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Chapter 8

L.A. Times
Saturday, December 22nd

Famed LA Doctor confesses to 22 year old murder
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By Vic Sage
Freelance Journalist
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Twenty two years ago, the medical community was shocked and saddened to learn of the untimely death of one of its brightest and most talented stars, Dr. Harrison Gray. With incomparable skills and style in the field of plastic and reconstructive surgery, Dr. Gray had made millions in Gotham City catering to stars of stage and screen as well as Gotham’s surgery-happy upper class. He was well poised to take the field to whole new levels when he tragically became a victim of an apparent hit and run. Though initially declared an accident, many felt that Dr. Gray met his end through much more sinister means. During the last year of his life, Gray had become more and more reclusive, claiming that he had received many threats on his life. His paranoia became legendary among the medical community up until the night of his untimely demise.

The investigation into his death was long and detailed, confounded by a mountain of conflicting evidence, lack of credible eye-witnesses and the surprising complete disappearance of the vehicle that had struck him down. Many believed that the promise by Metropolis’s own hero, Superman, to solve the case meant that the world would soon have its answer. Several newspapers even reported rumors of the involvement of Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective, the Batman becoming involved in the investigation as well. After years of investigation and scientific study, however, the case was officially declared "Unsolved" and filed away, destined to remain in the back of the police files forever.

That is, until last Thursday when amazingly, Dr. Miles Stryder, a former associate of Dr. Gray’s, waltzed into the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and declared his intention to confess to the 22 year-old murder. Stryder is known by most of the world as Hollywood’s "Surgeon to the Stars" -- easily nine of the top ten actresses in the industry today can credit Stryder for providing them with the "assets" so many in the industry deem as necessary for advancement. Why such a famous and respected doctor would come forward after 22 years and confess to a crime he helped perpetrate is still a mystery, but confess he did. Stryder sat down in the District Attorney’s office and proceeded to spin a tale that sounded more like the plot of one of his famous client’s Oscar-winning films than true life. His story went as follows:

Dr. Gray had indeed received multiple threats on his life, most notably from a fanatical terrorist organization called El Kazar who took issue with the fact that Gray had performed a radical facial reconstruction on a man they claimed was an enemy of Allah, allowing him to escape their wrath. During the last year of his life, Gray did limit his exposure; his only real public appearances during that year were a result of his relationship with a young and talented actress named Savannah Summer.

Several months before his death, Gray and Summer publicly announced their engagement at the premiere of her first major motion picture. This would be the last time Gray would be seen publicly until the night of his death. Rumors floated around the medical community that Gray was poised to make a major announcement to the world. The rumors were confirmed by Miles Stryder, then a bright, young medical student and Dr. Gray’s protégé, who addressed the media, claiming that Dr. Gray would be making his first public announcement in over a year to the assembled members of the medical community at MedCon - a major medical-field gathering sponsored by, chiefly, the AMA - held that year in Metropolis. Gray showed up at the conference, with Summer on his arm, looking happier, brighter and more energetic than many had seen from the man in years. That evening, before a stunned collection of medical professionals, Gray announced that he was quitting his private practice and devoting all of his time and his considerable resources and talent to the creation of a clinic that would provide, free of charge, reconstructive surgery for underprivileged disabled and disfigured children as well as victims of disfiguring violent crimes who were unable to afford the surgery themselves. He claimed it was his way of giving back to the community that had given him so much. That night, as he and Summer left the hotel, a large, unmarked van hopped the curb and ran him down, killing him instantly.

It turned out that not a week before his death, Gray had changed his will so that Summer would receive the entirety of his inheritance, a fact that did not sit very well with Gray’s mother, Claudia Gray. Claudia had spent decades working 3 jobs to put her boy through medical school. She was repaid in kind by her son over the years, who used his considerable fortune to supply her with a house, a car, amenities and spending money. However, Gray’s new will made no provisions for his mother or her care. In a very nasty, very public feud that many readers may well remember, Claudia Gray and Savannah Summer battled over the legality and contents of the will, including several outright accusations from Mrs. Gray that Summer had a hand in her son’s death. This battle would resurface from time to time over the years, usually because of Claudia Gray. It seemed that whenever Savannah Summer made the news for one reason or another, Claudia wouldn’t be far behind, rehashing the old story and reopening the old wounds.

