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---

Of Blessed Memory

Suzanne stood between Andrea and Ira, looking down at the plain wooden coffin with its Guardians flag drape. Ira held her hand tightly, his fingers cold in the frigid air. The forest green pavilion was all that stood between them and the sleet that was resolutely and appropriately falling on the company.

Attendees were a little sparse for the death of a superhero, even if he had turned villain in the end. The full set of Guardians, even the Golden Guardian, who was almost never seen any more, stood in the precipitation, tiny, sharp ice droplets hissing off their armor, black bands with a bronze metal stripe conspicuously present on everyone's arm (though there was no clarification as to which Bronze Guardian it applied). A smattering of Gold Stars -- Midnight Mask, the Ultimate, and Sekhmet -- stood in a cluster near them; the Ultimate and Sekhmet were out of costume in black suits and long black wool coats, but Mask was in his dark blue (and hopefully insulated) spandex. Behind Suzanne and the rest of the family, huddled under the inadequate roof, were some of Ira's friends from the old days: Lady Justice, Carolus Lew, Harry Dash, Atomica, and a wizened, bent old man with a walker that she suspected might be Nox the Night-stalker. Madame Destiny stood to the side of Ira, resplendently plump in a long black gown that had a rather daring neckline for a woman of her years, arrayed in her best mystical jewelry, including a vast gold pendant set with a dozen or more different cabochon stones that reclined luxuriously against her cleavage. Mother Necessity's three granddaughters stood near Andrea, who had been a good friend of their mother's, as well as being their honorary aunt.

From the corner of her good eye, she noticed Simon, sharply dressed in a tailored black suit but still on crutches, accompanied by the Hispanic-looking giantess she now knew was Megan Amazon, in a less well-fitted black suit. Megan held a golf umbrella over both their heads. They kept a respectful distance from the proceedings, not coming within conventional earshot, though Suzanne guessed that Simon could hear everything anyway.

She herself wasn't really hearing what the rabbi was saying. She stared at the coffin, felt Ira's fingers squeezing her hand painfully. He'd watched Josh's body stop breathing, the Outsider had said, weeping the whole time, and had let himself be led away and put to bed after it was over. He'd barely said a word since and didn't seem to be sleeping much, though he'd eaten when someone had put food in front of him. She was going to have to discuss the situation with Andrea, who was already fairly harrowed by events and the media. But Andrea at least had David, who worshipped the ground she walked on and took meticulous care of her.

And Suzanne had Simon.

Ira had no one but some hired companions. Would the Guardians stop footing the bill for those now?

She glanced aside at the old man, and felt both oppressed by the responsibility he represented and desperately sad for and protective of him. She loved Ira, as troublesome as he could be. Her own parents were gone -- dead, possibly, but she'd never bothered to find out. They'd given her far too much insanity over the years for her to care.

The coffin was pale wood with brass fittings. There were no flowers.

Suzanne had always known that Josh was a bit of a bastard, but hadn't known that he was a killer. Wasn't that always the way, though? Hardly anyone really expects her or his husband to come home from work one day, having decided on committing mayhem. Not really. Really? She'd always known it was possible -- hell, she'd specialized in stories like this when she was a reporter. Well, at the end of her career, anyway. Maybe she should've paid attention to the things that were catching her attention then, after being married to Josh for several years.

She tried to summon back a memory of loving him and failed. All she could remember was Mitch -- the sweet, unkempt, desperately poor Southern boy who sent nearly all his money home to his mother and the siblings living with her. He was a tall and thin and dark-haired, with a farmer's tan and a tendency to have five o'clock shadow at eleven in the morning. He worked as the Guardians' receptionist and administrative assistant when he wasn't in his Guardian armor, and they paid for him to take his GED and start college. They'd made him have extensive dental work done on his teeth, which were brown and chipped and full of cavities, since he'd grown up without fluoridated water or even a single dentist appointment. She'd first met him -- out of armor -- when he'd come back to the Guardians headquarters, face full of novocaine and giddy from three hours in the chair. Josh had been busy, so she took Mitch out for drinks. He slurred out his life story to her in a desperate attempt to avoid thinking about what had just been done to him.

She thought that, perhaps, she'd fallen for him then.

The rabbi was wrapping up his speech, whatever it was he'd said, and she found herself weeping. She covered her mouth with her handkerchief and choked a sob. Poor Mitch. Poor idealistic superheroic Mitch. He'd just been doing the right thing, like he always had. And Josh...

And Josh...

Andrea put an arm around her waist and patted her shoulder. Ira turned his watery gaze to her and tightened his lips in something close to a smile.

The coffin was lowered into the grave. She took her turn with the spade, and bit her lower lip to keep herself from grinning vindictively as the clods of earth echoed on the wood.

Then it was finished. The rabbi was shaking her hand, and Ira's, and Andrea's.

Netted between Josh's parents, Suzanne turned away from the grave and started into the sleet. Various black-suited undertakers with golf umbrellas materialized to escort them to the limousine.

She looked up from the ground once, and squarely met Simon's gaze. He hadn't replaced his shattered glasses yet, and the wolf's eyes probably disturbed other people. But not her, not now, not any more. She wanted to throw herself into those eyes and not have to think for a while.

He mouthed three words to her. She stared at him for a moment, stricken, and opened her mouth to respond, but was gently pushed into the limo by Andrea.

The door closed, and she indulged in a savage torrent of weeping, though she couldn't have explained why.

---

From Jude:

And here is a bonus episode because I couldn't think of a better way to thank my latest donor! I hope you all enjoy it. :)









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---

Rescued from the Pool of Time

Josh's concentration visibly shattered and the Ultimate's fist drove him six inches into the remains of the street. "You stay put, now," she said to his crumpled shape.

Lizzie lunged forward, hands stretched toward him, and a transcendental burst of light and noise blew Megan flat on her back.

When her eyes became less dazzled and her hearing returned, she could see Lizzie holding Josh up by his toga-front, and Josh was struggling dazedly and shrieking, "You aren't my mother! You aren't my mother!"

The girl smiled sadly at him. "Perhaps I never was anything at all. But I'm here right now, and you need my help."

"I don't need your help!"

"You do," she said. "You've destroyed yourself, and tried to destroy everything else. You've killed people today. You killed someone before. Is this what your parents raised you to do?"

