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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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---

Carbon Steel Spine

"It's good of you to see me on such short notice," Suzanne said, sitting down in front of the desk with as much grace and dignity as she could muster in her black suit and heels. She'd carefully not covered up the black eye, which was at the end of its vivid purple stage and starting to go green around the edges.

"I'm glad to be of assistance in any way possible, of course, Mrs. Feldstein," Terrance Fillmore, aka the Copper Guardian, said, steepling his fingers and assuming a practiced expression halfway between businesslike and sorrow.

Suzanne gave him a reproving look. "Come on, Terry. I thought we were better friends than that."

He gave her a tight smile, and his shoulders stiffened a little. "That we are, Suzanne. What can I do for you today?"

Suzanne let her weight settle low in her hips, an anchoring bit of body language she'd learned back in her reporting days: I'm not going anywhere quickly, not until you say what I want you to say. "Well, I'm concerned about several issues. First and foremost, I'm worried about what will become of Ira now."

Terry relaxed a bit and nodded, giving her a good view of the graying combover. "We discussed Mr. Feldstein's status in the board meeting. Really, we have no policies..."

"I want my widow's pension to go to Ira," Suzanne interrupted, even as Terry was about to conclude vaguely with a helpless little shrug.

"You... what?" Terry said, caught mid-shrug.

"I have a job," Suzanne said, folding her hands on her purse. "It pays tolerably well, especially if I'm not also paying for medical expenses and medications not covered by insurance or other sources."

Terry had the grace to look vaguely abashed as he struggled to reassert his footing in the conversation. "You could just pay Mr. Feldstein a stipend yourself..."

"I'm not sure I want to be tied to him for the rest of his life like that," Suzanne said, meeting the man's gaze steadily. "He's not my own father, after all. Besides, if it comes from me, it's pure charity, and Ira can't possibly refuse that charity right now. It would crush him. He has no one else, you understand, Terry? I want the Guardians to take a little responsibility and pay him the money as if it is a normal survivor's pension."

He took a deep breath. "Well, yes, I see, if you feel that strongly about it..."

"And you'll keep paying for a companion for him," Suzanne said.

"Now, Suzanne, we can't keep..."

"Yes, you can," she snapped. "The Guardians are a major corporation, with holdings approaching that of certain large software firms on the west coast. You have excellent employee benefits, including death and dismemberment benefits. Most of them were brought in since Josh was disabled ten years ago. Since his employment was never terminated -- he was put on medical leave, if I recall correctly -- those benefits apply to him and his survivors. One of those benefits is, if I recall correctly from your website, assistance with care of disabled dependents and continuance of medical insurance. Which applies to Ira."

Terry heaved a sigh, as if deciding to render a great favor. "Well, yes, I can see your point, and I think I can successfully argue it to the board..."

"Good," Suzanne said, "because if you don't, the next person you'll be talking to is Andrea. And after that? My lawyer."

Terry shook his head. "No need to go that far, Suzanne. We're all family here. Now, if that's all..." He started to rise.

"No, it's not. Sit down."

He plunked back into his chair, staring across the desk at her disbelievingly. "Look, Suzanne, I know that you're upset, but you're really walking close to the line here."

"Am I?" Suzanne rose and put her hands on the desktop, leaning forward just a bit. "Good. It's about time, don't you think? Because, remember, I was the Plucky Girl Reporter who made your asses famous again twenty years ago, Mr. Terrence 'I'm Totally Not Skimming The Till But I Have Strangely Been Able To Afford A Very Large House Abroad And Have Offshore Bank Accounts' Fillmore. I was the one who broke the story about Harry Dash's mob connections. I gave you the lead that brought down the Delta Vee Gang. I'm offering you a chance to keep the Guardians from being my big comeback story."

He leaned back and stared at her for a long moment. Then he said, quietly, "What do you want?"

She leaned forward just a fraction more. "I want you to publicly clear Mitch's name. I want you to put him back in the Guardians' official history. I want you to start paying survivor benefits to his mother."

"But..."

"You know as well as I do that Josh murdered Mitch because I was going to leave him," Suzanne said. "I'm morally certain that the Guardians' grapevine had got wind of that little issue."

"If we go with that set of events," Terry said through gritted teeth, "then we shouldn't be paying you any benefits, since Josh would have been in violation of his terms of employment."

"But you won't be paying me any benefits," Suzanne said, smiling evilly down at him. "You can pay them to a lonely, destitute, half-blind elderly man who was once a great superhero. In gratitude for his long service to the city, even though he was never a member of one of your special spandex gangs." Her expression changed to one of bored sarcasm. "And besides, if you can come up with a fairy tale about some guy named Skywraith and annihilate Mitch from recorded continuity, you can spin a story to pay out survivor benefits for both of them. Off the top of my head, I can come up with three or four ways. Surely you big strong creative superheroes can come up with just one."

Terry raised his chin. "We spent a long time working that story. We can't just turn around and erase it now."

Suzanne straightened up. "You don't have to do it instantly. You'll have at least until Ira dies. I'm not going to cause that man any more pain than I have to, and I won't trumpet the fact that his darling red-haired boy was a vicious sociopath until he's gone." She smiled thinly. "If you're good, I might even wait till Andrea's gone."

"No one's going to believe that Josh killed Mitch," Terry said. "Josh was everyone's darling, and Mitch was just a stupid, super-strong redneck. He was our errand boy, for god's sake, Suzanne."

Suzanne picked up her purse from the chair and said, over her shoulder, "Funny. The Ultimate and Professor Canis were completely convinced by my evidence. I'm sure they'll be watching the information engineering coming from the Guardians with great interest in the near future. Merry Christmas!"

He was good enough not to splutter. He sat very still in his chair while she quietly let herself out of his fancy corner office.

----








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*laugh*

Date: 2010-08-31 05:41 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
Impressive volley!

Date: 2012-01-27 11:47 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Go Suzanne! I thoroughly approve of her as a character and a human being. <3

Date: 2012-01-28 05:12 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Not having that great big albatross around her neck really freed her up to her inner awesome, I think. :)

Date: 2014-02-02 07:42 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Not just the albatross of Josh, but the knowledge she wasn't in love with a killer and that most of her resentment wasn't her being a horrible petty person but that she had a right to those feelings and they were mostly rational.

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