While all of this was going on, Miles Stryder transferred from Gotham University to UCLA, where he finished Medical School and went into private practice, focussing on, not surprisingly, plastic surgery. Many of Stryder’s colleagues were amazed at the skill and prowess he exhibited in his work, reaffirming for more than a few why Gray had taken the young man under his wing. Within a few short years, Stryder had become one of Southern California’s most well respected and oft-visited surgeons. The Hollywood rumor mill began tittering about a relationship brewing between the young Stryder and his former mentor’s fiancée, Savannah Summer, to which Claudia Gray publicly chided as "an insult to the memory of her son". After a brief romance, Stryder and Summer were wed in a small ceremony at a secret retreat in the hills of Northern California. Claudia Gray went ballistic, the most notable example being the now-infamous Lester Knight Live! interview where she called the marriage a "collaboration of sin" and she called Summer everything from "whore" to "murderer". Sadly, Claudia Gray passed away two years ago, eerily almost 20 years to the day of her son’s death.

It was at this point during the confession that Stryder dropped the bombshell: that he was, in fact, the late Dr. Harrison Gray! As he tells it, he had become more and more paranoid and concerned over the increasing death threats he had been receiving. So much so, that he devised a plan to protect himself and his fiancée for the future. He had "hand-picked" Miles Stryder to be his assistant not only because of his potential prowess and blossoming abilities, but also because the young man possessed similar body, bone and facial structure to Dr. Gray himself. After a year of mentoring, tutoring and friendship, Gray approached Stryder with his plan: they would operate on one another, changing each other’s faces to switch identities. For his part, Stryder would receive access to Gray’s considerable fortunes, free access to stay on with Gray’s clinic and perform surgeries without having to complete medical school, and instantly gain Gray’s medical community acceptance all to keep up appearances that he was, in fact, Dr. Gray. Over several months, they perfected the ruse, even to the point that Stryder performed many of the surgeries at Gray’s clinic while Gray, in the guise of the young protégé, would watch on. None of the patients would complain, as having a young medical student in the room to observe to surgery was not an unheard of occurrence. As for what Gray got out of the deal, he was happy just to be able to continue his medical career without all of the public attention. The young and ambitious Stryder accepted instantly, his eyes filled with visions of instant wealth, fame and notoriety. After the switching, the real Gray, now living as the young Stryder, planned his former protégé’s demise, knowing that only with the death of "Dr. Gray" would he and Summer be able to live their lives in relative peace.

Stryder’s, (or should I say Gray’s) story began to twist even more as he laid out for the District Attorney the graphic and gory details of Stryder’s murder, including (Continued on page A-10)

 

Clark set the paper down on his lap, and picked up the glass of milk from the table beside the couch, smiling softly to himself. Lois was still leaning on his shoulders, where she had been reading over his head. Clark could feel the slight tension in her arms; she was in "investigative journalist" mode.

"I still don’t get it," she exclaimed. "After all this time… how? How did Batman figure this out?"

Clark chuckled lightly. "The mother," he offered, as if that were explanation enough.

"Okay, now you're starting to sound like him, Smallville," Lois said in mock disgust, slapping him lightly on the back of the head before moving around to the front of the couch and sitting down next to him. "Try using more than 3 syllables and start again. What about the mother?"

Clark smiled lovingly at his wife. He loved watching her mind work as she attempted to figure things out; he thought she was at her cutest when she was frustrated by a story like this. Of course, he would never say as much. He learned a long time ago that if one wanted to keep one’s sanity -- and various parts of one’s anatomy -- intact, one never combined the words "Lois Lane" and "Cute" in the same sentence.

Clark explained. "After Savanah Summer collected on the inheritance she received from Gray’s death, Batman put a tracer on the money. He still had his suspicions that she and Stryder were behind it, so he decided to keep tabs on them. Over the years, most of that money went untouched -- a little trip here, some of Stryder’s Med School tuition there, but nothing major. Batman left the tracer in place and held onto a handful of physical evidence from the crime scene, but eventually had to 'back-burner' the case once we had both moved on to other, more pressing matters. The money moved from account to account over the years, but for the most part it just sat in the bank, collecting interest. Then, two years ago when Gray’s mother passed away, a rather large sum was deducted from that money and used to cover all of her medical, funeral, and burial expenses, as well as absolving a rather high amount of debt that she left behind."

"And considering how much she and Summer had hated each other, why would Summer turn around and settle things like that," Lois prompted, starting to put the pieces together in her own mind.

Clark smiled at his wife again; she truly was a remarkable woman. "Exactly. So when Batman re-opened the investigation, he discovered the payments and decided to check up on Stryder and Summer. It wasn’t until he actually watched Stryder going about his daily routine that he noticed something strange. Stryder had a lot of the same body movements, mannerisms and habits that Gray used to. So, thanks to the handful of physical evidence from the original case and the advancements in DNA testing over the last 20 years, Batman was able to determine the truth: that Miles Stryder was in fact Harrison Gray, which meant the body lying in Gray’s grave was actually that of the original Miles Stryder."

