Flash By Northwest (3/14)
a Justice League story
by dotfic and mtgat
Disclaimer: DC Comics and Warner Brothers own the characters and situations. No infringement on their property is intended or should be inferred.
Continuity/Spoilers: Takes place after JLU "Destroyer" and the events of the flashback in "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker"
Thanks to amilyn for her beta on this work. Special thanks also to xffan_2000 and billa1 for editing above and beyond the call of duty on the final draft. All mistakes that may still be found herein are ours alone.
Pairings: Lots. If it was canon, if it was implied in canon --- heck, if we just thought it was amusing at the time --- it's in there.
Summary: The Big Seven (plus one) are trapped inside a fantasy world created by a magical artifact. As the body count rises, familiar faces hide deadly secrets and it's up to Flash to save them.
In her dream, Shayera was arguing with her mother. Since she had no actual memories of her mother, she was facing a morphing, angry form made up of half the women she'd ever known, and all of them were scolding her. Her multi-mother slammed her fist into a wall again and again to show her frustration, and Shayera wanted her to stop the pounding.
The pounding was on a door, and she sat up in bed to hear the thumps. "I'm coming," she said, and she was halfway to her bedroom door when she remembered where she was and that her wings were gone. She staggered the rest of the way out to the door in the kitchen and fumbled with the lock until she could slide the bolt.
Carter Hall stood on her doorstep, arm raised to knock more.
"Shayera!" He picked her up and hugged her before she could do or say anything. "I just heard the news. Are you all right?"
"Am I ... Yes. I'm fine." The events of the night before sorted themselves in her mind. Meeting. Mari dead on the floor. Everything out of whack and unreal but real enough. "It was terrible, what happened to her," she said, because she knew she ought to.
Carter nodded. "I was sure they'd arrest you just for the look of the thing."
"No evidence," she said, walking back into her living room and sitting down on the small couch. Carter joined her without asking, pulling her hand into his and rubbing it absently.
She wondered if the clothes on the floor were his.
"Like that will stop them for long. Someone will pay for a cover-up. You'll see. I just don't want you to be the patsy when it all goes down."
"Neither do I."
"Has he said anything to you yet about it?" Something about the emphasis on "he" bothered her, and she pulled her hand back.
"I don't know what you mean."
Carter let out a disgusted breath. "No games, Shayera. We promised each other that."
"No," she said. "No games. I'm just very flustered. Mari's gone."
"Which leaves your boyfriend with a big inheritance and no one to share it with."
She was confused momentarily, and then she wasn't confused and found herself wishing she still was. "You mean John."
"I figure he'll wait until after the funeral at least to move you into the big house. Unless the cops think he was the one who killed her."
"He didn't." John wouldn't have killed Mari. He cared for her too much; Shayera wouldn't let herself think the word "love" because it hurt every time she tried.
Carter's expression wasn't as sure. "Look, he wouldn't be the first guy to decide he didn’t want to risk losing everything in a divorce. And if that rumor about her and Wayne was true, well, a man does crazy things when he thinks his woman is cheating on him."
Shayera tried to picture Mari with Bruce. Part of her could see it working: wealthy jet-setters by day, vigilantes by night. But aside from whatever was up with Bruce and Diana these days, she knew Mari was happy with John and he with her. And there was that hurt all over again.
Carter's tone changed. "He doesn't know about us, right?"
"I'm not even sure what I know about us."
He chuckled, and his voice was low. "Then maybe I should remind you." He leaned in for a kiss, which he placed against her neck.
Now that could be interesting. This wasn't her Carter. This was a Carter out of her head. Bonus: this Carter wasn't convinced he was the reincarnation of an Egyptian king destined to be her lover, nor was he possessed by a dark half that had tried to kill her friends. She'd liked the real Carter before she'd found out he was crazy.
On the down side, taking time out for a little recreational sex probably wouldn’t help her figure out whatever she needed to so they could solve this mystery and get home. Of course, a small and shameful yet insistent part of her thought maybe staying in a place where she had a handsome not-crazy boyfriend and where no one was trying to kill her wouldn't be so bad.
"Carter," she said gently, and he jerked away.
She blinked. "Sorry ... dear. I got confused. Think I may have hit my head last night." That sounded reasonable.
