The 'oh boy, ain't she a fangirl' timeline.
"Morning," Sand Hawkins murmured in the general direction of the kitchen table. Groggy, sore, and not at all used to having a crowd around first thing in the morning, he half-felt his way towards the coffee maker.
The mugs were in the cupboard over the perk pot and he squinted to find one that wasn't meant for tea. Coffee cups weren't used for tea and vice versa - coffee oils never truly getting washed out, no matter how many times through the dishwasher. It had been a belief of Wes's that had gotten too ingrained in his own habits to be discarded once he'd realized it was an idiosyncrasy not shared by the world at large. Like many other of Wes's more peculiar quirks, he'd come to realize. All of which he had been cataloguing the last few days, sometimes with others in reminisces, but mostly within the confines of his own mind. Now that Wes was gone, he wanted to see how much of the man he considered father, friend, and hero still remained within him.
He shook his head to clear his thoughts, squeezing his eyes shut as they burned with the very beginnings of fresh tears. He didn't need this now. Not with spectators.
Sand didn't need to turn around to know that he was being watch. He could feel the eyes on his back as he opened the fridge to retrieve the whole milk and pour some into his cup before adding the coffee. And the chatter that had been quite audible as he'd approached the kitchen had not resumed.
Were he not feeling like he was, he'd have tried for conversation. Or at least made a joke about being more entertaining than whatever had had Courtney and Jack tried to talk over the other like squabbling siblings. But instead, he sipped his coffee, made a mental note to write out directions so whoever made it tomorrow would put about three more scoops of beans into the grinder, and tried to smooth down his hair with his free hand as he took the last empty seat at the table.
"You look like hell, kid," Ted Grant said as he stood up to put his cup in the sink. "If I didn't know exactly where you were last night, I'd have my ideas. Or didja sneak out..."
Sand smiled weakly as Ted headed out of the kitchen, suddenly horrified at the notion of people being aware of his comings and goings. Well, not aware, but keeping track. He'd been mostly on his own for the last several years and really hadn't lived with anyone except Wes and Dian. Although, truly, it was more the concept of being observable that seemed to gnaw at him rather than any fear based in having anything he genuinely wished to hide.
"No such luck," he answered instead. "Just didn't sleep well."
"Didn't sleep well as in you, too, were constantly woken up by Hector's snoring or didn't sleep well as in..." Jack trailed off, waving his hand vaguely.
"Jack," Ted Knight sighed with something close to disapproval. It was a well-worn sigh, Sand could tell, both by the ease at which it came out and at Jack's expression, although it could have been more directed towards the previous sniping with Courtney.
"What? It's not like I was asking anything inappropriate," Jack replied, coffee cup paused halfway to his lips. "Not unless they were dirty dreams... were they?"
The last was directed at him, Sand realized, and was accompanied by a playful leer. Next to Jack, Courtney sighed loudly.
"It was... I don't know what it was," Sand admitted, pursing his lips in puzzlement. "Sort of like a Big Apple Tour of New York but with William S. Burroughs as the tour guide and David Lynch driving the bus."
Jack barked out a laugh. "Man, that's the last time we let you have pad thai after midnight."
Sand smiled as he sipped more coffee. "I don't think that would have made any difference," he said ruefully, then paused. "Hector snores?"
"Like a buzz saw," Courtney growled, picking at the last of a raisin cinnamon bagel. "I say we make him take up Al's offer to crash at his place until the new headquarters gets built... or let him sleep in his tower, like he wanted to."
"You've got school tomorrow, so you're going to be sleeping in your own bed tonight," Ted told her, looking at his watch. "Which means we have three hours to get you to LaGuardia."
"At least some of which has to be spent finding me a Backstreet Boys CD, right?" she asked hopefully. She stood up and gathered the remains of her bagel in her napkin and crumpling them. "Supervising fee?"
"I think membership in the JSA more than qualifies as this month's blackmail payment," Jack snorted, making a shooing motion towards the door.
"I'll go pack," she sighed, pointedly not looking at Jack. "Later, all."
