* * *
Vic held the shot of tequila up to his eye, careful not to spill any of the liquid on his hand. He allowed himself his vices, because it wasn't a trick to placate the masses if you knew what you were in for. Informed consent. And he liked the way it felt, sliding down his throat, warming his stomach. He'd rather have been an angry drunk, focused and fierce, ready to fight, but he was a numb drunk. Sometimes that was okay, too. The acrid scent of alcohol, cleansing fire, filled his nostril. He lowered the glass toward his lips...
Sighing, Vic set the shot glass down on the bar and turned his head to see Ted Kord coming toward him, a wide smile on his tanned face. Vic smiled back, thinly, hoping the expression of tortured politeness would sway Ted. No such luck. He sighed. Vic hadn't wanted to see any Leaguers that night, but if anyone were going to show up at the bar, Ted was a relatively non-offensive choice. He toasted Ted. "Buy you a drink?"
"Sure, sure. You're going to want to buy me a drink in a second," Ted said, grinning as he settled onto a stool next to Vic. "But, ah, club soda."
"Still having trouble with your heart?"
Ted put his elbows on the bar. "Yes. My heart's broken and can't be fixed." He winked at Vic and though his eyes twinkled, Vic couldn't help but pat him on the back, and then look away. Ted was a big guy, strong and muscled, and he had been a natural fit for the League beyond his genius abilities. After all, the organization had plenty of lab rats in cages. Ted, nerd extraordinaire, could buy his way into a lifestyle of skiing, sailing, boxing, and adventuring, so Vic figured the heart thing must be killing him.
Vic took a small sip of the tequila, wincing as the liquid coated his lips. "You said I'd want to buy you a drink, Ted?"
Ted opened the satchel around his waist and pulled out a small robot and set it on the bar. Vic leaned closer. The robot was humanoid, a characteristic enhanced by the cloth black trench coat it was wearing, and though it's face was sculpted rather than robotic, it was devoid of feature.
"It's you," Ted said.
"I'm an action figure?"
"You're a robot. With superpowers."
"What?" Vic looked from the robot to Ted.
"Haven't you always wanted superpowers?"
Vic leaned back, running his thumb along the rim of his shot glass. "Sure. Who didn't, when they were a kid?" He eyed Ted. "What kind of superpowers did you give me? I mean, him? It."
Ted tapped the robot's head. "Well, I thought about giving it invisibility, but really, you're already good at it. You don't really need superpowers for that."
Vic blinked. He rubbed his chin and squinted at Ted.
Ted picked up a miniature set of sunglasses and put them on the robot as he said, "So I thought... laser beam eyes."
Ted grinned. He placed a cocktail napkin ten inches from the robot and said, "Aim and tap his head."
"It's not a conspiracy, I just thought it would be fun."
"That's how they always start," Vic murmured, staring at the robot. He was already feeling kinship with the sculpted, blank face, and reached out to swivel the head, as if it were a periscope.
"There's no artificial intelligence. And it doesn't talk," Ted said.
Vic tapped the head. The sunglasses flew up, beams shot out of the robot's eyes, and the corner of the napkin caught on fire. Vic licked his fingers and squelched the fire, and then smiled at Ted. "Not bad."
Ted nodded, and then looked over his shoulder. "Say, is... you know... around?"
Ted shook his head.
Ted looked down at the bar.
Vic sighed. "Huntress."
Ted hissed, as if he'd said Voldemort. "She, uh... She's a little intimidating."
"I like intimidating."
"You're a braver man than I," Ted said.
Vic glanced at the robot. "Hardly." He swiveled on his stool to face the bar. He leaned back against the polished wood. "What do you think would happen if we announced we were two superheroes sitting in a bar?"
"You mean, if we told the crowd we were the Blue Beetle and the Question?"
Ted had responded somewhat loudly, and Vic waited, listening intently to the murmur of voices around them.
"You know what they would say," Ted said, folding his arms. "The Question? Blue Beetle? Wait, isn't that the one with the cartoon show? The bumbling idiot who's there for comic relief?"
"That's Joxer," Vic said.
"Great. I always wanted to be played by a Raimi."
Vic glanced at him. "Sorry, but you'd be most perfectly cast as Bob Denver."
Ted groaned and put his hand over his face.
"And what about you?" Ted mumbled into his hand. "Odo?"
"Odo? My friend, I would be portrayed by none other than Clint Eastwood." Vic said in his best Clint Eastwood voice, which wasn't particularly good.
Ted's shoulders were shaking as he laughed. "And Huntress?"
"Julia Roberts, of course."
"Not Avril Lavigne?"
"Where do you get your cultural literacy?"
"Figures." Vic shook his head. He shrugged against the bar. "And, if we announced we were Ted Kord and Vic Sage?"
Ted laughed. "The crowd goes wild! Except, they'd only want you for fame, and me for fortune. Vic, have I got a story for you! Ted, fly me in your private jet?"