Not-Carter stared at her suspiciously. "Are you seeing another guy, Shayera?"
"What do you think?" she said, putting on her best smile and taking his hand again. She was used to this, to playing a role. She was a little out of practice, but some things just came back naturally.
"What do I think?" He snorted. "Since when does it matter to you what I think?"
"Always," she said, hoping he believed her. "You matter to me. Sometimes I forget how much."
It seemed to work. A smile curved around his lips. She kissed him quickly and smiled back.
"Hey," he said, leaning back in her couch and pulling her against him. "Remember how we used to talk about just packing up one day and leaving this rat trap of a town? Now would be a great time. Just kick the sand from our shoes and go. We could be in Reno by tonight, get married first thing tomorrow. You'd be Mrs. Joe Gardner and to hell with anyone who said otherwise."
She heard the excitement in his voice, but stiffened at the word "married." The fact that she had no interest in actually making a formal commitment to Carter, er, Joe aside, she didn't dare put too much distance between herself and the others just in case that jinxed the spell somehow.
"We'll talk about it," she said, knowing they wouldn't.
Joe didn't hear her, or he was too lost in his own fantasies. "Yeah, I figure we can go East. Maybe Central City, maybe all the way to the coast. I got a cousin in Indiana, has a farm. We could stay with him, get a place of our own, settle down." His hands roamed over her hair and to her back. "Have a couple, six kids." His mouth went to her ear.
But she'd talked with Batman about that very subject, and there was a reality that wouldn't even have a chance if they didn't get out of here.
She pushed him away. "Carter, I mean Joe ... "
Now he was angry. "Dammit, Shayera! Who is this Carter guy?!"
"I ... Just forgot," she said again as he stood up.
"I'm going to go get some air," he said, and he stormed out of the house. She waited until she heard his tires squeal as he pulled away before she got up from the couch.
She needed to talk to John.
When Diana woke, it was to the sound of the door closing behind Audrey. She sat upright, cast off her covers, and sprinted after her down the hallway to the stairs, where Audrey was making her way down quickly.
"Audrey, wait! I wanted to ask you something."
"Not now, darling," she called back, not stopping. "I have an audition. Tonight, we will celebrate my new role and you can ask me your silly questions. Ciao!" She went out the front door of the building, and while Diana was tempted to follow her, doing so in an unfamiliar neighborhood wearing only her nightgown was not the best idea.
She walked slowly back up the stairs to her apartment, wondering what her next move ought to be. Another inspection of her home, this time in daylight, did nothing to change her opinion of the cramped little room nor did it shed any light on who Diana was supposed to be, much less how she knew Vixen or why she might want to kill her.
In the wardrobe, she found a dozen simple outfits that fit her frame rather than Audrey's tiny one, as well as a handful of fancier dresses like the one she'd been wearing last night. At the end of the hallway was a communal bathroom; a slightly overweight man wearing only a towel emerged as she watched, then made his way to his own apartment next door.
"Morning, Prince," he said amicably.
"Good morning," she replied. She thought fast. "I overindulged at the party last night." She placed a hand to her head. "Lucky thing I made it home."
The man laughed. "You got that right, sweetheart. Told you not to go palling around with that Wayne creep. He could've slipped you a mickey, you wouldn’t know where you woke up."
She smiled in what she hoped was a somewhat helpless fashion, gritting her teeth just a little as she did. "I'm sure Mr. Wayne wouldn't do that."
"Whatever, dollface," said the man, opening his door. She got a glimpse of his apartment, just as small as hers with another set of narrow beds. "Hey, Boost. Prince made it home last night. You owe me a buck."
Just then, a blond man wearing another towel popped out of the apartment and dashed to the bathroom door before Diana could think of doing the same. "You better've saved me some hot water this time, Kord."
"Quitcher whining," said Kord as the bathroom door shut and she heard a squeak of a tap being opened and water spraying. He looked at Diana. "Bet you two dollars he sings 'Danny Boy' before he's done."
"Not a bet I'm willing to take," she said, and read the disappointment. "I think I'm going to make some breakfast, and wait for ... Boost to finish his shower."
"Good idea," said Kord. "Hey, willya tell Wally he still owes me ten dollars the next time you see him?"