Josh looked around for a moment at the destruction. They were in the midst of a crater, so they couldn't see the full extent of the destruction, but there were bodies littered up the sides of the crater. Megan recognized Olympic, bloodied but still breathing, a few feet away. Megan wondered vaguely where Simon was. The only visible people on their feet were the Fat Lady, whose dress and coiffure were much worse for the wear by now, the Ultimate, who was breathing a little hard and looking like she very much wanted to hit Josh again, and Lizzie, who was holding up Josh. He started to squirm, trying to loose her grip from his robe.

"No, Josh," she said. "You're coming with me."

The Ultimate said, "Where're you taking him?"

Lizzie looked over her shoulder and smiled sweetly at the Ultimate. "It's hard to explain."

The Ultimate failed to be impressed with either smile or vagueness. "Huh."

"He won't be a trouble again," Lizzie said.

"Huh," the Ultimate said again. "And can you guarantee that?"

"That's my job," Lizzie said.

The Fat Lady put a hand on the Ultimate's arm. "He's been dead a long time, and ghosts are notoriously crazy, Ruth. Let her take him. I think she's telling the truth."

The Ultimate looked at the Fat Lady. They stared at each other for a long moment, then the Ultimate nodded. The tension in the atmosphere let up a little.

Lizzie looked at Megan. "Thanks," she said.

Megan nodded.

Lizzie paused thoughtfully. "Tell Mister Metro... tell Ira that I'm sorry. And tell him, 'Thanks for thinking of me.'"

Megan gave her a perplexed look but nodded again.

"Come on now, Josh," Lizzie said, and a strange light-being separated from the girl's body.

The Ultimate caught up the unconscious girl as the light-being dragged Josh aside. Then Josh faded into light himself. The pair of bright figures lingered for a moment, then vanished.

The Fat Lady said, "Well, then."

Simon, from behind a pile of debris, said, weakly, "Woof?"

The Ultimate said, bitterly, "Why is it that I can smash comets with my bare hands and run corporate megagiants, and I am still cleaning up after white people like my mama did?"

The Fat Lady patted her on the shoulder. "Let's head home, then, and put our feet up. Let's let the white people do the grunt work this time, hey?"

The Ultimate snorted and looked down at Lizzie -- or whatever her name really was. "Let me hand this girl off to someone first."

Megan looked down at herself and said, "Er, does anyone have some pants I could borrow?"

---

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---

Keep On Trying Till You Run Out of Cake

The shockwaves of the blows being traded forced Megan to kick into the frozen asphalt for footing. Within a few steps, she was barefoot, because her favorite shoes were not designed to cope with that sort of abuse.

She pressed against the wind, the energy blasts, and the shocks. She felt her good jeans start to fray and burn, and smelled the smoldering leather of her beloved jacket. She shielded her face reflexively against the heat of Josh's radiation. Periodically a blast would force her backward, her feet dragging through the road surface. She finally reached back and dragged Lizzie along by the shoulder, not trusting her jeans or the girl's grip.

Megan could see that the Ultimate and the Fat Lady were the only people left facing Josh. Other heroes were littering the landscape in various levels of consciousness. She had to step around the bloodied body of someone she thought might be the Blue Eagle, and nearly lost her lunch and nerve simultaneously.

Josh was holding off the Fat Lady's sonic assault and the Ultimate's more physical attacks with effort. He was sweating. He was standing in a deep crater of pulverized pavement. Suzanne was gone, and there were no suspicious remains; Megan dared to hope that she'd gotten away. This close, the blasts were like walking into a hurricane. Even so, she noticed that the Ultimate and the Fat Lady were clearly pulling their punches. It confused her for a moment, then realized that they were trying to take him out without leveling all of downtown.

She took a fraction of a second to be grateful.

Megan dragged Lizzie around under her, then crawled forward on hands and knees, the smaller woman mirroring her. Megan decided it was humiliating, yes, but better than many alternatives.

She reached a point where she couldn't press on any more. She'd reached the force field and she couldn't push through it. She stared at Josh's face and watched him twitch and strain.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something moving: an enormous golden-gray wolf, face smeared with blood, bellycrawling through the rubble on three legs, one back leg dragging uselessly behind.

Megan clenched her jaw and started to pound on the field with one fist. It garnered her an annoyed look from the red-haired godling, but he was immediately distracted by the Ultimate's punch, which stopped short of his face by only six inches.

The wolf was getting closer, and Megan saw it squeeze nose-first through a weak place in the field near the ground of the crater, eyes and ears stretching crazily against the pressure. Apparently, Josh didn't think in three dimensions. She redoubled her attacks and tried to time her punches with those of the Ultimate. Lizzie periodically put her hands flat against the mostly-invisible field, then withdrew them as if it burnt her -- which it probably did, Megan thought. But it was useful for Megan, since she could see the field shrinking back toward Josh. They shuffled forward.

The Fat Lady paused to draw breath. The Ultimate resettled her footing. Megan put her shoulder to the boundary. Lizzie braced her feet against a divot in the asphalt.

The Fat Lady hit a tight, high note. The Ultimate, Megan, and Lizzie lunged forward together. Josh held them all off, face screwed up and red with strain.

Then Megan saw Simon's fangs sink into Joshua Feldstein's perfect toga-clad ass.

---

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---

Slings and Arrows

Suzanne had one instinct left after being battered by her husband's winds and energy and scorn: to get away.

The arrival of the Ultimate and the Fat Lady was her only chance. She knew that if she stayed, at this point, there would come a moment when Josh would fail to shield her, and then she would die.

She was happy for the first time in a decade, goddammit. She was not. going. to. die.

When Josh dropped her, she began to push herself along the ground, cutting and abrading herself on the shattered pavement. She didn't dare pull herself with her hands -- she was afraid that Josh would notice that movement. But pushing with her feet? Acceptably subfusc.

Then she glimpsed the Green Hood through her one unswollen eye. He was weaving and jinking. His bow was snapped in half, dangling carelessly from its string where he'd tossed it over his shoulder. He was holding an arrow in his hand. What was he going to do with that? She pushed herself along a little faster, toward the edge of Josh's crater.

The Green Hood slunk along, peering into the blasts, throwing himself flat when the energy backlash spilled off Josh's force field in his direction.

She felt the resistance when she pressed herself out through Josh's field. On the other side, she started to feel more of the spent energy, wafting off as a hard breeze. As long as the attacks kept coming from the front, she thought she might be safe. She didn't have the energy to pray, really, nor an idea of who to pray to, so she didn't. And she ignored it when the energy spill from the field blew her skirt up around her hips.

When she thought she was out of Josh's peripheral vision, she gestured to the archer.

He stared at her, apparently baffled.