Now that the caffeine was starting to course into his system, he realized that he was the only one not dressed. Well, he was hardly indecent - he had thrown on a t-shirt over his pajama bottoms before coming downstairs - and it was his house now. At least until next week, when it became JSA headquarters. John Stewart's designs had been produced in record time and were truly stunning - there had been only minor haggling over changes, so pre-demolition was well under way and Sand had already driven the rental truck full of Wes and Dian's personal effects up to his little house in Old Chatham.
"... that part as well?"
Ted looked at him expectantly and Sand shook his head. "I'm sorry, what did you say? I was zoning out for a moment."
"I said that I hadn't realized that you had inherited that part of Wes's legacy," Ted repeated, sliding his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
Sand smiled sadly. He'd never known what to think of Ted Knight. As Starman, he'd been a good hero, protecting Opal City and America without fear. Privately... his legacy was somewhat less spotless, a mixture of triumph and despair. Jack was a lot like his father, Wes had said once, and he had sounded unsure of whether it was a compliment or a curse. But perhaps it was Ted who might understand the best out of those who were left, the man of science whose focus was the cosmic and the fantastic...
"I have," Sand confirmed before Ted's curious look could slip over into concern. "It's... I don't know what to make of it. Besides the obvious that I really wish it would let me sleep through the night. I don't know if I'm up for a lifetime of insomnia."
As a faithful kid sidekick, Sand had often been in awe of how Wes's eyes would simply light up when the symbolism of his dreams fell into place with the details of reality. It had seemed so cool that Wes could see things in his dream that had happened in real life, things that would have otherwise remained totally unknown.
But now, as he woke several times each night drenched in sweat and gasping for air, he remembered all of the other times, when dreams and waking life didn't go so happily together. The circles under Wes's eyes when a case went on too long and the nightmares had gotten so intense that he'd forego sleep rather than be subjected to them, the haunted look he'd have, the way Dian would fuss when she thought Wes wasn't paying attention and mutter that he looked like a ghost caught between two worlds. And now he himself was citizen of those two worlds, both of which demanded absolute loyalty and exacted a heavy price for treason.
"It took Wes a long time to grow... comfortable with the dreams," Ted told him, leaning forward slightly in that way that made Sand sure that he had been waiting for Sand's attention to return to him. "At least to accept what they meant on the grand scale, not just the particular symbolism of one specific dream. I don't think he was ever comfortable with the dreams themselves. Who would be? But to be comfortable with the notion of being... tasked by a greater power. He was too much of an iconoclast for that part to come easily."
Sand laughed and Ted smiled. No, Wes, with his conflicted heart about higher powers and the true differences between the sacred and the profane, he would not have welcomed the notion of being chosen. And that was why, Sand suspected, the King of Dreams had made sure to put in an appearance in his own first dreaming. Just to remind him.
"We never talked about it, just the two of us, but I know he spoke of it with Chuck McNider," Ted went on. He had a very... gentlemanly tone, Ted did. His accent was a little softer than Jack's, perhaps for all of the time spent away from Opal City, and yet its cadences were true to the Opal. "It will be a burden, no doubt, but it's up to you to make it a gift."
"And now you've met my father's alter ego," Jack muttered, not unkindly, as he leaned back. "Yoda."
Ted shook his head and made a face, a mixture of amusement and frustration, as he sipped his coffee and Sand hid his own amusement behind his coffee cup.
"Good morning all," Alan announced from the hallway. Sand leaned back in his chair to see him approach from the foyer. Like the others, he was dressed in street clothes and Sand could see a collection of newspapers under his arm. Out of costume, the almost regal bearing of Sentinel became the self-assured stride of a successful businessman and Alan moved with a confidence that Sand was fairly sure he couldn't hide even if he wanted to.
Alan entered the kitchen and put the newspapers and a box of Krispy Kremes down on the table as he sat in what had been Courtney's seat. The Times, the Post, and the Wall Street Journal. Jack made a moue of disgust in the general direction of the last one and plucked the Post out from underneath the Times as if he were removing his shoe from raw sewage.
"What?" Jack asked as he realized everyone was watching him. "It's the only one that's got funny pages."