"Unreal," Lois admitted.

"The funny part is," Clark added, "this case would have never been solved if it weren’t for the fact that Batman drew my name for the Secret Santa giveaway this year…"

"Wait a second," Lois interrupted, "so how did we get from Batman discovering the truth to Stryder/Gray waltzing into police headquarters and confessing to the crime?"

Clark looked over the rim of his glasses at his wife, a small smirk crossing his face. "He’s Batman."

"Darling," Lois cooed, taking his hand and staring lovingly into his eyes, "sweetheart, love of my life… I love you dearly, but if you ever do that again, I’m leaving you." She playfully stuck her tongue out at her husband, then stood and walked toward the kitchen.

"Hey, this is Bruce we're talking about," Clark replied to her departing back. "He can be very… persuasive."

"Persuasive, huh?" Lois chided, coming back out of the kitchen with a can of diet soda. "Is that what they're calling it nowadays?"

"Well, whatever Batman’s methods were, they were effective. Quite frankly, I don’t think I want to know how he did it…"

"And you call yourself a journalist," Lois pshawed.

Clark simply rolled his eyes and took another sip of his milk.

"So how did the rest of the party go last night," Lois changed the subject, coming to sit next to him on the couch again.

"Pretty well," Clark admitted. "Kon-el spent the rest of the night following Barda around. Wally and Kyle took turns attempting to keep Bart from climbing the walls. Literally. Diana was a bit… distracted…"

"Oh?" It was supposed to just be a statement. A question, even. A simple indication of curiosity. But even Lois recognized the spite in her voice as the half-grunted word tumbled from her lips.

Clark steam-rolled ahead, wanting no part of the Great Diana Debate. "Well, apparently Arthur left immediately following the gift exchange, rather upset about the gift she had given him. So she spent most of the evening a bit annoyed…"

"Too bad for her, then," Lois replied, again sounding a bit more callous than she intended. She knew Clark still saw that insufferable bitch as a friend, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.

"I don’t know," Clark said flatly, staring down into his milk glass, "I just wish they'd settle this once and for all and we can all just put this bull-malarkey behind us…"

Lois turned to regard her husband, a sly smile on her face. He looked back at her, a questioning look on his brow.

"Y'know, Smallville," She drawled in her best condescending School Marm voice, "you are an adult now. You can say the word 'bullshit' if you like…"

Batman had his patented BatGlare: that sneering, vicious look that could reduce men of even the strongest will to quivering mounds of terrified flesh. Superman, however, had what was simply referred to as The Stare. It was that paternal "tsk-tsk-you-should-know-better" stare that rather than instilling fear, instilled that overwhelming sense of guilt in most people. It was safe to say however, that Lois Lane was not "most people". It was certainly Superman who laid The Stare on her at that moment and she simply smirked wickedly, then reached out and adoringly pinched his cheek.

"Why Superman," she responded, "you're so cute when you're trying to be so self-righteous." She released his cheek, chuckling and stood up, heading back toward the bedroom. "Don’t forget, Smallville, we're having dinner with Perry tonight."

Apparently, the words "cute" and "Superman" were perfectly acceptable sentence partners. Clark stood, finished his milk and returned the empty glass to the kitchen before following Lois back toward the bedroom to change. A high-pitched beeping stopped him halfway up the hall, though. He paused and looked into the second bedroom that had become their study/library/work/computer room as Lois stuck her head out of the bedroom door.

"Are you fucking kidding me?!" she spat, the annoyance clearly palpable in her voice. "You spent all night last night with those people. Can’t they leave you alone for just one night!"

"Lois…" Superman started, but was immediately cut off by his annoyed wife. "Spare me the 'Duty' speeches, Smallville. Just answer your damn summons."

Clark sighed lightly, then headed into the computer room and opened the hidden JLA Communicator station in the bookshelf.

 

Soon after the accident that changed him into Plastic Man, Eel O'brian had attempted to come to grips with exactly what had happened to him. The immediate changes were obvious. The pliability and shape-changing abilities came on almost naturally. He also found that his entire perspective was… skewed. He began to perceive the world around him like one big cartoon -- hence his "strange" sense of humor. But he wanted to know more. Like many people who acquire new-found powers of some kind, he simply wanted to know what he could and couldn’t do.