Come here, you moron, she thought, gritting her teeth and finally reaching out to pull herself away from her battling husband. She'd never liked this man. Too macho. Too thick between the ears. I'm in a great big hole and I need a hand out.

The Hood finally seemed to Get It and dramatically dodged closer. He did a thoroughly unnecessary shoulder roll.

Suzanne managed to get a grip on some broken pavement and hauled herself to the steep three-foot-high crater wall that was between her and escape. She got to her knees and scrabbled for something to grip at the edge. The Green Hood peered down at her curiously.

She waved her hand at him emphatically.

A gust of force and wind blew her forward and upward so that she landed on the edge of the crater right about chest level. All the breath whooshed out of her, unheard over the din.

She flailed. Her hand connected with something fabric-covered. A knee, she thought. She grabbed hold and heaved.

The Green Hood finally helped her up, since she was essentially climbing him. He hauled her to her feet one-handed, arrow still clutched in his other hand. He put his arm around her waist. Posing, she thought, for the cameras that were inevitably somewhere here.

"Thank you," she snapped, not very sincerely, then shoved off him and staggered away, feeling the blood from her scalp trickle freely down her back now that she was vertical.

As she went, there were more blasts and gusts from behind her. One sent her sprawling. She caught herself on hands and knees and scrambled back to her feet.

When she reached something like shelter, she looked back. The Green Hood was crouched down behind an impromptu boulder, bleeding from a scrape on his forehead and staring sadly at his arrow, which was broken as surely as his bow.

---

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---

Don't Seem the Same Since Cosmic Light

The Great Bird Restaurant was a pile of rubble, though the copper thunderbird somehow continued to perch atop the remains. Megan had watched Meteor scoop up people as they ran out the back door. Nereid had briefly attacked Josh, then paused to hold up the roof of the restaurant with pillars of water as the last people evacuated. Then she'd extracted her unconscious teammate and retreated out of sight. Probably to help Meteor.

Megan's brain kept coming to a screeching halt when she thought of Meteor, so she distracted herself. She had a lot of material to work with.

The Gold Stars had arrived. After Midnight Mask attempted to negotiate with Josh and gotten the ground blown out from under his feet, the heroes began to circle cautiously, trying different attacks but trying not to hit Suzanne. The attacks were shearing off some sort of field, something that was converting the incoming force and energy to outgoing force and energy, and somewhat enhancing it, making for more damage.

Josh was still gripping Suzanne by the hair and back of her neck. He kept her at arm's length now, since she had managed to tear herself loose once (losing a handful of hair), after he'd killed the new Bronze Guardian, and nailed him in the crotch with a hell of a good kick. It had just made him more angry and he'd blacked her eye with astonishing restraint. He hadn't been distracted enough to drop his shields.

Megan still cradled Simon's body. She'd summoned up the presence of mind to check him and he was breathing, just unconscious and somewhat broken. She couldn't think very clearly, which was unusual and irritated her. Some distant part of her brain suggested that she should think about first aid for Simon.

She was entirely distracted by her boss arriving on the scene. The Ultimate dropped down out of the sky like a dark comet, carrying the Fat Lady in her arms. She landed, released the Fat Lady -- who arrived gracefully on the broken pavement, despite her high heels -- and aimed a blow for Josh's head. He spun and blocked the blow with his free arm. The thunderous blast blew the front wall of the building Megan sat in flat. Fortunately, the window was already shattered and the wall dropped harmlessly around her and Simon. She could hear the roof and other walls crumbling behind her.

When she looked again, she was expecting Josh to be holding a bloody paste in lieu of Suzanne, but he must have shielded her. He dropped her, and she lay, dazed, at his feet. Most of the other heroes had been knocked away from the pair, though somehow the Fat Lady had held her ground, apparently unscathed.

The Ultimate, Steel Justice, Olympic, and Sekhmet closed in again. The Green Hood -- one of the broad-jawed white guys without powers who was always a media darling -- was trying to get closer, ducking under stray blows and blasts, though what he thought he would do with his trick arrows and pointy wit, Megan didn't know.

Josh was still standing, laughing sometimes, and otherwise unmarked.

Megan winced as he caught Steel Justice a surprise blow that knocked the man away in a high arc.

"Amazon!"

Megan's head snapped around to look at the pale-faced white girl with brown pigtails behind her. "You shouldn't be here..." she began to say.

The girl closed the distance between them. "Amazon, you have to get me in there. I can end this."

"I'm not the Amazon," Megan said. Then she recognized the girl. "And you work with Simon."

The girl --Lizzie -- nodded. Megan saw that her eyes were glowing yellow-white, and Megan had to restrain an urge to scoot backward.

"I'm vulnerable like this," Lizzie said, gesturing at herself in a frustrated way. "But I need to touch him to end this. You're the only one who can help me." She gestured at the other paras. "They're too busy."

Megan could recognize the inevitable force of Destiny when she had to. Cursing her mother silently, she gently set Simon down. "Stay right behind me," she told the girl, who nodded. Then she headed into the fray, Lizzie's hand gripping the waist of her jeans from behind.


---

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---

Thank you to the folks who contributed to this week's ChipIn! Here is your bonus episode!


Truth Is Just Like Time

"Ira!" the Outsider called urgently as she knocked on his door. "Ira, you need to come look at the television!"

He'd been taking a nap, though he was grateful to be woken. He'd been having a lot of uncomfortable dreams. When he opened his door, the Outsider seized his wrist and dragged him bodily into the living room.

The television was on and a reporter was saying, "... To repeat, the Kosmic Klaxon has sounded, and teams are converging on the disturbance in the city. Evacuations have begun from surrounding blocks, spearheaded by Meteor and the Junior Guardians. We have this video of the threat engaging with the vanguard of the Gold Stars and the Guardians..."

Ira stared. Shaky as the footage was, as the view zoomed in on the light-emitting intruder, he could still recognize that man as his son.

The Outsider caught him as he staggered back a few steps and conveyed him to a chair before his knees buckled.

They watched together as Josh effortlessly flung a squadron of Guardians away, retaining only the Bronze Guardian in one hand. He scowled at the man for a moment. Then there was a brilliant flash of light, and Josh dropped now-empty armor. One of the gauntlets bounced against Suzanne -- Josh was holding her by the hair -- and she flinched away from it.

Ira put his face in his hands, feeling acid in the back of his throat and heat welling up in his eyes. "Turn it off," he croaked. "Oh, god, turn it off." The tears spilled over, pouring down his face and over his fingers.