"Sure," she said. Her neighbors knew Wally. This was a piece of information to file away for later.
In her small icebox, she found a few eggs, and there was a loaf of hard bread by the sink. With a little trial and error, Diana had eggs and toast ready in about twenty minutes. As she was finishing her meal, there was a knock on the door. "Prince!"
She opened the door to find Kord dressed in a rumpled blue suit. He held a newspaper in one hand. "You didn't say Macabe was killed last night," he said urgently.
"I'm sorry," she responded, observing him. His face was paler than it had been, and his other hand clenched and unclenched. "I forgot."
He laughed a little. Boost came out of their apartment, somber as his friend was worried. "She forgot," Kord told his roommate.
"How bad is this?" asked Boost.
Kord shrugged. "You know Jones. If he's calling all his markers due now ... " He rubbed a hand through his brown hair. "I'm getting out of town. This is about to go bad."
"Tell me how I can help," Diana said.
"Prince, you ain't got a thousand dollars lying around, and Mr. Jones isn't going to like it when I tell him I don't either."
"Yeah," said Boost. "You soft in the head all of a sudden, Prince?"
"Long night," she said.
"You been hanging out with him in your society swinging?" Kord asked, sudden hope flaring on his face.
"A little." Don't commit to anything, not yet.
"Then could you talk to him for me?" Kord grabbed her hand. "Tell him we're friends, you and me. I got you that nice job with West, didn't I? So we're friends. And you know I'm good for the G, just need a little more time." He squeezed her hand so hard that it made her gasp in pain. A trickle of fear ran down her spine. Diana was used to being able to take punches without a problem, but now she was merely ... human.
Kord let go. "Jeez, I'm sorry, Prince."
"I'll talk to him. I don't think he's going to be asking anyone for any money right now."
"That's great. That's really great. Thanks, Prince. You're a swell girl."
Diana nodded, ignoring the "girl." She rewound the conversation. "Speaking of my job ... "
The soft clink of the porcelain cup onto its saucer stirred J'onn. He'd had visions of the strangest things: dragons, pistols, a fox gone to ground, and even now as he blinked his way into consciousness, he was unsure of what had been real and what had been mere vision.
Martians neither slept nor dreamed as humans, Kryptonians, and Thanagarians did, requiring instead only brief respite to organize their thoughts. He reassessed his opinion of the spell's strength, that it might persuade him to change his very nature.
Someone was standing beside the desk. As he sat up, pain shot through his back. "Ouch."
"Next time, come to bed," said the woman who wasn't Ming.
"I will." The aroma of the coffee wafted towards him, and he gratefully picked up the cup to gulp it. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Did you find what you were looking for?"
"I'm not sure," he said.
"She's really dead?"
"Yes." He would have to make time to speak with Green Lantern later. J'onn was well-versed with the loss of love, and while this situation should only be a temporary one, John would be experiencing grief. Perhaps not merely that, J'onn knew, but he would start with grief.
He turned to the woman who was not his wife again. Watching her, knowing she had the face and form of the woman he loved without the spark that made her unique and beloved, these were a different kind of grief. Perhaps when this was all finished, he would discover Morgaine le Fay's hand behind the game, just like the last time. And then J'onn would hunt her down and crush her lying, manipulative throat.
"Ming, I need to ask you to do something for me."
A tired shrug. This wasn't the first time she'd been asked.
"I am not sure you'll be safe here with me right now."
She tilted her head, and the familiar gesture pricked him. "Who is it this time?"
"The last time you sent me to stay with my sister, it was because you'd crossed Bertinelli. Then he ended up dead." She held up a hand as he started. "I'm not asking if you killed him. I stay out of your business. Who is it this time? Wayne? The Mayor?"
"I can't say." The half-lies were so easy. "Go see your sister."
"I could help you," she said, placing a warm hand on his. "I don't understand all the intricacies of what you do, but I could help."
"You can't. Not unless you know who killed Ms. Macabe."
"If I did, I'd shake his hand," she said. "Don't bother calling." She hurried from the office, and he heard the hitch of her breath as she started to weep.
