-time education outside the tube."

Cissie raises an eyebrow but doesn't say anything. It's not surprisingly, really, that Cassie's mom likes Kon. Kon is very likeable. Even less surprising that Kon likes Ms Sandsmark.

"She keeps interrogating him. I think she thinks he's too young for me *and* too old, which is kind of..." Cassie rolls her eyes.

Cassie smiles back, because really, it's kind of true. Kon is more grown up than her. Less mature, but... he can talk about property taxes and dry rot and mortgages. He doesn't, but he could. Kon was living and *working*, if being a pro-celeb can be called that, semi-independently. He had an agent, and she can still remember her mom's reaction the first time he issued a press-release.

"So, that's what the two of your do on your dates? Go over the effect of the lack of Comic Characters in Lear? I guess it's different from, you know, kicking supervillains through a wall, but--"

"Yeah, but after studying we can study." Cassie manages to make the last word surprisingly dirty. "Although, I should probably be a little worried by Kon's reaction to me explaining tectonic plates and the formation of mountains."

"Did the earth move for you-" Cissie ducks as Cassie throws a pillow at her.

"Hey, I'm out of the game, I need to get my banter where I can."

"That's Blue Beetle level. No, Booster Gold." Cassie shakes her head. "And we were on the same team..."

Cissie grins. The jokes are a little awkward, still, not quiet comfortable, but necessary. They need them, to make that all *normal*.

"Besides, I like helping Kon revise," Cassie says.

Cissie shrugs and goes back to her knot. If she was going to analyse Cassie -and she really doesn't want to, but she kind of can't help it-she'd probably focus on the balance of power thing. Cassie feeling more comfortable when she's got something she knows more about then Kon, when the rest of relationship, not so much. Kon's the one with actual relationships under his belt, and Cassie doesn't. She knows Cassie enough to know that she doesn't like that. Cassie puts a lot of work into being straight-A student, leader, in control and the one who knows what she's doing.

Cassie and Kon haven't said much about their round trip to the future. Cissie thinks she might have to push for answers, and she's not sure if she's ready to risk that yet. The best thing about Cassie going to the same school as them is that Cassie can't just avoid her if they have an argument, but that's also the worst thing.

It's the Venn diagram approach to friendship. There are circles and circles and places where they overlap, people she can talk to about this and this, but not that. Archery and schoolwork and her background, her mother, boys, girls, supervillains, nightmares, past injuries and old acquaintances. Cassie is in almost all of those, but not all and Cissie loves her for making the effort to be there for Cissie in the bits that Cassie wouldn't be by choice, but it's still hard. Working to make spaces they can talk about, so they don't have to worry about the things they can't.

Greta is in most of those circles, but Greta says she doesn't have nightmares and it makes it hard for Cissie to talk about hers.

That's what she has Cassie for, maybe.

_ _ _

Cissie's dorm doesn't let boys in, but that's not a problem for Bart. Even if he's seen, he can do a quick costume change to look like a girl. Not a pretty girl, maybe, but a plausible one. He can always borrow something from the girls. Cissie keeps a stack of wigs in her closet, and she's skinny like him on the legs and Greta's a pretty good match across the shoulders.

He reads Cissie's books while he's waiting for her to get back, the puts her shelves back together when they collapse. Reads Greta's, and starts looking at the math problems, but they're actually really boring. He could do them, probably, but it'd feel like forever while he did.

"Bart! You shouldn't be here," Cissie says, throwing her books on the bed.

"I was in the neighbourhood," he says. "Where's Greta?"

"Cross-country practise. She likes running. I think she could at least take up javelin, but... I think she was exposed to a bad influence in her youth."

"Huh. Cool." He flits out the room to grab some food, comes back and sets out the spread on the table.

Cissie looks at the food. "It's a good thing I'm not on the Atkins,' she says, grabbing a slice of pizza.

"What? Oh, did you want some too?"

He takes a carrot, dips it in a jar of crunchy peanut butter and munches on it.

"Not that it's not good to see you, " Cissie says, "but why are you here?"

Bart shrugs. "I had some free time. We haven't talk in ages and, you know, I miss you and Suzie. Greta."

Cissie smiles. "That's sweet. She should be back in an hour, maybe. Want to watch something? I've got The Office on DVD. Or My Wife Is a Gangster, the Korean one."

"Sounds cool." Cissie digs out a DVD, switches on her lap and places it so they can get a good look from the bed.

"It's pretty funny, this one. Though I was totally hoping she'd get together with her second in command. Or the girlfriend."

"Is it better? Kissing a girl than kissing a guy?"

Cissie blinks. He's kind of surprised that he gets that reaction, since it can't be the first time someone's asked her that. It must be, like, the second thought that goes across their minds.