The Outsider turned the television off and turned to look at him. "Let me get you some tea," she said, and went into the kitchen.

He sat there a second or two, then lurched to his feet and staggered into Josh's room.

Ira stared at the body of his son for a few moments, his hands moving over the table at his side without his conscious thought. He looked down when he found a piece of paper and read, again:
A telephone is a wondrous thing
A part that speaks and a part that rings
A part that listens and a part that hangs
No part that watches, no part with fangs.
It channels words across the miles
With vicious daring and sparkling guile
But the telephone has no voice of its own
It parrots only the words and tones.

All the best,
Carolus Lew, Master of Wonderland


Ira stared at the words for a long time. Then he crumpled the paper, scrubbed the tears off his face with his sleeve, and walked over to Josh's body. "Hey, you!" he said loudly. "It's over. You're not Josh. You're not my son."

Josh's body remained still and silent, though breathing.

He leaned close and shouted in Josh's ear, "HEY!"

Josh's body startled, evidenced only by a jerk of its chin and its eyes popping open.

"You lying sonuva..." Ira began, but his voice broke. He bit his lower lip to keep it from quaking.

Josh's eyes turned to him, wide and appalled. I'm sorry. I... didn't know.

"You knew you weren't him, you jackass," Ira spat. "Why?"

Josh's mouth worked for a moment, struggling, then, hoarsely, "I... I was sorry for you."

Ira reeled back a step. "You were sorry for me?"

Ira had the impression of the rush of information one gets when someone's small child trying to explain everything all at once. Only this was telepathic, and it jammed up his mind badly. He stared at his son's face, awash in that confusion. The impersonator withdrew, regrouped, and then said, I was doing research on Earth. For my... I guess you would call it a PhD. I stumbled across your son's empty body, and his brain had had experience with telepathy, so he was a perfect conduit for listening. So for a long time, I listened. You talked to him all the time about current events. His wife talked to him sometimes. I learned your language, about some of the things happening. But you were so sad, I just thought...

"Thought you'd give the old man some pity," Ira said bitterly, sitting down at the bedside. He heard the door open and knew the Outsider was standing there, watching. "Well, thank you for your pity, I suppose. But it's over now."

I know. My sensors are showing serious stresses on this body. Is there...?

"Something's going on, yes," Ira said. "My real son is out there, smashing up my city, and I'm too old and useless to do anything about it."

I'm so sorry, Ira.

Ira pulled a handkerchief out of his trousers and blew his nose noisily. "I bet you are. Well, no more research. You'll have to write your damned paper on someone else."

I've been done with that for a while, Ira. Josh's face frowned. Ira, please, I need to tell you, I haven't been continuing out of pity...

"No," Ira said. "No, dammit. You aren't my son. My son is a supervillain -- out there, killing people -- and you're a liar."

But there's something... there's someone who has been... for whom I've been lis--

"No," Ira said again, voice cracking. "Just shut up. And go away. Leave."

Josh's body sighed audibly. The body is weakening badly, Ira. I won't be able to talk to you again.

"Good," Ira said, then choked on a sob. "Just go. But... I... could you..."

Anything, Ira.

Ira couldn't catch the sob this time. "Could you call me 'Dad' one more time?"



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---

Only Half Past the Point of No Return

Nereid was glad that she'd been working out lately. Sophie was fast.

They'd gone to lunch at the Stars N' Garters at Sophie's insistence. Sophie said that she really wanted to know more about Nereid and her family, so off they went. Nereid had been horribly and inevitably embarrassed by her parents; about the only thing her mother hadn't done was produce baby photos. They were just leaving, Nereid sighing with relief, when the Kosmic Klaxon went off. Sophie had spotted the incoming blast and started running, pulling equipment out of her satchel as she ran. Nereid, of course, just tried to keep up.

Nereid saw the top of Meteor's head rise above the buildings they were nearing, saw the giant woman draw back and punch down. There was a strange hesitation, and then Meteor -- only thirty or forty feet tall at that juncture -- flew up and backward. Nereid was impressed as the woman shrank in the middle of her arc -- at least the building she fell on wouldn't be crushed outright, just punctured.

Sophie had her goggles on and was assembling some sort of gun without even looking at it. Her running had slowed a bit while she did it.

"Should I call the others?" Nereid panted.

Sophie shook her head. "They'll be on their way, with the Klaxon and all. Gold Stars too, and Guardians probably. All we need to do is get there." She snapped a barrel into the gun and glanced down at it. "I'm all set for now. You ready? It's on the next block."

"Sure," Nereid said, feeling confused. "There wasn't an impact."

"Nope," Sophie said. "Clearly intelligent."

They heard the wind spin up before they saw it: a giant tornado, light burning from within. Windows blew out in nearby buildings, shattered glass and bits of brickwork flashing by viciously in the vortex.

Sophie said, "Bystanders," and gestured at people who were hard to see through the dust and sand kicked up by the storm.

Meteor grew again, a few streets away, and seemed to be stooping and standing a lot. "What's she doing?" Nereid said, squinting.

"Evacuation," Sophie said, making an adjustment to her gun. "Get ready." She aimed at the windstorm and pulled the trigger.

There was no light or sound from her weapon. Nereid couldn't even hear a click from the trigger. But somehow, whatever she did, temporarily altered the laws of physics.

Debris hung eerily in mid-air for a fraction of a second, and then it all tumbled to the ground. They could now see the glowing man and the woman at his feet. He had her by the hair, half-lifting her, and she was wild-eyed with terror.

The man looked at Sophie. Nereid could only ever remember his eyes later: radiation blue.

"Smartass," he snarled, and Sophie dropped like her strings were cut.

---

Note from the Author:

I've stretched the ChipIn date, so there's only $15 to go for an extra episode this week.


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---

Nuée Ardente

The winds rose up around Suzanne and Josh. She didn't know whether Simon was alive or dead, and all she could do was fold up to protect her head from flying debris and try not to cry.

"I don't understand you," Josh was saying, the ferocious heat of his own personal sun beating on her as surely as the wind. "I've crossed hundreds of light-years of space to come back to you. Any normal wife would be thrilled to see her long-missing husband. Any good wife."

She looked up at him and felt her control slip wildly out of her mouth. "You haven't been missing!" she screamed. "You've been lying in your goddamn room with a goddamn feeding tube in you for ten goddamn years!"

Josh looked startled. "I... but I haven't been there. I've never been there. The backlash knocked me out into space."

Suzanne mustered a pitying look. "The backlash knocked you out of your body."