"More like, Vic, from Entertainment Tonight. Or Vic, from Jerry Springer. Vic, the world's a better place when you stay out of other people's business."
Ted nodded. "Ted, you're killing the environment. Ted, you're making weapons that hurt babies and cute animals."
"You're what's wrong with the world. Not what's going to save it." Vic sighed. "The world's an ugly place."
"And not worth defending?"
Vic craned his neck and studied Ted. "Nothing in this world worth defending? Not even Avril Lavigne?"
"Booster. The jackass."
Vic nodded. He jerked his shoulder toward the bartender. "Hey! Another round for me and Ted Kord! Of Kord Industries!"
"Shssh!" Ted slapped his leg. "I don't want to be fighting off the ladies."
"The ladies?" Vic threw back his head and laughed. "That's the gayest thing I've ever heard you say."
Ted frowned. "It's not! I'm not--What are you--"
Vic faced him. "Can't quite say it, can you? Can't quite lie?" Vic didn't know where the anger had come from, but he felt it in his chest, constricting his heart, the way he imagined Ted's heart was constricting with fear. His bad heart. They'd been talking about how ugly the world was, and now here it was, a grown man trembling over a schoolyard insult. Vic pressed. "Can't quite tell me you and Booster are best buddies forever. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck."
Ted swallowed. "No."
Vic picked up his fresh drink and turned away. "Ted, you're 40 years old. Let go and have some fun. Before your heart tells you that you can't anymore."
"This is fun."
The door opened and Vic's attention was drawn down to a woman in a wheelchair. Barbara Gordon, police commissioner's daughter, opening the door for her upright, bipedal companions.
"Booster," Ted said, almost an exhale, and slid off the bar.
Vic grabbed his shoulder. "Ted. You're a handsome man. Thanks for the robot."
Booster was deep in conversation with a leggy blonde Vic was intimately acquainted with both as friend and foe. Dinah probably got more superhero recognition, probably more press coverage, than Vic and Ted combined. Vic had to admit she looked better on film.
Ted hadn't gone straight to Booster. He was leaning on the wheelchair armrests to kiss Barbara's cheek. Her face broke into a smile, the same warm smile that Vic imagined he'd given Ted earlier. Indulgent. But waiting for the next break. She and Ted were probably talking shop. Firewire that and IEEE this and geekspeak. They'd even met at a computer convention, Vic remembered. He couldn't wrap his mind around it.
Dinah and Booster, Vic guessed, were trading old war stories of their days in the league, topping each other with adventures that had happened when Barbara was still in middle school. Maybe even back when she could still walk. The four were handsome, and paired into idyllic, smiling couples. Sheep despite their superhero status, Vic thought. Predictable. He watched Barbara tap Ted's forehead and heard Ted laugh shyly in response.
Vic wasn't sheep though, and knew how to look closer. Dinah's hand was resting on Barbara's shoulder, and even though her attention was on the man beside her, that casual gesture mattered. Booster, smiling and nodding at his companion, kept his attention mostly on Ted. Booster's face showed affection Vic recognized from Helena's expressions when she thought he wasn't looking at her, either. There was always something underneath.
"Hi," a husky voice said near his ear.
Vic felt a tingle race down the back of his neck. "Why, Helena."
"Vic." She was leaning against Ted's vacated stood, looking at the foursome. "Sickeningly sweet, aren't they."
"What do you see?"
"Four people about to get laid."
Vic nodded thoughtfully.
Helena whispered against his neck, "Want to make it six?"
"Do I have to buy you dinner?"
"You can buy me breakfast."
The group at the door was moving. Booster and Dinah were carrying two disposable cups of coffee each, and they were heading back into the night. Vic wondered if they were going to frolic in a park. Ted waved apologetically at Vic before he disappeared through the door.
Vic waved back.
* * *
Outside, Ted inhaled deeply and stretched his arms. "Sometimes I forget how great fresh air can be."
"Good for your heart?" Booster glanced at him.
"It's just a question!"
Booster crossed his arms.
"Want to go for a ride in the Blue Beetle?"
Booster raised an eyebrow. "Where are we going?"
"Wellk it'd be us taking the ride, the Beetle'll just stay on the roof."
"I can't believe you said that."
"But I'm glad you did."
* * *
Inside, Helena polished off Vic's tequila. "What were you boys talking about?"
"How beautiful the world is."
Vic rested his chin against his hand and curled his lips. "I think so. With you in it. If you weren't... It probably wouldn't be worth saving."
Helena shook her head. "Where were you when I was getting shot?"
"I'm here now. Not to save you, mind you. I know you wouldn't want that. Just to observe. So that when you go down, I pull the plug and call the Illuminati."
"Romantic." Helena snorted. She poked the robot that stood on the bar. "What's that?"
"Ted made me an action figure," Vic said. "The epitome of hokey. But at least it doesn't tal--"
The robot's eyes had glowed red in response to her touch. The head rotated in her direction and Vic heard, "Greetings, Miss Bertinelli. How are you today?"
"Goddamnit to hell," Helena said.