One of these "tests" was a trip up to the Catskills where he climbed to the highest peak he could find, tied a large rock to his feet, grabbed a nearby tree and sent the rock tumbling down the side of the mountain. He learned two things on that fateful day: one, that he could stretch his body out to just over a mile in length; and two, that after a mile or so of stretching, his body would start to tear like an over-extended rubber band. The resulting gash in his side and subsequent tumble down the mountain after he released his hold on the tree were painful reminders that, regardless of his amazing abilities, he was still human and he could be wounded. His immediate concern was repairing the damage to his side. He quickly discovered that normal bandages would never work; one stretch and the bandages simply popped off. In a panic, he scoured the drug store looking for a solution. Then he saw it, shining through the night like a small, egg-shaped bright plastic Holy Grail.

Silly Putty.

He immediately bought out the drug store’s entire stock of the pliable goo and ran home. To his chagrin, he discovered that the putty did very little to help heal the wound, but it did have an interesting side effect. One minute after applying the putty, the wound began to tingle. After five minutes, his entire side was completely numb. After ten minutes, the wound had still not healed, but Eel suddenly didn’t care anymore. His mind was floating in a haze of bright colors and weird lights. His normally Warner Brothers-ish cartoony perspective began to shift into a Crumb/Bakshi landscape.

Back during his days as a criminal, Eel was no stranger to intoxicating substances. He was, by no means, a drunkard or a junkie, but he wasn’t exactly a teetotaler either. He'd done enough "experimenting" to know first hand the concept of a "drug trip". That night, as the clock slowly ticked past the 30 minute mark, he found himself merely laying back on the bed and letting the feeling wash over him. The wound eventually healed itself, but the memory of that night burned into his psyche.

Over the years, Eel had made some interesting discoveries about the substance he had come to regard as simply "The Putty". Through a little trial and error, he determined that a small pinch, swallowed like a pill, would have the same effect as a few aspirin. A slightly larger pinch would combine the pain-reduction with a mild sedating effect. As the doses got bigger and bigger, so did the Putty’s effect. It also worked as a magnificent topical anesthetic. Years after the "Catskills Incident", he learned that the best way to repair tearing damage was with extreme heat. Heat caused his body to "melt" into a much gooier state, allowing him to press the wound closed and seal it. Thanks to the numbing effects of the Putty, he could use as much heat as necessary without having to "feel the burn".

Periodically, however, he did use the Putty for more than… medicinal purposes. That was why, the morning after the JLA Holiday Party, Eel sat at his kitchen table, staring down at his present from Wally that could only be described as "The Motherlode": 36 little plastic eggs filled with intoxicating joy. Eel had been playing with the things ever since he woke up. He swirled them all around on the table. He arranged them in neat little rows. He organized them all by color. He attempted to make egg-pyramids. He simply couldn’t believe his luck. He made a mental note to thank Wally in a huge way…

The small beeping filled his apartment, tearing him from his intense concentration on the sea of bright plastic on the table in front of him. Grunting in disgust, he got up and went into his den, sitting down at his make-shift computer desk. His JLA comm unit was hidden behind a stack of papers, which he promptly tossed aside. A look of confusion crossed his rubbery face for a moment, quickly replaced by a sly smile. His arm reached back into the kitchen, grabbed one of the eggs off of the table and brought it back to him. He pried the plastic egg open, pulled out a thumb-sized chunk, rolled it into a ball and popped it into his mouth. Leaning back in his chair, he set his feet up on the desk and stared intently at the small view screen…

 

"… and a quick solution, sir. Very well. I shall send notice forthwith."

Arthur and Vulko sat in Arthur’s ready chambers, discussing several affairs of the kingdom. Vulko presented his King with various items that needed decisions as Arthur sat stoically behind his desk, his mind only half on the tasks at hand. They were suddenly interrupted by a familiar beeping. They paused, staring at each other for a moment as the beeping continued, then Arthur dropped his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his fingers. Vulko stood and headed for the door, taking a mountain of papers under his arm. He paused and turned back to his King, who was moving over toward the JLA Comm unit.

"Shall I tell the guards to warm up the teleport device for you, sir?"

"Might as well," Arthur replied, almost reluctantly. "Just in case." Vulko nodded his acceptance, turned and walked out.

The screen flickered briefly as Arthur turned it on. He stared, motionless at the screen, the muscles in his shoulders reflexively tensing as he read the block of text before him.

"Oh, fuck me…" the King of Atlantis muttered.

 

Detroit Detective John Jones sat at his desk, filling out a case file on his laptop.

"I don’t know how you do it, Jones," the sultry female voice echoed through the office. John looked up and smiled at the speaker: Jones Investigations newest employee, Diane Meade. John had struggled for a long time with the decision to hire a partner for Jones Investigations because of the potential problems with his "other life". Unfortunately, JI’s ever-growing caseload combined with J'onn’s growing JLA responsibilities were making it clear that he would need a little assistance.