"That bastard!" Josh exclaimed, turning his gaze away from her and showing more expression than he had before. "That little bastard! He tried to kill me. He threw me away like trash!" Then he looked back at her, his electric blue gaze going straight through her in a way that made her feel like she ought to be crisping around the edges. "And you were going to leave me for him. For him," he said. "But I won. I'm here now, and you're here, and he's dead, and we're going to live happily ever after."

His smile made her go cold all down her spine. "Josh," she said, trying to sound intensely reasonable, "I was going to leave you. I was going to leave you then. And now it's been ten years, and I don't want you back."

"That's ridiculous," he said, opening his arms wide. "Look at me. I'm the perfect man. I made myself the perfect man for you."

The cold turned to ice water in her veins at something in his tone. "When did you make yourself 'the perfect man'?"

He looked annoyed, able to hear the quotes in her voice. "Back then, of course."

She froze from toes to skull. "You took the Godstuff?"

He smiled. "Of course."

Suzanne stared at him, her mouth going dry, feeling like her grip on sanity was getting all sweaty again. "Then... Mitch was trying to stop you. Not the other way around."

"Is that how people remember it?" Josh laughed. "I guess Mitch was more of a bad boy than me."

"And you killed him." She didn't even ask.

"I killed him," Josh said, his smile broad and terrifying. His voice dropped menacingly. "And I shredded his mind and soul as I did it. So he couldn't ever come back."

Suzanne wasn't surprised to realize that she was crying. Her throat hurt with the effort of not screaming.

The wind was shrieking in a cyclonic wall around them. Suzanne couldn't see out of it, but she did see the giant green-gloved hand punching through it. She ducked, covering her head again.

When nothing happened, she peeked through her fingers. Josh was looking up at the hand, which hovered inches from him. Then he gestured, and the hand flew back out beyond the wall.

---

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---

Playing for the Other Team

Megan and G emerged from the Harvest Patch Cafe, replete with a romantically candlelit lunch and several glasses of microbrewery ale. Megan felt that all was good and fine in the brittle sunshine of the afternoon. She filled her lungs with cold air, anticipating the bus ride back to Marigold Lane, and the hopefully inevitable conclusion.

She hoped that Evason wouldn't... stare in such an intent and critical way again.

G turned to say something to Megan, and was cut off by the Kosmic Klaxon's blare. "I hate that thing," she said bitterly, wincing.

"Does it usually go off so often?" Megan said, looking upward nervously for alien craft and plasma bolts. "Oh, crap."

G swore vividly when she also saw the streak of golden light that was descending into the next block.

Megan was already running toward what she thought was the impact point. After a few seconds, she heard G's boots pounding the pavement behind her. Megan had a moment to think, What the hell are we doing? when she rounded the corner.

It was the matter of a fraction of a second for both G and Megan to spot Simon and the middle-aged white woman Megan knew to be Suzanne. Simon was getting cautiously to his feet. They could just make out the profile of a man in the light -- a white guy with glowing blue eyes and red hair. Megan heard G gasp.

"Isn't that the Bronze Guardian?" G said.

Megan squinted against the glare. "I think... it looks like the newspaper photos of him."

The vision spoke. "I am here for you, Suzanne. I'll make a goddess of you, and we can be together again."

Suzanne picked herself up with distracted assistance from Simon, who didn't take his eyes off the man. Megan's respect for her rose when she said, a little cautiously, "I don't care for goddessing, Josh."

Simon remained in front of Suzanne, squinting through his darkened lenses at the man. His knees were slightly bent, his weight on his toes.

"You'll get used to it," the man in the light said.

Suzanne shielded her eyes and looked toward him. "I don't think so."

The color of the light altered slightly, darkening to a reddish-gold -- or perhaps that was a trick of the oncoming sunset? He took a step forward on the air. "I've traveled farther than you can imagine to return to you," he said, a slight irritation entering his voice, "and I will not tolerate this dismissal." Josh started to reach for Suzanne.

Then Simon opened his mouth and drawled the stupidest, cheesiest, most threadbare macho line in the history of action movies: "The lady said no, buddy."

Josh Feldstein lunged and there was a deafening CRACK, though it didn't look like his backhanded slap had actually touched Simon. Simon was thrown sideways by the impact anyway. "And I will not brook interference from some... puppy," the man said, disgust in his voice.

Megan found herself intercepting Simon's flight before he could go through a nearby plate glass window. The wind went out of her as he hit her with more force than she anticipated, and they both hit the window. She bent over him as glass showered down.

The light was intensifying. G skidded to a halt at Megan's side. "Are you all right?" she said, loud enough to be heard over the wind that was rising around Josh and Suzanne. "Simon?"

Megan looked down at Simon. He was limp in her arms, blood running freely from nose and mouth, his glasses askew. One of his legs was bent the wrong way; he'd probably whacked it on the brick wall on their way through the window. With effort, she bellowed, "Get out of here!" at G.

G stared at Simon, then turned her gaze to the cowering woman in the windstorm. She had a strange look on her face when she turned back to Megan, a sad sort of half-smile.

"I'm sorry," she said, "I really meant to tell you."

G doubled over, clutching herself tightly. A shadow, a double-image, something, descended onto and into G.

When she straightened up, long red hair exploded out behind her in the wind, her lean shape spread and curved at hip and breasts, and her clothes were replaced by a simple green one-piece outfit. Her face was younger and paler and... different. She grew a foot taller with every step she took away from Megan.

Megan really couldn't breathe.

G was Meteor.

----

From the Author:

Thank you to everyone who contributed, both on and off the slate, to the ChipIn! I'm calling this week's complete, so you get the next installment. New ChipIn goes up with Monday's post: we'll try $20 for this coming week, just for the heck of it.

Hope you enjoyed the extra!



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---

You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To

The sun was shining brightly for the first time in several days and the air was crisp and cold. There was a thin rime of snow on the grass of the front lawn, but none of it had stuck to the street, so Suzanne felt all right wearing her heels. She was grateful for the warmth of her big pink down jacket and the fact that she'd chosen the calf-length brown corduroy skirt instead of the shorter black linen one she'd contemplated. The car was a welcome refuge from the chill breeze.

She was singing along with the radio when she pulled up at the mansion gate on Marigold Lane, and Simon's grin warmed her right down to her toes. As he trotted around to the passenger side. she admired the vision of him in black trousers, a Golden Guardian ski jacket, and leather boots. He hopped into the car, leaned across, and kissed her eagerly.

