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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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Short Circuits of History

Ira was disappointed to find that the Equestrian was not already at the Stars n' Garters when he arrived. He was more disappointed when Flo gave him an apologetic smile and said, "Molly told me you'd be by today. She'n the horseboy had to go off to deal with something back where he's from."

"The Far Green Country," Ira said. "Oh, well. I guess this wasn't that important anyway." Still, he wondered what, exactly, she'd meant to tell him.

"She told me to make sure you ate anyway," Flo said, "so what'll you have?"

Ira ordered, and Flo went back to the kitchen. He looked around. Madame Destiny wasn't in today, nor was Lady Justice. The Tinkerer was crouched over his table, as usual. Then Ira was surprised by making rare eye contact with the Damned Yankee.

The Yankee, a wizened little shadow of the man Ira had known for years, held out the newspaper he'd been examining with his magnifying glass. "We're at war again!" he said.

Ira looked at the headline. Mayor's Council Apologizes For State of City Schools. He looked back at the Yankee's face, bit his lip, and said, "That we are."

He watched the Yankee's complicated facial topography experience earthquakes that rearranged and intensified the wrinkles. "We all need to get out there and take care of those Ratzis. What about your boy?"

Ira swallowed. "My boy turned 44 last year. Too old for the draft."

"He should still enlist!" the Yankee said, shaking the newspaper for emphasis. "Us bulletproofs all need to get out there, save the boys doing the real work. Hell, I'll go!"

The Yankee, Ira recalled, was one of the first to enlist in Woodrow Wilson's Gold Star Company, the first all-para group in the US Army. It was made up of "bulletproofs" who generally engaged in frontal assaults to draw enemy resources and fire.

"He's got to do his service to his country!" the Yankee was saying.

Flo emerged and scowled at the Yankee. "Henry, you know his boy was shot down in the last war. Shame on you."

The Yankee was immediately chastened and set his paper down on the table. He mumbled, "Sorry, fella. Got too hot under the collar there."

Ira shrugged and nodded. Flo set a plate on Ira's table and said, "Henry here has been getting hot under the collar a lot lately."

"It's this damned newspaper!" the Yankee said. "It's all over war, war, war."

Ira glanced over at the page exposed now. The Steel Man Found Dead.

"Wasn't the Steel Man a Guardians villain?" Ira said, addressing Flo.

The Yankee looked at him and something about his face changed. "Yep," he said in a completely different tone of voice. "And his daddy before him. Pains in the rear. But he wasn't as good as his father, strictly minor league."

"Huh," Ira said, taking a bite of the bacon and cheddar quiche that was one of Ebb's specialties. He tried to focus on the flavor, tried to ignore the Yankee and hope he went back to his newspaper.

"How's that wife of yours?" the Yankee said.

Ira blinked. He had a sudden, vivid flash of walking in on the Yankee shouting at Lizzie in the Gold Stars conference room, Why would you marry that little Jew when you could have any real American here? And Lizzie whirling around on him, hair and eyes crackling gold with energy, upper lip curled in a snarl...

Then Ira realized that the Yankee probably meant a wife from this timeline and said, "Which one?"

The Yankee snorted. "Violet, of course. You dumped Andrea ages ago."

"Violet divorced me twelve years ago," Ira said, suddenly tired.

"But she came to my birthday party," the Yankee said, confused.

Ira glanced at Flo, and Flo said, "The Centennial, Henry? That was in '95. Violet and Ira got divorced in '97. It's the new century now."

"Oh," the Yankee said. He stared at his lumpy blue-veined hands, which began to shake after a few moments.

Flo went over to him and set a hand on his shoulder. The Yankee looked up at her. "That means Mother's been gone how many years now?"

"About ninety, Henry," Flo said gently.

The Yankee began to cry, tears trickling down along the valleys of his face. "I couldn't be there when she went," he sniffled.

Flo patted him. "I know, dear. It's all right. You were doing important work."

Ira looked back at his plate and concentrated on eating. If he recalled correctly, the Yankee's mother died of Spanish flu while the Yankee was in the trenches in Europe.

The Yankee blew his nose into a blue tarpaulin of a handkerchief and Flo said, "I'll just get you some tea. Now you sit quiet till I get back."

Ira relished the silence, but still ate as fast as he could. By the time Flo returned with the tea for the Yankee, Ira had finished and risen to his feet.

As Flo set the tea in front of the Yankee and restored his newspaper and magnifying glass, Ira watched and wondered when, exactly, the Yankee's brains had turned to Malt-o-Meal. Five years? Ten years? Twenty? Truth be told, Ira hadn't had a good opinion of the Yankee's brains since their falling-out in 1948. Maybe he'd always been like this, but with a little more continuity.

Flo put a hand on Ira's arm as he turned toward the door. "Sorry about that, Mister Metro," she said.

Ira smiled wryly and shrugged. "There but for the grace of..." He gestured upward, then tapped his own skull. "Or maybe I'm already there. Who knows? Not me." He went out into the bright noontime sunlight and headed for the Y and his busy, clattering shift.

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Date: 2012-05-09 08:52 pm (UTC)
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From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
I love how you deal with the older paras. It's something no one ever really thinks about in the comic books, but it's such rich territory. Heartbreaking, of course, but rich.


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