All his concerns immediately melted away the day Diane came in for her interview. John had been mired in a sea of amazingly similar applicants: middle-aged, pudgy, slightly-balding retired cops who didn’t want to be "totally out of the game yet"; ex-military guys with too long a criminal record for real police work; and a few guys who had seen a few too many episodes of Magnum P.I. and Mike Hammer. Then, in waltzed Diane. She was bright, witty, charming, friendly and talented. Undergraduate degree in Criminology from NYU, Masters Degree in Criminal Psychology from MSU, 6 years as a Criminal Investigator with the Midtown Police Department Homicide Division -- she had all the makings of an excellent Federal Agent, except for her "healthy distaste of all governmental agencies" (as it said on her résumé). Cram all of that into a 5' 10" well-built frame, with fiery red hair and personality to match, and John was intrigued. During the interview, she looked him straight in the eye, told him she had looked over his case history and determined that he had been running his own agency directly into the toilet. He hired her on the spot.

Her comment still hung in the air as she stood, arms crossed over her chest as she leaned up against the door jamb. John maintained his smile while he cocked a questioning eyebrow at her. She pushed off from the doorway and sauntered across his office toward his desk.

"You have this uncanny ability to take these seemingly incongruous clues and piece them all together in the correct order to solve your case. I swear, sometimes it’s like you're a mind reader…"

John chuckled lightly, still tapping away at his keyboard. "I guess you could say that I have a better understanding of the criminal mindset than most…" he replied absently.

"Really…" Diane replied, intrigued. She slid over to the front of his desk, leaning over and eyeing him curiously. "Sounds like Mysterious Confessions of a Misspent Youth."

John stopped typing and flicked his eyes up to meet her probing gaze. His smile widened a little as he replied with a flippant "Something like that…"

He returned his attention to the screen as she continued to stare down at him. She eyed him up and down, then chuckled lightly to herself, standing back up. "You're a strange bird, Jones. Anyone ever tell you that?"

"Once or twice," he replied, typing again. He stopped suddenly, his eyes darting to the side and his head cocking ever so slightly, then he quickly returned his attention to the screen.

It was so quick that it would have gone unnoticed by most people. Diane’s ever-cautious eye caught the move. "What?" she asked, her brow furrowing slightly.

He looked up at her and responded with an oblivious sounding "Huh?"

"Don’t play games with me, Jones. I saw that little look. You look like you noticed something strange…" her eyes shifted over to where he had glanced, trying to determine what he had been looking at. Truth was, it wasn’t something visual that had caught his attention, it was something aural.

"Oh that," John replied, trying to pull her attention back to him. "Sorry, a thought just occurred to me about another case. Caught me off guard…"

She eyed him curiously again for a long moment, then shrugged. "You certainly are an enigma, Jones. I think I’m gonna like working for you."

"Thank you… I think," he chuckled, then looked up at the clock on the wall. "Y'know, Diane, it’s Saturday, it’s getting late and I’m almost done here. Why don’t you head out for the night and I’ll see you on Monday."

Diane adopted a look of mock annoyance. "What is this, the blow-off? You tryin' to get rid of me?"

"No, no, no!" he replied apologetically, "I didn’t mean it like that, I just meant that…"

"Relax, boss. It’s called a sense of humor. Look into it sometime." She winked, smiling wide. "I’ll see ya on Monday." She turned and strolled out casually.

J'onn waited until he heard her leaving the outside office, quickly scanning with his x-ray vision to make sure she was actually gone. Once he saw that she was safely in her car and on her way, he closed his laptop and spun around in his chair. Then, he reached up and pulled away the fake book spines on the lower right shelf to reveal the JLA Comm Unit. A small red light flashed in the corner, blinking at the same interval as the supersonic beeping that had initially caught his attention. He flicked the view screen on and was met with a block of words on the screen:

A Holiday Missive from Diana, Princess of Themyscira

 

Kyle sat at his home computer, browsing the web for some new charcoal pencils. After ten continuous minutes of the droning Princess Prattlehead, he had moved his JLA Comm unit next to his computer monitor so he could keep doing what he had been doing before the interruption. All of a sudden, an Instant Message window popped up, a familiar nickname adorning the top line:

ScrltSpdDmon: Dude, WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!?!?
ScrltSpdDmon: Hi, BTW! :P

Kyle laughed at Wally’s intro, then began typing back.