"Hi, there," he said, looking over his tinted glasses with melting honey eyes.

"Hi, there," she echoed.

They stared at each other, fairly tongue-tied for a minute.

"You're gorgeous," Simon said. "You keep surprising me that way."

Suzanne shook her head. "You're the one that's gorgeous. You take my breath away sometimes."

Simon shook his head, then leaned forward and butted her shoulder with his forehead in a friendly way. Suzanne felt laughter and a bizarre sensation bubbling up in her and thought Is this joy? Again? Finally?

"So where are we off to, lady?" Simon said. "Because if we don't go somewhere, I'm going to be all manly and drag you back up to my apartment."

Suzanne batted the back of his head. "Off, you neanderthal. We're going to dinner."

"The sun's still shining." He sat back properly and grinned.

"Early dinner, then."

"Where?"

"I was thinking about the Great Bird," she said.

Simon's eyebrows rose. "That's expensive. Are you sure?"

"Best food in town, I'm told, barring the Wonder Hotel's Coolidge Room," she said, putting the car in gear and pulling out into the lane.

"Well, then, pretty lady," Simon said, "you're in the driver's seat. Drive on."

The trip to the Great Bird was uneventful and lovely in the slanting golden rays of the setting sun. Suzanne took the most tree-lined streets to get there, and pulled into the parking lot serenely. They got out of the car and, holding hands, started toward the building with the Southwestern theme and enormous copper thunderbird sign.

Then the Kosmic Klaxon went off.

They both flinched because one of the speakers was not quite directly over their heads, but then they gave each other sweet, private smiles, remembering.

Simon glanced around and pointed, "There's the closest entry, I think."

Suzanne peered. "I think you're right."

"After you, Mrs. Robinson," Simon said, bowing. Then he straightened up quickly, looking upward. "Shit, incoming!" he said, leaping for her.

They both hit the ground, though Simon had rolled to take most of the impact. A light like a thousand thousand suns flashed over them, hot and blinding. But no explosion, no shockwave, nothing.

Suzanne blinked hard, her eyes watering against the searing light. Finally, the light dimmed just enough for the figure in the midst of it to become visible.

Tall and straight and muscular, red hair blazing over his shoulders, white robes shining, brilliant blue eyes locked on her. His perfect mouth opened and his perfect voice emerged.

"I am here for you, Suzanne."

Suzanne stared at him, felt Simon staring at her in turn, and managed to squeak out, "... Josh?"


----

A Note from the Author:
I've updated the ChipIn widget to account for the off-the-slate donations. The day that we hit the ChipIn goal, I'll post the next episode. Because surely you don't want to wait until next Monday for what happens next, right?





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---

Optical Delusions

"Good afternoon, son," Ira said ritualistically as he walked into Josh's room to check on him. He paused to sip tea from a mug with the Gold Stars logo on it and survey things.

The room was in good order, but Ira had to tweak things anyway, just to make sure he stayed in touch with his son's care, despite the nearly-constant presence of companions. He shut the door behind him and drifted slowly around the room, moving a tissue box here, lifting and dropping the hamper lid there.

"It's getting cold out there," he said, looking out the window. "Thanksgiving's over, and we're coming up on the holidays. Hannukah starts next week. I liked it last year when we said all the blessings and did the lighting in here. Is it all right if we do the menorah in here again?"

"Yes," a hoarse voice said.

Ira dropped the mug. It hit the carpet with a muted splash and crack.

"Son?" he said without turning.

"Yes, Dad," the voice said, less hoarsely this time.

Ira turned slowly and made his way to the bed. He thought about reaching for the tape recorder, but Josh's bright blue eyes were open, and he was watching Ira's approach. At the side of the bed, Ira looked down at him, then reached out and touched his son's slightly stubbly cheek.

"Is it all right if I... my body is hard to use. Can I talk to you with my mind?" Josh's jaw and lips were moving stiffly, making the words slur even though it was clear he was trying to enunciate.

Ira paused, worried about the whole telepathy thing. But then he realized that no one believed him anyway. Hell, he wasn't sure he believed him. "Of course, son," Ira said, sitting down.

Josh sighed just a little and Ira heard, in his mind, This is much easier. Thank you, Dad.

Ira rubbed dust out of his eye and pulled his scattered wits together with a deep breath. "So, how goes the war then?"



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---

Mouse-traps, and the Moon, and Memory, and Muchness

When the doorbell rang, Ira hurried to get it before the "helper" could.

The dapper man on his front step had changed very little since Ira first met him in the 1960s. His bright blond hair had altered nearly imperceptibly to shining silver, his moustache was still a neat, slender line, and his smile was unfaded. He was wearing his trademark white linen suit and panama hat, and had added a silver-topped walking stick to his ensemble.

Ira felt the little shriveling in the pit of his stomach that he'd always felt on seeing this man, who was so charming, natty, and well set-up, but combatted the sensation manfully. "Carolus!" he exclaimed. "Thank you for coming."

"Ira, you're looking well," Carolus said, warmly shaking his hand.

"Well, come in, come in," Ira said, standing away from the door.

Carolus stepped inside, removing his hat, green eyes taking in the foyer at a glance. "Suzanne's at work then?"

"Yes, always working, that girl," Ira said, making sure the door was securely shut. "Come on into the living room. Coffee?"

"No, thank you, Ira," Carolus said. "Can't abide all the cat hair." He dropped gracefully into an armchair.

Ira sat down opposite him, reminding himself that there were aspects of any conversation with Carolus that one must ignore. "I'm grateful that you could come, Carolus," he said. "I hope I didn't interrupt any important business."

The helper looked in at them briefly, caught Ira's eye, nodded, and backed out. Ira might complain about having the girl in the house, but at least she had good sense and social grace.

Carolus smiled. "Oh, no. I never have important business. It's all terribly critical."

"Ah. Right." Ira fidgeted with his cuticles.

"Who's the woman?" Carolus asked with elaborate carelessness.

"Oh, her," Ira said. "Andrea guilted the Guardians into forking over more cash for a 'helper.' Said Suzanne and I were tired. So this woman comes in during the weekdays, and two nights a week and on Saturday, another woman comes in. They help with Josh and cleaning and cooking and whatnot. Suzanne seemed awfully grateful, so I'm putting up with it."

"Yes," Carolus said thoughtfully. "It does seem like she ought to've done her time by now for the crime of being a superhero's wife."

Ira blinked. Part of him wanted to take offense on Josh's side, and part of him--possibly the part that had been talking to Andrea recently--agreed. "Anyway," he said hurriedly, "I think they're mostly here to watch me. I think they think I'm on the Moon."