"Should I not ask that?"

Cissie's kind of frowning, but she shrugs. "No. I mean, I should be able to talk about this. It's better, being with Greta than anybody else. Not that there have been a lot of anybody elses, but..." another shrug.

Bart nods. The credits roll on the film, and he gets distracted by the fight scene, which is totally unrealistic, but very good. The Gangster wife, Eu-something, is really attractive in a androgynous kind of way. She kind of reminds him of Tim, a little, even though they're not really alike, other than having dark hair and protective instincts and being very cool.

"Did you want to talk about something?" Cissie says about fifteen minutes in. He nods and tells her about Jay and school, about missing Carol and Preston and Max, about seeing his mom and how Kon had*fit* there.

Cissie nods and looks at the screen. They bitch about the sister, and the gratuitous angsty death. Cissie looks at the clock and frowns.

"She must be taking the long run. Or maybe waiting for an empty shower," she says. Bart thinks about going to check, but he's in the zone for real-time, now. Best not to mess with it.

The film ends and it's not a bad ending, just not the one he'd choose. He likes Die Hard more. "I could check?"

Cissie nods. "The track goes through the woods. If she's taking the long route, then go left on the fork."

Bart gets up and puts away the wreckage from his snack. Jay is kind of neurotic about tidying up after meals, which makes sense when there are so many of them. He gets out the door, then turns back. "Hey Cissie?"

"Hmm?" She looks up from the laptop.

"Do you love her?"

"Yes," Cissie says automatically.

Bart looks at her for a moment. "Are you in love with her?" He says, because it seems like it needs clarification.

"...I don't know." Cissie smiles. "I'm not sure it matters right now."

Bart nods since he can't think of anything else to say. He thinks it probably does matter, but he's not sure. He does know that he's not exactly any kind of authority on this.

"Bart? You should drop by again some time," Cissie says.

He gives her a quick hug, then runs out to meet Greta.

_ _ _

Cissie picks up the debris from Bart's exit. It's not much -he's a lot better about that than he used to be-but bits of paper and half an essay on the causes of the first world war.

She doesn't, actually, like girls more than boys.

It probably says a lot about her that she can't actually deal with the simple so well. That the boys she meets and dates are fine, and she can lust over a nice set of shoulders as much as the next girl, but she gets closer and there's something missing.

It'd be easier if it was just the XX chromosomes, but it's like that with the girls, too.

Greta is maybe the closest she'll get to someone who understands.

As long as they're not talking about costume stuff, she actually feels a lot more comfortable with any of the YJ alumni. Even Anita.

Because when you wear the mask, you're part of this other world, and it's overlaps with this one, you can get glimpses of it from the outside, but you'll never know*. She doesn't want to be part of that world. She actually, genuinely, really, doesn't and it's something Cassie can't get, but...

...but there's a reason why she still thinks of Cassie as her best friend. Why she feels better for talking to Kon or even *Anita*, even if it's just about normal stuff. What's on TV and the last two seasons of Wendy the Werewolf.

It was good to see Bart again. She's halfway tempted to get him to get him to check her homework when he gets back with Greta, but it's mostly essays and Bart sucks at the written work.

She should re-read "The Yellow Wallpaper" and write that essay on Ibsen, but she kind of wants to smack Torvald for most of it. The biggest problem with Ibsen is that all the good guys, the nice ones, seem to die off. Mostly of syphilis.

Or she could phone the Youth Centre again. See if they need her to come in on the weekend. It's a side-effect, really. There are things her mother taught her and trained her to, and then there are the things she never actually *said*, but that came through loud and clear.

Her mother never said "you have to do something to make the world better," or "It's your responsibility to help," but it came through on the edges of hours spent on the targets or discussing costumes and first aid.

It's having a social conscience and an over-developed sense of responsibility and she can't entirely give it up.

There's a picture on the desk, taken at the Sydney games. They're all there, even Tim, dressed up like a real boy.

They look young. She knows about the relative aging, but Bart looks *eons* younger in that picture. Greta's only a face and a cloud over Tim's shoulder. She's pretty much only smile and eyes, which isn't that different from now. She should be taller than she is, but Greta thinks she might have missed out on a growth spurt sometime between dying and coming back.

The thing is, part of her thinks that of all of them, Greta should look younger now. Lighter, now she doesn't have the weight of abyss inside her.

Instead, she looks pretty much like she always did, only human.

Bart's always been the younger, annoying brother she never had. Something like family, which means that even when you're not close, or talking, you're still there. He's still like that, only it gives her this feeling, something like pride and nostalgia and not yet! when he says something that shows he's *older*.