GreenJeansV5.0: hey! PP’s on the prowl again
ScrltSpdDmon: Seriously! Y'know, when I signed on with this "crew"
ScrltSpdDmon: I did't realize that part of the job requirements included having to listen to Bitchy McPreachy-pants.
GreenJeansV5.0: ROFL!!
ScrltSpdDmon: ;) :P
GreenJeansV5.0: now cmon. was that really in the "spirit of the season"? ;)
ScrltSpdDmon: Yeah, yeah… I got your "spirit" right here…
ScrltSpdDmon: Besides, she opens herself up to ridicule pulling stupid shit like this!
GreenJeansV5.0: not that we'd say that to her face. ;)
ScrltSpdDmon: Of course not. It’s more fun to say it behind her back. :P
GreenJeansV5.0: I dunno. I guess she _means_ well
ScrltSpdDmon: Well meaning or not, I don’t care. If I wanted a Sermon, I’d go to church!
GreenJeansV5.0: still it’s not like this is totally unexpected
ScrltSpdDmon: True. I dunno. I guess I was hoping that Artie had boinked a little sense into her…
GreenJeansV5.0: OMG!! dude, you did NOT just say that! ugh!
ScrltSpdDmon: Heh heh heh
GreenJeansV5.0: hey, speaking of Fishy, you notice that every time PP starts rambling off the list of holidays in this little diatribe, she makes sure to include the Atlantean Migration Festival…
ScrltSpdDmon: Yeah, I did notice that. Got to make sure she includes Artie in all of this… wouldn’t want him to get the wrong idea and storm out on the party again!
GreenJeansV5.0: no shit, man. WTF was that about?!
ScrltSpdDmon: I dunno. Don’t think I want to.
GreenJeansV5.0: I mean, sure he got a shitty gift, but really…
ScrltSpdDmon: Nah, I think there’s more to it than that. Something about what it was.
GreenJeansV5.0: Who knows

ScrltSpdDmon: Jesus, how long is this going to go on?!?
GreenJeansV5.0: I don’t know. And don’t call me Jesus ;)
ScrltSpdDmon: Oh, ha ha.
GreenJeansV5.0: I bet we're the only 2 left watching at this point
ScrltSpdDmon: No no. Remember, this is coming from the Tower. She knows exactly who’s logged on and who isn’t. And we all know that if we tune out now, we'll just get a worse tongue-lashing later.
GreenJeansV5.0: good point - hadnt thought of that!
ScrltSpdDmon: Well, at least Plaz'll be happy.
GreenJeansV5.0: ?
ScrltSpdDmon: Notice that she stayed far enough away from the camera so that Zan and Jayna were still visible. :P LOL
GreenJeansV5.0: oh cmon, man. enough with the WonderTwins cracks.
GreenJeansV5.0: besides, as I recall, _you_ didn’t know who they were either!
ScrltSpdDmon: LOL Fair enough. Still, I just love callin' 'em J-Z
GreenJeansV5.0: LOL
ScrltSpdDmon: I mean, can’t you just see 'em bouncing around:
ScrltSpdDmon: "H to tha izzO, V to tha izzA"
GreenJeansV5.0: ROFL!!
ScrltSpdDmon: *bows* Thank you, Thank you. I’ll be here all week. Try your waitresses, tip the veal.
ScrltSpdDmon: I love being the Rap King of the JLA :D
GreenJeansV5.0: Than again, I’m probably the only member of that court…
ScrltSpdDmon: True. I don’t picture Bats sitting around his little cave blasting The Eminem Show…
GreenJeansV5.0: ugh, don’t talk to me about bats right now
ScrltSpdDmon: Why? What happened? He do something to you?
GreenJeansV5.0: no, not The Bat. A bat
ScrltSpdDmon: o_0 ??
GreenJeansV5.0: Jen… "discovered" last night that I had a bat nesting in the coat closet
ScrltSpdDmon: WHAT?!?!
GreenJeansV5.0: Yeah, pretty fukked up
ScrltSpdDmon: No way, dude. That’s bizarre!!
GreenJeansV5.0: no kidding. we spent like half the night trying to get the damn thing out of the apartment
ScrltSpdDmon: Holy Shit!! LOL
GreenJeansV5.0: it wasn’t funny!
ScrltSpdDmon: Sorry, that’s just too bizarre for words. What the hell happened?

Kyle relayed the entire story about the failed attempts to remove the bat from his apartment, both he and Wally conveniently forgetting the Holiday Missive still in progress.

 

"In conclusion, I call upon each and every one of you to do your part to help spread the spirit of this season. Whether we care to admit it or not, we are all role models, not only for the younger generation, but for all of humanity. As such, it is imperative for us to lead by example and demonstrate to all the world that we can live in peace and harmony with one another, we can settle all disputes amicably and peacefully, we can open our hearts and minds to people of all races, all religions, all nationalities and all generations. Love knows no boundaries. Love knows no borders. Love knows no politics. Love is love, pure and simple and love is what will guide us and the rest of humanity into a brighter tomorrow. Thank you, good night and Happiest of Holidays to each and every one of you."