Carolus shrugged. "One gets used to it."

"You see," Ira persisted, "Josh spoke to me last week."

"About time he picked up the phone," Carolus said.

"But it was spontaneous. I hadn't even been talking to him much."

"Ah, but you and Suzanne have been ringing him regularly for years."

"Huh," Ira said, slowed by the metaphor. He recovered. "Well, anyway, he was giving me a warning about some invaders."

"One ought to be prepared," Carolus said.

"Exactly!" Ira said. "So I went to the Gold Stars, of course, to give them the tip."

"And they, admirable folk, gave Suzanne the tip that you'd cracked," Carolus said, stroking his moustache. "Very tight situation, I'd say. Very tight indeed."

"Yes! I knew you'd understand!"

"So what would you like from me?"

"I..." Ira fidgeted with his hands again, examining his ragged nails. "Could you tell if he actually woke up? If he actually spoke to me?"

Carolus turned an unsettling gaze on Ira. "Or if you're on the Moon?"

Ira sighed. "Yes, or that."

"I can tell you that every para I've ever met is mad as a... well, quite mad."

"You've said that before."

"It remains true."

"But the thing is, am I that kind of crazy?"

"We shall see." Carolus stood suddenly. "Is Joshua in his usual place?"

"Unless he's gotten up and walked while I wasn't looking," Ira said.

Carolus strode out of the living room, and Ira heard him knock and enter Josh's room.

Ira sat still for about ten seconds, then got up and went into the kitchen, where the helper was finally cleaning up the breakfast dishes.

"Is he an old friend?" she said. It took him a few seconds to parse her West Indian accent.

"An old something," Ira said.

She gave him a crooked smile and said, "Hah."

He was, reluctantly, getting to like her. He supposed he ought to try to remember her name.

About half an hour later, he couldn't restrain himself any more and went to Josh's door. He couldn't hear anything, so he knocked. Getting no answer, he walked in.

Josh was in his usual place. Carolus was gone. On the side table was a sheet of unlined paper with Carolus' neat handwriting on it. Ira picked it up and peered.

"Damned cryptic bastard and his stupid rhymes," he snarled, tossing it down and stomping out.

A telephone is a wondrous thing
A part that speaks and a part that rings
A part that listens and a part that hangs
No part that watches, no part with fangs.
It channels words across the miles
With vicious daring and sparkling guile
But the telephone has no voice of its own
It parrots only the words and tones.

All the best,
Carolus Lew, Master of Wonderland
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---

The Arithmetic of Memory

Ira felt unsettled all night after talking to Andrea. She had that effect on many people. He was sufficiently uneasy that he stopped in at the Stars n' Garters after his shift ended, which he almost never did.

"Ira, honey, it's been forever!" Flo said when he walked through the door. All heads inevitably turned to him.

There was the Tinkerer, crouching over his table like he'd done every day for the past decade, putting things together and taking them apart, and drinking cup after cup of decaf coffee. There was Damned Yankee, who read the newspaper with the same type of magnifying glass Ira used, for much the same reasons. There was Madame Destiny, reading her cards and sipping one of those flavored Italian sodas the SnG got in just for her. And there was...

"Hey there, Mr. Metro," said Lady Justice with a smile, combing her thinning, straggling white hair out of her face. "Long time, no see. Whyn't you sit with me?"

He let Flo herd him to the Lady's table and give him coffee. "Thanks, darlin'," he said with a drawl. "How's things?"

"Same old," Lady Justice said. "How's Suzanne doing?"

"Overworked," he said. "Poor kid. I keep asking her if she wants to take some time for herself in the evenings, but she always come right home."

"Sounds depressed," she said. "Not surprising. Josh the same as always?"

"Yep," Ira said, smiling gratefully at Flo as she dealt his favorite breakfast -- two eggs over easy, hash browns, and scrapple -- onto the table. "New girl's doing his PT."

"Anything happening at the Y?" Lady Justice took a sip of coffee. "Big girl came in here the other day, had the look of the Y."

"Oh, her," Ira said. "She's Maggie Tottenham's daughter! Pretty girl, isn't she?"

"The Amazon's kid?" Lady Justice said. "Thought she looked familiar. Darker, of course. Wonder if she's the new spandex in town."

"New spandex?" Ira asked through a mouthful of hash browns.

"Can't be," Madame Destiny said, waving a card in their general direction. "Didn't you see the photo of the new girl in the paper? Doesn't look a thing like her."

"Oh," Lady Justice said. "I haven't been reading lately. Nice girl, Ira. You talk to her much?"

"Nope," he said. "She comes in and goes out and..." He paused, frowning. "And, well, she didn't come in at all last night."

"Kids," Lady Justice said with a careless gesture.

"She's fine, Ira," Madame Destiny said. "She was with friends. See? Two of Cups. Well," she added, peering at the card, "she was with a friend at least."

"Hah," Lady Justice said. "Don't fret about her, Ira."

"I won't," he said, drinking his coffee. "How's your kids, Lady?"

"Two just went into spandex and two came out," she said, finishing her cup and holding it out for a refill. "Mike's up in New York, Janna's in Orlando. Bob's got a second kid in the chute, so he tells me that he's giving up the Justice mask to Mike. And Tony's finally got his business off the ground, so he doesn't have time."

"You still go out at all?" he asked.

"Oh, god, no, Ira," she said. "I told you that last time. I've been off the rooftops for five years now. Should've been off five years before that."

He felt his ears burn. How could he have forgotten that they were so old? It was just like old times, though, and that kind of forgetting was happening to him more and more often.

Their conversation became even more innocuous after this, and he finished up and paid. He walked the ten blocks home as quickly as he could.

Suzanne was waiting at the door. "Sorry, hon," Ira said as she passed him, running for the car.

"Don't worry about it," she said, and she was gone.

He trudged inside, dropped his nametag, keys, and wallet in the dish by the door, and stood staring down the hall for a long moment. Then, with a heavy sigh, he walked into Josh's room.

"Hey, boy," he said, picking up Josh's angular body with care. "Met up with Lady Justice this morning." He carried him into the bathroom. "I'm gettin' old, boy. I wish I could remember regular conversations like I remember your mother."

He usually tried to talk more as he cleaned Josh up, but that morning, chatter just didn't come to him. He was turning over spandex, and Andrea, and Lizzie, and Lady Justice, and even the damned Tinkerer over in his head. He thought about Damned Yankee, whose conversation lasted about five minutes before repeating these days, and wondered how long it would be before his own brains turned to that sort of paranormal porridge. How much help would he be to Suzanne then? Had it already happened and no one was paying attention?