Her little brother is growing up, and there's part of her that kind of regrets that.

Not grown up yet, and still lacking in the social awareness that you really only get by living in society. It doesn't show in his body or his mind, but his years, or lack of them, show in that. It's probably the only thing he can't play catch-up on, and it makes sense that he generally shows the kind of subtlety and tact of a six year old.

She missed the boys. She doesn't see Kon much, and there are emails and letters from Tim, but... The emails, she pretty sure there's a program somewhere set to send them off at regular intervals so people don't get worried. They don't say anything, but they hint and *allude* and they're generally reassuring and worrying in equal parts which makes sense, given who sent them.

The emails delete themselves after a week, whether she opens them or not. She keeps the letters in with her fan-mail. Greta has hers in a box with the neutral pictures, the ones that don't actually show anything incriminating. No costumes, and half the time, no faces.

She rifles through it sometimes. It's amazing how much the picture of a bit of wall, or the kitchen or a *tree* can make her feel like-something. She really should start her essay, so she checks her email instead.

_ _ _


How are you? I haven't had much time to write. I've been pretty busy with work, and my supervisor is keeping me under close watch. I don't think I'm meant to know how close. It's his way of watching out for me, and I appreciate it, but he doesn't believe me when I say it's not necessary. It's an inefficient use of our resources at a time when we need them most and you know what happens when we fall down on the job. He's even got my co-workers doing it, though most of them will back off when I ask.

That, or they're just more discreet than him.

Same goes for our mutual friends, but it's easier to accept coming from them. When you see K, can you work on making him let go? I don't need someone second-guessing me when I'm coping, you know? It's what I do and they should know that. I think I deserve that much.

Actually, I want to talk to you about him, but in person. I'm guessing you heard about out little trip and the premature retrospective. Some things were said that make me think maybe it's not good for K to be keeping so close to me.

I don't want to lose anyone else, but I can't afford to make them lose themselves. I want an outside perspective on this. Someone who isn't directly involved.

Aside from that, the trip was okay. B got to see his mother, which is a good thing. His cousin was there too. I'm mostly relieved that we only have the one to deal with. There are others around with the same gift, but none with the same personal style as that branch, and I think we can all be grateful for that. It was strange seeing K there. He underestimates himself a lot, you know. We've got to be careful not to do that too.



I know I said we should meet up, but things have been difficult here. I still want to talk about K, but it might have to wait. Things have been difficult here. I'm still coping. Funny how people don't believe you when you say something like that, isn't it? And the more you say it, the less faith they have in you.

K is not the worst offender by far, but there are other issues. Things I want to talk about in person. I think he feels shut out, but I can't do anything about that right now. I know you've been seeing him a bit lately. He's worried about losing his friends, more so than usual. I'm not exactly helping with that, but...

Anyway, I just want to ask you to keep in touch with him. He needs us, you know. I think he's worried that if he's C's boyfriend, he'll stop being *your* friend, not just an extension of her.

That's all I wanted to say,


Dear Greta,

Thank you. I do appreciate it. I wanted to come down and see you and Cissie last weekend, but I couldn't get away. Things are pretty bad here and at home. I can't really talk about it, but it's good to know my friends are still there. Thank you especially for talking about S. There are people I can talk about my Dad with. More people than I want, really. Not many people know about S, and not many of them are willing to talk about her. Even the ones I could talk about her with, I can't. Not yet. They're not ready.

I know you didn't like her, but you still remember her. It sometimes seems like I'm the only one here that does. I can't talk about it much, and the whole thing was just a mess, but it really helped, what you wrote.

I'm okay. You know how it is; not good, and you can't quite remember what that feels like, but you're okay with it. There's enough to get by. And I believe -I have to believe-it'll get easier. That scares me, sometimes, because it doesn't seem like it should.

I'm glad things are going well with you. I think you and Cissie are probably good for each other. Having someone who understands, not having to censor your thoughts for their protection... Well, take it from someone who knows, but it's hard to get close to someone when you have to keep yourself apart.

I hear you're joining the Mathletics team. That should be fun. No, I really mean it. If you...

_ _ _

Greta puts down the letter. Cissie looks at her. "You know, I think he talks to me more now than he did back then." Greta looks at the letter again. "Or writes. I haven't seen him since forever."

Cissie nods. "Do you think he's-"

"Coping. I think."

"He keeps saying that he wants to meet up sometime, but something always happens."

Greta sits down next to her. She's got that look in her eyes, the one that says she's thinking of something beyond anything here. Memories of things Cissie probably doesn't have words for. "He just needs to get past it, you know?" She sits down next to Cissie and puts her arm around her. "When the bad stuff happens, it's almost never the end of the world. It just feels like that for a bit."