Diana reached out and disconnected the feed, smiling warmly. She was happy, content in the knowledge that her message of peace was getting out.

"Nice speech."

The low, rumbling voice caught her off guard. She had thought she was alone in the Watchtower. She jumped and squealed lightly, turning toward the doorway. Arthur stood, arms folded across his chest, leaning against the door frame and staring directly at her.

"A-Arthur? Hera, you startled me. I didn’t expect anyone else to be here." She smiled lightly, chuckling at her own reaction to getting caught unawares. In response, Arthur smiled wryly, not moving an inch or showing any other signs of response. She eyed him curiously for a moment, then returned her attention to the monitor womb screens, making her preparations to continue duty.

"So what brings you up here tonight?" She asked back over her shoulder.

"Isn’t it obvious?" His voice was flat, monotone.

She turned back to face him again, a confused look crossing her brow. "Obvious?"

Arthur gave and half-hearted chuckle and shook his head slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. "C'mon, Diana. This whole 'Holiday Missive' thing? You were trying to send a message. Well, message received." The anger and animosity started to grow in his voice.

"I hope so," Diana responded slowly, still confused. Why would Arthur be upset that she was spreading her message of peace? "If everyone pitches in, we can make some real changes. Especially this time of year…"

"Cut the crap, Di." Arthur interrupted, finally moving away from the doorway and approaching her. "You think I didn’t get the real meaning behind all of this? ‘settling disputes amicably', 'Resolving internal conflicts', 'putting aside personal gain for the betterment of everyone else'… It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what you were really talking about."

"Arthur, what are you talking about?"

He sighed, obviously trying to keep his composure. "What was with the gift?"

"The Gift?" she replied, now even more confused at the sudden change of topic.

"Yeah, the gift. The statue…" he prompted, as if having to remind her about it.

Now Diana sighed, suddenly starting to understand at least part of the impetus behind this visit. She had followed Donna suggestion to get him a peace offering. Now it seemed that the intention wasn’t well received. "Look, Arthur. The statue was supposed to be a peace offering. I was just trying to indicate that maybe we ought to… bury the hatchet, as it were."

"A peace offering?!" he responded, exasperated. He turned and started to pace, still trying to keep a calm demeanor but quickly failing at it.

"Yes, a peace offering," she admitted. "You know, doves… symbol of peace…"

He suddenly spun on her, his face quickly reddening as he shouted. "It was the Golden Dove of APHRODITE!!" He paused momentarily as she reeled slightly from the outburst. "You think I wouldn’t know that?!" he continued, attempting to calm himself some. He hadn’t wanted another shouting match, but he knew they had to resolve this, once and for all. "That statue isn’t a symbol of peace, it’s a symbol of love!"

Her brow softened lightly as realization started to set in. He had misunderstood the meaning of the gift. "Arthur, wait. That was never my intention…"

"Bullshit!" he screamed at her face, then turned and started pacing again. "That’s bullshit, Princess. You know all too well exactly what that statue stands for. You give that shit to me last night, and then tonight you start pulling this ridiculous soapbox bullshit…"

"Now wait a second," Diana attempted to interrupt, suddenly going on the defensive. Attacking her was one thing, but attacking her message?

He was suddenly in her face again. "WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!?!"

Her Amazon defenses instinctively kicked in. "Want? WANT?! I DOn’t WANT ANYTHIN…" she stopped abruptly, realizing that it was all falling apart again. She stepped back, taking a deep breath, and remembered Donna’s suggestion. Diana knew how to handle conflict resolution.

"Arthur, I appreciate your concerns here and I understand where you are coming from. Maybe we need to sit down and discuss this matter more fully…"

He stared at her as if he’d been slapped. "What the fuck is this?" he growled. " 'Discuss this matter more fully'?! Don’t play the Ambassador with me! This isn’t about King and Princess. This isn’t Ruler vs. Ambassador. This is about you and me! Person to person. Don’t try to fucking placate me like some evil dictator."

Diana sighed again and threw her hands in the air, getting exasperated herself. "Then what do you want me to say, Arthur?"

"The Truth, Diana," he replied, suddenly finding himself calming down as well. The shouting was over. They both knew it was time to hash this out once and for all. "That’s all I've ever wanted from you. The Truth."

She smiled lightly in spite of herself. "I think it’s fair to say I can do that."

He gave a one-grunt chuckle, admitting the humor in asking for the Truth from the one charged as its Champion. In that one shared moment, something happened. They both realized the futility of arguing over and over again. The tension in the room began to diminish, replaced by a strange sort of calm. All the anger, all the bitterness started to wither away as they stood, face to face, and resigned themselves to finally resolve their problems once and for all. She looked up at him with softer eyes. "What do you want to know?"