"Next time, I'll bring you a Newsday," Alan told him as he turned around, a hand of green flame reaching out to the cupboard and removing a mug. "They have full-color comic strips. The only problem is that I'd have to buy the rest of the paper."
"You're not a fan?" Ted asked, the edge of his mouth turning up in a sly grin that Sand immediately recognized as anticipation, the kind that went with knowing that you'd just fed someone a straight line that they were going to tee off on.
"Communism for those on a tenth-grade reading level," Alan snorted as, without getting out of his seat, he poured himself coffee, added cream, and went searching for the sugar bowl. The green flame licked delicately at the spoon as the mug was carried to the table and set down gently while Alan himself pulled a glazed donut out of the box. "The best thing they ever did was to stop printing the New York City edition."
Sand, scooped on the Post by Jack, watched the coffee assembly with amusement and a little awe. Yeah, Alan had zipped them over to Tibet and all that, but to see such awesome powers harnessed for such a simple civilian task as breakfast was... reassuring. Especially in light of his own 2:30 appointment at Tylerco, where he'd undergo a second battery of tests and better learn how perfect of a weapon he could be. Once they'd figured out how to help him stabilize himself in his 'human' form (and that was how Dr. Iker and Rebecca Tyler had put it, in audible quotation marks), the first round of tests had seemed almost exclusively geared towards determining the possible limits of his silicon form.
"... lunch meeting with advertisers," Alan was saying as Sand returned his attention to the group. "I wanted to stop by and see how things were progressing beforehand. John is really very thrilled about this. I'm not sure whether it's the chance to put his experience in the longjohns business to work or whether it's a chance to play around in pre-war architecture. For a guy who has spent as much time in space as he has, he gets awfully excited about hand-carved moldings."
Jack sniffed disdainfully and reached into the box, coming away with what looked like an apple cruller. "There's absolutely nothing that says that you have to throw over classical style for Le Corbusier or the Jetsons once you've passed the Milky Way," he said, flipping the paper over to the front and parsing through the news pages.
This time, Ted looked at his son with fatherly indulgence. "Of course," he agreed mildly.
"Are you patronizing me?" Jack asked suspiciously.
"Of course not," Ted told him. "You'd be unbearable on the flight home if I was."
Jack pursed his lips, narrowed his eyes, but said nothing. It was all for show, Sand had realized the other day. The two of them made an issue of putting what distance between them that they could lest their true closeness become evident. For whose comfort that was, Sand still hadn't decided.
Alan smiled benignly at the two, then turned to Sand. "Do you have an appointment with John today?"
"Yeah," Sand sighed, looking at the clock that hung on the wall behind Jack. "At eleven. We're going to breeze through the demolition process with the subcontractor and the city inspector and whoever else is supposed to parade through... I don't know how much we're going to get done before I have to leave for Tylerco and there's still all of the community relations stuff to be done... We got a call that another five petitions were delivered to the community board against us building the headquarters here..."
"Chin up, man," Alan exhorted, clapping a hand onto his shoulder.
"I'm beginning to suspect that you knew exactly what you were doing when you passed up the chairmanship," Sand told him wearily. There was so much to be done and in so little time. Permits, approvals, cost assessments, insurance... His desk was invisible under the mounds of paperwork. Dinah's associate, the Oracle, had expedited some of the most complicated bureaucratic messes by collecting and emailing him batches of the forms he'd need and Sand was sure that the Oracle (he wasn't sure if it was male or female) had taken care of a few things on its own initiative. He didn't know that there were government grants available for building a hero headquarters (apparently it qualified as a sort of police station), let alone taken the time to file for any of them.
"Pah," Alan scoffed. "I told you I'd help you with whatever you needed done and I will. Jay, too. He called this morning and said he'd stop by later. He's still helping Wally clean up some residual trouble in Keystone, but he should be here this afternoon. And I should be back up here before Ty takes you off to Connecticut. I'll stare down the little fellow from the Buildings Department."
"...And the Office of Emergency Management rep and the City Councilwoman and the Community Board President, who has all but said that she'll squash any and all opposition to the construction in return for a healthy five-figure donation to the coffers," Sand added with disgust. "At least the Mayor's on our side."
