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This story arc has been published as a novel!

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Who Can Surprise Well Must Conquer

"You sure look happy, Mr. Feldstein," the companion said in her heavy Caribbean accent as Ira wandered into the kitchen.

"I am," he said, and peered at her more closely. "I'm sorry, I must be getting old, because I can't remember your name."

The woman flashed a grin, brilliant white teeth and dark chocolate skin making for a nice contrast in Ira's blurry vision. "You never asked," she said, then added, "but you've known me a long time, Ira Feldstein."

Ira peered more closely at the woman, frowning. "I have?"

"We first met in January 1946," she said, pulling a loaf of bread from the refrigerator and commencing with sandwich construction. "At a party in New York City given by the Golden Guardian."

Ira took a more martial stance, or at least as martial as he could manage these days, feet braced further apart, fists raised. "There were a lot of people at that party. Including some folks that went on to become supervillains!"

She laughed and layered boiled ham onto the pumpernickel bread. "I've never been a villain. Shall I tell you another time we met?"

Ira didn't lower his fists, though he might have shuffled his feet closer together. "Sure."

She looked straight at him. "I pulled you out of the rubble after your nemesis, Dr. Noontime, went berserk from his mind-enhancing device in July 1958. I took you to the hospital, where they treated you for your shattered knee and broken ribs, and called the Gold Stars to stop him." She turned back to putting thin slices of Swiss cheese atop the boiled ham and adding a generous dollop of Dijon mustard to the opposing bread slice.

Ira stared at the floor and racked his memories for what felt like an eternity of awkward silence, fists slowly lowering. She plated the sandwich, cut it in half, dropped a handful of potato chips beside it, added a large scoop of store-bought potato salad, and set it on the kitchen table.

Finally, Ira looked at her. "The Outsider?" he said tentatively.

That flash of a grin again. "I knew you'd remember."

Ira gave her a puzzled look. "But you were always a Ja-- I mean, an Asian person."

She shrugged and put the kettle on for tea. "I was a Japanese soldier when you met me, and an Asian woman of various ethnicities after that, because that's who was most 'outside' to you then. Now I'm a black woman from Haiti. Also, you expected a West Indian woman, because all the staff helping here are West Indian women."

Ira sat down, a little hard, in his chair at the kitchen table. "I guess we never actually talked about what you looked like to each of us. Do you always change, then?"

"My power finds a happy medium for crowds," she said, putting teabags into two mugs. "It's easier with individuals."

Ira ate a chip and chewed it thoroughly. After he swallowed, he said, "So, are you always, you know, a... a colored person?"

"Person of color," she said gently. "No, not always. I got to be a white man in an Italian suit last night."

"Huh." Ira picked up half his sandwich and bit into it. "How did that happen?"

"It was a very colorful party," she said, pouring the hot water into the mugs. "So why are you so happy?"

Ira had to think back to remember being happy. "Oh! Well, I went to see Madame Destiny yesterday, and she gave me good news."

"Really?" She set Ira's cup next to his plate with a spoon, and sat opposite him with a plain cup of tea.

"Yes," he said, putting his sandwich down and reaching for the sugar bowl. "I asked if Josh would ever come back to us, and she said, 'Yes, very soon.'"

"How exciting," the Outsider said, without sounding very excited at all.

Ira didn't notice. "I also asked if, you know, I was crazy, or going crazy, and she said no. That was a relief."

"I can imagine," she said, taking a sip of tea.

Ira smiled. "I used my third question to ask if Suzanne would be happier soon, and she said yes. I mean, I expected so, since Josh is coming back, but I wanted to make sure. She's a good girl, and works so hard, you know."

The Outsider nodded. "Yes, I do know."

"So what brings you here?" Ira said, taking another bite of sandwich.

She shrugged. "I have to work too."

"But why a... healthcare companion or whatever it's called?"

She smiled and sipped her tea. "Because that person is always an outsider."

Ira shook his head and ate. They talked for a while about Josh and Suzanne and even a bit of para team gossip that the Outsider had heard.

Finally, Ira noticed the kitchen clock.

"I'd better be going!" he exclaimed, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "I'm taking over Edna's time at the Y today so she can see her grandkids."

The Outsider nodded and smiled. "I'll keep an eye on things here," she said.

"Thanks," Ira said earnestly. "I feel better knowing that another para is here, watching things."

"We're all paras, you know," she said. "All the people who come in to help."

"Really?" Ira said, standing up. "Couldn't they get other jobs? There's got to be something better paid out there for paras."

She shrugged. "It doesn't matter if you can lift a tank, if you're poor, or a person of color, or couldn't go to college, Ira. For these women, being superstrong, for instance, just means that they don't need help getting the patient up off the floor when he or she falls off the toilet."

Ira stared at her.

She made a little shooing motion. "Go on, Ira. You're going to be late."

He hurried to the front hall, picking up his keys and wallet and nametag and checking his reflection in the mirror. He was still an old man, and a somewhat stupid one, he thought.

By the time he reached the Y, he had remembered the Oracle's words about Josh, and had regained his good mood. He hummed as he sorted the small pile of paperwork on the calendar blotter, checked the keys in the keybox, and read through the notices in the black plastic inbox. Work done for now, he pulled the magnifying glass out of the top drawer, along with his pencil and his crossword puzzle book, and settled in for a quiet afternoon.

Sometime around dinnertime, a person stepped up to his desk. He looked up.

She was a young woman, maybe 18 or 19, with wavy brown hair pulled into pigtails at the sides of her head. Freckles sprawled generously over her pug nose and broad cheeks. She had hazel eyes and a rakish grin, and wore a plain white t-shirt and a biker jacket.

She was so familiar.

So, so familiar.

Without realizing it, Ira stood bolt upright, staring at her. Her grin faltered. "Pops? You okay?" she said.

He nodded wordlessly, staring.

"You're white as a ghost," she said, moving around the side of the counter, looking concerned, pushing the desk chair back into position behind Ira. "Why don't you sit down?"

Ira sat down hard on the desk chair, still staring, but he started breathing again.

She relaxed a little. "Look, is there anything I can do? Get you a glass of water or something?" The grin spread across her face like lightning again and she gave him a thumbs-up. "Tin Lizzie is here to save the day!"

Ira fainted then. It seemed like the only thing to do, really.

Date: 2012-02-26 07:36 am (UTC)
sepdet: Samhain worshipping the veggies. Oooommm. (Okay, yes, catnip was involved.) (Default)
From: [personal profile] sepdet
Is that Lizzie back after some sort of time slip, or what?

But the Outsider is an immensely interesting and stark character. The idea that all poor, POC and/or female paras wind up as hired hands because they don't get the same advantages ... is painful and seems to fit the sparkly-white world most superhero comics deliver to us. Oh, is that where they are...

Date: 2012-05-09 08:01 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Yeah... it's a grim thought.

Especially when you connect that to the fact that Professor Canis was the first really visible Black superhero, it makes a horrible kind of sense.


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