He didn't dare follow her. Instead, he turned back to his perusal of the documents. He'd made a series of piles and had left himself notes inside the books he couldn't separate. He'd found a safe, but he'd made an educated guess on the combination, and found it on his third attempt: not Ming's birthday, nor his own false date, but the day he'd arrived on Earth. Incongruous, but effective. The papers within the safe mostly comprised what he thought of as System Two.
System One contained account numbers and data regarding what looked like the business of maintaining Vixen's extensive financial assets. System Two was linked to System One in certain specific places: monies transferred from one account to another, then mysteriously vanished from the first set of documents, only to reappear in the same amount in a line of the second set, from there to be distributed outwards in a weird web of what appeared to be loans and investments entirely unrelated to Vixen. Her signature wasn't on any of the documents, while it did appear on most of the documents in System One.
The J'onn J'onzz --- or Jean Jones, as the documents read --- he was pretending to be had indeed been "skimming," as Miss Gordon had accused. So perhaps Vixen had discovered his pilfering and was about to announce it to the world. "Maybe she found you out," Ming had said, and J'onn wondered if that was true. Rather than confirming his own innocence, he'd brought it into question even to himself.
He was curious as well about a subsection of both systems. John Stewart's signature graced a handful of documents and cheques, some of them relating to purchases J'onn could follow, some of them baffling: leather armchairs, hunting gear and apparel, but he'd also purchased a small house a few miles from his home address, and there were food and clothing bills sent to that address and paid for out of a side account J'onn had tallied in a small ledger in the safe.
He jotted down notes. To be safe, he made them in his own language. He could translate them when he met with the others later.
It took Wally a few tries turning the key in the lock--it wasn't as if he'd ever been to this office despite the fact that his name was stenciled on the rippled glass door and that was this was the address on the business card. Diana tapped one foot impatiently while he fumbled. Finally he got the door open.
As he walked in, the oddly familiar scent of stale cigarettes greeted him, mixed with some kind of lingering booze scent, musty papers, old wood. He wondered why the scents should be familiar. But as for the rest, there was a perfectly good reason why he knew he'd see what he expected to see. The blinking of a neon sign through the Venetian blinds, casting lines down onto the worn wooden floorboards seemed right, although he could see the neon sign was red and that wasn't quite right, because this should all have been in black and white. As for the rest of it, filing cabinets, the wooden desk in the middle of the room, the bench along one wall, the water cooler with its big, old-fashioned glass tank, the door open to the inner office where he made out the corner of a bigger desk, a coat rack, and papers in the kind of jumbled mess that would make the Watchtower maintenance staff swoon. It was almost like home.
Diana's heels tapped behind him and came to a stop. Wally walked around the desk and traced his fingers over the skeletal keys of the black typewriter. There was no power cord, of course. The bakelite telephone was enormous, with a rotary dial.
"Okay, shweetheart," Wally drawled. He removed his fedora and threw it in the direction of a coat rack in the inner office. It missed wildly and knocked over an empty bottle of gin instead. "Let's get down to work."
"I beg your pardon?" Diana turned sharply, her voice not dangerous yet, only startled.
Wally picked up the name plate resting on the desk. "You work for me."
She took the name plate from him and a crease appeared in the middle of her forehead as she frowned.
"I'm your secretary?"
He'd never heard her voice go up like that into a squeak before. "Girl Friday," he corrected. "Now, the first thing we have to do is make a list of everyone who was at that party. Why don't you type while I dictate, shweetheart."
Wally was on the opposite side of the desk from Diana, his back to the window, when her hand shot out, grabbed him by the lapels of his trenchcoat, and wrenched him towards her so the desk hit his midsection.
They were nose to nose as she said, enunciating each word carefully, "Number one, you stop calling me 'sweetheart.' Number two, I. Do. Not. Do. Your. Typing. Number three--" she let go of him. "I've seen some of the old movies. You are no Humphrey Bogart."
He gulped. "I was just kidding, Diana. As long as we're ... here ... stuck in these roles, we have to act like them. Apparently, you're my Girl Friday." As her face darkened, he hastily added, "It's not so bad. The Girl Fridays were always smart and called the hero on all his bullshit. They were also very kind and would never, ever hit Sam Spade."
"Do your own typing, Wally." Diana sat on the edge of the desk, folded her arms, and crossed one long, long, long, long leg over the other.
You gotta love forties fashion.