"And with this mayor, that's all that counts," Alan told him confidently, standing up. The coffee cup floated to the sink in a ball of green flame. "Just remember: the JSA has saved this city's bacon more times than they'd care to remember and we have every single instance on official record in Hippolyta's perfect handwriting in case they don't. If they start giving you trouble, remind them of that and of the fact that at least we're asking first and not just putting the thing up and telling them to deal with it as was the case with the construction of Titans Tower. Which, more than a decade later, is still a giant morass of zoning violations."
Sand grinned despite himself. Alan had not a doubt in the world that everything would flow smoothly and that confidence was almost contagious.
"And with that little pep talk," Alan sighed dramatically, "I must go study the intricacies of the new FCC regulations regarding ownership of ISPs by media outlets. Molly refuses to let me stay out of the internet age and this is her latest attempt to wear away at my stubbornness."
"Sometimes they do know best, Alan," Ted said, a sad smile on his lips.
"Oh, I know she knows best," Alan agreed readily, at the same time acknowledging what was behind Ted's words. "She always has. I just wish that she'd let me pretend I was right for a little longer before calling me on it. She's never gotten a handle on the whole 'coddle the husband' thing. She says that that's what my 'adoring public' is for."
Sand watched the interplay between the two old teammates and realized that Jack was watching even more intently, even as he was making great show of squinting at the pictures on Page Six. Jack's mother, Ted's wife, had died too young and now, with (gossip said) Jack himself in a serious relationship made complicated by lies and longjohns...
Sand looked up and nodded. He was really going to have to work on his attention span. While there were a world full of legitimate reasons why he was constantly distracted - Wes's death, not even a week past, the whole sudden reactivation of the JSA, his own situation - there was no real excuse. The Absent-Minded Detective would not be a best seller were it one of Dian's fictions and, in the real world, it was not a state conducive to getting anything done.
He felt another quick clasp of his shoulder and Alan bid the trio farewell. It really was farewell to the Knights, who were leaving for Opal City this afternoon with only Jack to return later in the week. Ted got up to go to the front door with Alan and Sand was left alone with Jack, who closed the newspaper out of politeness.
"Just when I think I'm getting the handle on this gig," Jack mused thoughtfully, "I get reminded that I've got so much more to learn. All this week, I've kept wondering if this is how you felt back in the '40's. Not raggin' on the whole concept of sidekick, mind you, but just the... whole 'junior partner' aspect of the whole business."
"You're hardly a junior partner here," Sand told him with an amused snort. This from the guy who had zapped Mordru's hand off at the wrist to save Kendra... who still hadn't put in an appearance this morning. "Even taking away the carryovers from the original JSA. And it's not a matter of seniority; it's how well you hold your own and you certainly do that."
Jack made a face as if that was what he himself had thought, but considered it an insufficient answer. "But it's not instinctive. It never is with me. It never will be. I'm always going to have to think about it."
Sand laughed, a chuckle that sounded almost bitter to his own ears. "Thinking is a good thing. Trust me on that. Acting on instinct is sometimes just a nice way of saying 'impatient'... Of course, I used to be the standard object lesson for that, but I wouldn't recommend the cure I took for it."
He smiled to take the edge off the words, didn't want to make himself sound maudlin because, frankly, he isn't. On the grand scale of Bad Things That Have Happened, the encounter with the silicoid gun was dropping in rank like last month's pop hit.
"I've fought naked," Jack offered wryly and Sand smiled, making the connection instantly. The other day, when he had called from California to ask to be retrieved after his sudden transition into a sandcastle capable of traveling along fault lines, his fluster at having to ask for Sentinel to bring along clothes had apparently amused the hell out of the rest of the team. Thankfully, Alan had come alone and thus had been the only team member to find him, embarrassed as he'd ever been, half-buried in the sand and very much back in his human form. "It's overrated. It's also forever cured me of any curiosity about going commando. Boxers: never leave home without them."
Sand shook his head, bemused. "I don't. They just don't... travel well."
"See, that's a real lacuna in the merchandising world," Jack said, with obviously false seriousness. "Superhero couture. I wonder where Superman gets his underwear."