He tucked Josh in and turned away to stare at the box with the temporal locks on it, wondering if he felt like reading his memories of Lizzie today.

Behind him, a rusty voice said, "Dad?"
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---

Blood, Sweat, and...

It was Thursday, so Suzanne stripped the beds, gathered up the contents of the hamper, and started the first load of wash. She steeled herself and scrubbed down Ira's bathroom, thinking vicious thoughts about invulnerability and how inoperable it made cataracts.

The kitchen wasn't quite as bad as she'd feared. Her best saucepan had something carbonized to the bottom, there was a fine layer of eggshells over every counter surface, and the potato peelings were mostly contained in the sink. It only took her about an hour to clean this time.

She moved the laundry to the dryer and start a second load in the washer, mostly comprised of Ira's uniforms.

Her reward for all this was another glass of wine. Some days, she wished she liked any of the stronger alcohols.

The house was silent. Even the traffic on the street out front had gone still. She sat with her feet up, sipping the wine, feeling blissfully alone.

She heard the washing machine buzzer, then sighed. No point delaying any more.

Josh was in the master bedroom. It was the only room big enough for the hospital bed and the tables and chairs and IV stands and all the other accoutrements of home care.

She took a quick turn around the room with a cloth, dusting anything that needed it, including Ira's bizarre altar to his "dead wife." There had never been a superheroine named "Tin Lizzie," and neither of Ira's ex-wives were dead. Josh's mother, Andrea, came by about once a month on an evening when Ira was at the YPCA. Andrea had, for a time, been Mrs. Metropolitan to Ira's Mister, but had retired when she was pregnant with Josh. Andrea was very understanding about the issues that came with living with Ira. Violet, Ira's second wife, never darkened their doorstep, and it was probably just as well.

Finally, Suzanne looked at Josh. She forced herself to actually look at him at least once a week. Every time she did, he seemed to look older and more shrunken. His cheeks had long since drawn tight over his craggy cheekbones, and his chin always sagged. His hair, which she shaved into a military flattop every two weeks, was graying heavily. The PT kept his muscles from wasting away entirely, but he was at most half the man she'd married.

"Hi, Josh," she said as she moved to check his peg tube. "Still inexplicably comatose, I see." She winced at the bitterness in her voice as she flushed the tube with some water, but couldn't keep herself from saying more. "The doctors still can't figure out why you're not conscious. You were badly injured in that last battle, but your brain wasn't damaged at all."

She started the feeding pump that would run overnight. "I used to tell you this every day, hoping that you'd hear and decide to wake up. But you know, after all this time, I think this whole thing was all your revenge for my asking for a divorce. You get to play desperately tragic hero, and you've trapped me for ten endless goddamn years. I'd be pilloried if I ever left you."

Suzanne sagged against the bed, wondering if she looked as old as Josh did. She wanted to cry, but it stuck in her throat, as usual. "At least he had the decency to just die and get it over with. You, you vindictive bastard... you couldn't even die cleanly."
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---

Time and Again

Ira Feldstein placed his nametag, keys, and wallet in the old glass candy dish on the table in the front hall. He retrieved the sticky note from the floor, found a roll of masking tape, and reattached the note to the lower edge of the mirror over the table. Hopefully, he couldn't help but see the "REMEMBER KEYS WALLET NAMETAG STOVE" as he left that evening.

"Good morning, Ira," Suzanne said as she emerged from the bedroom in suit and heels.

"Any change?" he asked his daughter-in-law.

She shook her head. "I made meatloaf last night. Leftovers in the fridge."

He thanked her and went to his room. As he changed out of his uniform, he thought that Suzanne was looking older, more worn around the edges. He thought he'd make something nice for her dinner tonight. Perhaps his mother's potato kugel.

"Have a good day, Ira," she said through his bedroom door. "Remember the new physical therapist is coming at 1. I should be home by 5 tonight."

"Okay," he said, opening the door and smiling at her. "It's no trouble if you want to take a couple hours for yourself, though. I don't have to be on the desk until 8."

"Thanks, Ira," she said, shaking her head. "I'm just so tired these days."

After Suzanne left, Ira went to the next room.

"Hello, son," he said as he entered. He stepped to the bedside and looked down at Joshua: craggy and wasted and peaceful, his tightly curled red hair starting to show some gray. Josh had opened his eyes sometime since Suzanne had checked on him. The first time it had happened so long ago, Ira and Suzanne had been mad with excitement. But then, as now, the searing blue eyes remained blank and sightless. Ira reached down and closed the lids gently. "Your eyes are just like your mother's," he said for perhaps the thousandth time.

Ira gently slid his arms under Josh's shoulders and knees and lifted. His strength wasn't what it once was, but it was enough to handle his son's tall frame. Poor little Suzanne used to wear herself out trying to haul him around. "Time for your bath, boy," he said.

Then there was the hospital johnny and the diaper and the feeding tube, and all the other messy morning things that Ira took care of. It was the least he could do, he felt, given the ridiculous hours Suzanne often had to work.

"You remember Maggie, Josh? The Amazon? The one who kept me from going into the Great Gulf after your mother. Well, her daughter of all people showed up at the Y last night, looking for a room." He lifted Josh out of the bath and dried him. "She's a fine-looking young woman. Same black hair and big dark eyes as her mother."

Ira got Josh into his usual bedwear and carried him back to the bedroom. "I think your mother would've liked her," he said, pulling the covers up over his son.

He sat down in the chair near the foot of the bed and leaned his head back. "I wonder if Maggie remembers your mother. Most of the others have forgotten her, with all the time twitches since the Gulf. And, hell," he said with a rueful laugh, "no one else at all remembers that the first Golden Guardian wasn't a man, so how can I expect them to remember my Tin Lizzie?"

Ira was still for a moment, then snorted. "I looked up your listing on the Hero History netsite last night. Do you know who they say took in the Godstuff and nearly killed you? Some fellow I never heard of named Skywraith. Nothing about one of your own teammates doing it, hardly anything about the fact that you stopped him from ripping apart the universe. In fact, there's no listing at all for the Iron Guardian. He hasn't existed now." He rubbed his face and temples.

"All this time shit gives me a headache." With a groan, Ira lurched to his feet. "Well, I'm going to get something to eat. There's always time for an old man to talk rubbish later."

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