He shrugged out of his damp coat, flung it at the bench, then sat in the wooden swivel chair. Wally began to spin in it, before he realized that was most definitely not something Sam Spade would do, so he stopped.
"Okay." He located a sheet of paper on the desk, inserted it into the typewriter, turned the knob, and advanced the carriage. "So who was there?"
"Bruce," said Diana.
He began to type. The keys were like iron under his fingers, resistant, but the letter pads smacked against the paper in a satisfying way that was nothing like typing on a computer.
They were halfway through the list when he got bored, and decided he could do this faster if he typed a whole lot faster without waiting for Diana's input, but of course his fingers wouldn't obey him to go faster. He was a decent typist and managed to go fast enough to snarl up the keys, but not as fast as, well, he should have been able to go. If he'd been typing that kind of fast, he supposed the typewriter would have been toast.
Wally stood up.
"What is it?" Diana asked.
"Hang on a second." He ran across the room, the floorboards creaking under his shoes. Then he ran back.
"Wally, what are you doing?"
He did it again.
Diana ignored him, leaning over and to peer at the list so far. Wally ran back and forth across the room again, then started jogging in place.
"Stop that," Diana said sharply.
"I can't help it. I need to move."
"Can you try to focus?" She put her hand to her face. "No, never mind. I forgot who I'm talking to."
Wally sat down again, then rested his forehead against the cool metal of the typewriter casing, just for a moment. Sam Spade never gave up; neither would Wally West. "Right. Now, who else?" He kept typing.
After about an hour, Diana went and made them both coffee, and he was surprised when she put in lots of milk and six sugars without having to ask him first.
The police were still poking around the banquet hall when Bruce came downstairs. Barbara had been a wealth of gossip, though how much of it was true and how much mere hot air was anyone's guess. He would need to reconvene with the rest and see if they'd discovered anything of value.
"Good morning, sir," said Alfred, handing him his paper as Bruce padded into the kitchen. Strong coffee and good bacon mingled their odors, and his stomach growled.
As Bruce ate and drank, he read over Clark's article. He had to stop and reread parts several times, as the words on the page refused to coincide with what he remembered of last night's events. "Alfred?"
"Did Mr. Kent struggle with the gunman in the darkness before the lights came back on?"
Alfred paused. "I wouldn't know, sir. However, may I remind you of your previous remarks regarding Mr. Kent's estranged relationship with the truth?"
Bruce smiled around his coffee. "I stand reminded."
"If you'll forgive me for saying so, sir, you are handling the loss of Miss Macabe with remarkable stoicism."
"I'm not one to dwell on the past," Bruce said, and the astonished expression on Alfred's face told him what he needed to know in regards to passing off that particular lie while he was here, wherever "here" was.
"Miss Gordon left early this morning, I see," Alfred said, turning back to the sink to wash a dish. "She appeared greatly agitated. Shall I have the usual bouquet sent from Ms. Isley's shop, along with a token of affection?"
"Not right now, Alfred." He'd delayed her amorous intentions with a hasty promise of seeing her tonight.
As if reading his mind, Alfred said, "Shall I check your calendar for any rendezvous scheduled for this evening?"
"Actually, clear my calendar, and place calls to the people I saw in the study last night after the shooting. I'd like to see them here at noon."
"Is that wise, sir? All of them are highly suspect in the murder. Perhaps you should distance yourself from them, lest suspicion fall on you."
"Vixen was killed here, Alfred. I'm automatically a suspect."
"I suppose, sir," said Alfred doubtfully. "However, I believe the police will be focusing their enquiry primarily on Mr. Stewart and his paramour." Barbara had told him that rumor, too. "It may be prudent to maintain a certain detachment from the two of them for now."
Bruce considered a protest, but he had to be watchful. If he or any of them acted too far out of character, it might derail the plot. "Fine. I'll contact them later. Tell the rest I want to see them."
While Alfred went to make the calls, Bruce reread the article. He was going to have a chat with Clark, too.
Rex Mason's face wasn't the first thing John wanted to see in the morning, even if it was accompanied by coffee. "Thanks, Mace," he said, before he remembered where he was and who he was.