"What happened?" he probed. "Where did we go wrong?"

She thought for a moment, allowing herself to dwell back on times that she had tried to put behind her. "I-I don’t know. I guess it all started with that night in Atlantis. I had lost the Lasso. I was confused, upset, hurt, angry… lost. My heart rebelled against everything that my mind perceived as a lie. And I lashed out at you. I never meant to hurt you. I just didn’t know what was happening to me."

He nodded a brief agreement, not wanting to interrupt her. He would let he talk, say what she needed to say.

"After that, once I got the Lasso back and started working with J'onn, I could finally see all that had happened. I was so ashamed, so distraught over what I had allowed myself to do and who I allowed myself to hurt… I had disrespected the honor of my heritage and my ancestors. I've been trying to resolve that, trying to correct my mistakes and right the wrongs I had perpetuated. I-I tried to confront you about it, tried to apologize, but…"

"But I wouldn’t let you," he finished for her. "I was so angry. I was so bitter and so confused. I felt like you'd taken all that we had and tossed it aside merely to placate your ego. I felt like you had ripped out my heart and spat on it. So I reacted. I did what I always do: I lashed back…"

Then spent a quiet moment just staring at each other. Arthur finally dropped his head and sighed, then look back into her eyes. "So… what now?"

The question seemed to catch her of guard. She was expecting to talk this out more, to address the myriad of problems and confrontations, but she realized that Arthur was finished with that part of the conversation. Pushing for more now would only bring the animosity back.

"What do you mean: 'What now'?"

"Where do we go from here? What about… us?"

She looked away, trying to search her only feelings for an answer. "Oh. 'Us'. I don’t…"

His hand reached up, gently catching her chin and nudging her face back toward his. His face was serious. Not stern or angry or bitter, just serious. "Do you still love me?"

She paused. "I-I don’t know…" His shoulders slumped slightly as his hand fell away from her chin. Then, he took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and began to nod slowly, as if confirming to himself what he already knew. She caressed the side of his face gently, staring back into his eyes.

"I do love you, Arthur, I always will. You touch a part of me that no one else ever has. Our time together has meant more to me than words can say. I love you. I respect you. I admire you…"

"But you're no longer in love with me," he concluded, looking deep into her eyes for confirmation. There was a slight pause, then she finally spoke.

"No. No I’m not."

He took a deep breath, then nodded slowly. "That’s it then," he said quietly. "Okay… okay. Thank you. Thank you for being honest with me."

"Of course," she answered, a light concern welling up within her. He started to turn to leave, but she reached out and grabbed his shoulders. "Arthur, what about you?"

His brow furrowed slightly in confusion. "What about me?"

"How do you feel," she urged, her eyes searching his for the answer.

He paused for a moment, pain creeping onto his face. He turned his face to the side, away from her probing stare. "How I feel doesn’t matter."

"Please," she urged again. "Please tell me Arthur. I need to know."

His face suddenly shot back up to hers. "You need to know?" A light growl returned to his voice that she instantly recognized not as anger or bitterness, but pain. "You need to know that every time you walk into the room, my heart leaps into my throat? You need to know that every time we make contact, your touch is like an electric shock that goes straight to my soul? You need to know that every time I’m near you, my heart aches because I can’t touch you, I can’t hold you, I can’t have you, I can’t be with you? Is that what you need to know?!"

She reached out to his face, tears welling up in her eyes. "Oh, Arthur…"

His hand shot up and grabbed her wrist, stopping her from making contact. "Don’t!" he growled forcefully. He paused, staring at her and his face suddenly loosened. "Don’t," he repeated, much softer. "I don’t want your pity, Diana. This is me. This is my thing to deal with. I’ll deal with it in my own way. You don’t need to worry about it…"

"But I do worry, Arthur. Is there anything I can do?" she pleaded, trying again to move her hand to his face, but his grip held firm. "What will it take to make this right by you?"

He pulled her in, wrapping his arms around her in an embrace. After a moment, he pulled away slightly, leaned down and kissed her on the lips. It was a kiss devoid of desire, devoid of lust, devoid of passion. It was an answer. It was a promise.

He pulled away, braking the kiss and stared deeply into her eyes one last time. "Time," he replied. "All it will take is time." He brought her in close again, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead. His muscles tensed slightly around her as they stayed locked in that embrace for what seemed like forever. He finally pulled away from her again, smiled weakly, then turned around and walked out, leaving her standing in the middle of the Monitor Womb, sobbing softly.

To be continued...

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