He'd been up until nearly dawn, searching through the house for clues. He'd fallen asleep looking through book after book of black-and-white photographs. It was bad enough seeing the photos from someone else's vacations, but add to it the surreal factor of seeing himself on those vacations he never took, and John had been trapped in boredom with himself. Did anyone really need to take an entire roll of pictures of John glowering in front of various buildings in what looked like Greece? Mari, this Mari, apparently had. She appeared in many of the photos, sunny smile splashed across the page like dozens of others he'd seen. In the real world, she'd perfected that smile, that turn of head and lift of chin, and it had made her famous. Here too, it seemed.
"Sir," said Mason. "I couldn't stand to wake you up earlier. The calls have been coming in non-stop, and the flowers are already filling the front hallway. I've spoken to the funeral home, but since Ms. Macabe is still," he swallowed, "with the police, I couldn't tell them when we would be planning the funeral. I thought you could perhaps ... " He tapered off.
John stared into his coffee, then tossed the last of it back. "Handle it."
"Handle the arrangements. If you need me to sign something, find me, but otherwise, do what needs to be done, and tell me when and where to show up."
"But don't you want to ... "
"I thought I just gave you an order." It was mean, John knew, but he wasn't about to spend the next couple of days worrying about burying her, not if he could use that time to find a way to keep her alive.
He went back to his pictures as Mason left. Now he could hear the jingling of the phone from downstairs. People would be calling. Mari was a Name. Whether or not she had many friends was immaterial right now. What mattered was being remembered as someone who called to say how sorry they were.
Trip to Acapulco. Trip to Venice. No dates or names on the backs. People he knew in every photo, and none of it real. The pictures merged in his mind into one whirlwind trip across the world, where Mari dragged him from place to place and took pictures to prove he was there, like some prize or like that stupid prank somebody'd played with the garden gnome.
No pictures of children anywhere, for which he'd breathed a sigh of relief.
He'd found a wedding album, had flipped through it enough to recognize Mari's hand in every detail except his uniform. Like the house, one place was carved out especially for John, and everything else was filled with her.
Mason came to the door. "Sir? You have a visitor."
"I told you to deal with it."
"Yes, sir," Mason said. "However, I don't believe Miss Hol is here to offer her condolences. Shall I send her in?"
John froze. "Yes."
He put the photo albums away. As he placed the last one on the shelf, he heard her say, "Hey."
"Do you have any good news?"
"Fine. I'm fine. Lovely weather we're having today, don't you think?"
He turned around. Shayera wore a simple tan pantsuit and her standard half-glare. She looked flushed and a little out of breath.
"What, did you walk here?"
"Never learned how to drive. Anyway, I don't live far."
"Have you got any leads?"
"Not exactly," she said. "Have you found anything?"
"Not a lot. Some old pictures. I can't find any of her personal papers. She's got to have a lawyer or something taking care of things. Probably an agent, too."
He frowned. John didn't like Mari's real agent, and it would probably be the same guy.
"I think we're sleeping together."
And then Shayera had his full attention. "What?"
"I had a chat with Carter this morning. He called you my boyfriend. Plus, the car's registration is in your name. I think you bought it."
"You said you couldn't drive," he said slowly, still nibbling at the edges of her previous statement.
"I can read."
"That doesn't mean you and I are together. Here, I mean."
"No. But I think we are, and I think you know I'm right." She went to the window. "Great view. I'm almost positive that's my place up the coast."
He didn't move. Fucking destiny, realigning the world. Of course she was right.
"Anyway," she said, turned back to face him. "I just thought you should know. I'm not sure how well 'we' managed to keep it a secret, so people probably know."
"And that puts us both at the top of the suspects list."
"How much did you want her dead?"
Her half-glare went full. "Don't overinflate your ego too much, Stewart. Your head won't fit in Mari's house."
"It's my house too."
"I did get a look around when I came in, you know. If you, any you, had a hand in decorating anything but this room, I'll eat your hat." She nodded at a hunting cap hung on the wall.
"Better than some of the things I've seen you eat." He was kidding, but it came out in an ugly tone he barely recognized.
"I just wanted to warn you. People are going to be asking you questions, and they might involve me. I'll see you around." She turned on one heel and stalked out. He heard Mason's crisp footsteps on the tile hurrying to catch up with her and see her out properly, but John refused to go to the door and watch her leave.
To Be Continued