"I think the JSA is going to be off to a great start if our greatest concern is Superman's shorts," Dinah said as she entered the kitchen. She had not stayed over, but had gone back to Gotham and taken the train back up this morning. Sand looked at the clock. He'd better be getting upstairs to shower and change soon.
"Well, it's either that or the 'mysterious death' of three Village artsy types," Jack replied, gesturing to the still-closed newspaper. "And I don't think the JSA does drug overdoses."
All of a sudden, Sand felt like someone was running ice water down his spine. "Can I see that for a second?" he asked, gesturing towards the _Post_.
Curious, Jack slid the paper across the table. "Checking to see if it's someone you know?"
Sand didn't reply as he flipped the pages, scanning the headlines until he found the article. Paula Richer, Adrian Himmelstein, and Jose Santamaria had been guests at a SoHo party celebrating the opening of Richer's gallery show. All three were found dead the next day, none at the site of the party. Drugs were suspected, but police were not ruling out foul play...
He looked up, as if suddenly hearing his name being called, although from the tone it had obviously not been the first time. Jack was looking at him expectantly.
"Someone you know?" Dinah asked as she sat down, peering into the box of donuts and picking out a chocolate one.
"No," he said, frowning at the vagueness of the feelings running through him. "I... I don't know what it is. I just got a feeling that this might be tied into the dream I had last night. I'm not sure how or why or... Aarrghh. I hate this."
"What made you think that they were connected?" Jack's head was tilted thoughtfully and Sand was grateful that the other man was taking him seriously and not treating him like an escaped lunatic. Which is what he felt like.
"I'm not sure they are," Sand admitted, frown deepening. "But in my dream, when I was on that tour, when we stopped in SoHo, there was a crying painting. I saw it through the window of this apartment building..."
"Was the painting crying, like when people see statues of the Virgin weeping, or was it a painting of someone crying?" Dinah asked.
Sand paused. His memories of the dream were hazy, clouding precisely at the point he wished them to be clear. "You know, I honestly don't remember," he finally said. "I just remember that there was this incredible sadness attached to the painting."
Jack was obviously about to say something, but a bright flash of light by the sink distracted them all. Ty appeared just as suddenly as the light had and greeted them with a smile and a nod.
Seeing Ty reminded Sand of his appointment at Tylerco, which in turn reminded him of the appointment with John and the subcontractor, which caused him to look at the clock and forget about his dreams. "Ah, phooey. I gotta get into the shower. If people show up before I come back down, just send them to the parlor, okay?"
"Well, if it ain't the Wicked Witch of the West," the uniformed patrolman called out to the woman climbing the stairs. "Where'd you get those stockings, Doctor Ruth? You look like the witch the house landed on in the 'Wizard of Oz'. With her feet stickin' out, ya know? My kids were watchin' that last week. It was on TV."
"Silly Lily's on Great Jones down in the Village," Ruth Melamud offered with false cheer to Officer Garcia as she handed him her backpack to hold. Taking a clean white trash bag out of her coat pocket, she dumped first her umbrella and then her wet coat inside the bag. Her skirt was still dry, thankfully. Having to work in wet denim would just have been the topper. Tying a simple knot in the top of the bag, she handed the bag to Garcia while taking back the electric pink knapsack. Garcia took the plastic bag, confusion written across his face. "They've got a good tranny clientele, too, so they probably have your size. Even with your gut. What've we got?"
"OD," Garcia sniffed disdainfully, his nose in the air to indicate that he wasn't going to rise to her bait. "Some nice rich mom got bored. Husband called it in. 'S why I'm out here. Didn't wanna hear the kids cryin', ya know? Sounds like my kids... I'd kill Cynthia myself if I found out she was sniffin' anything stronger than what's on her spice rack, though."
"You're the soul of compassion, Garcia," Ruth sighed and looked towards the door to the apartment, slightly ajar and already with the yellow police tape across the frame. She was tempted to tear it down - how the hell were the boys supposed to get the body out of the apartment with the tape in the way - but decided to leave it. Jorge was on the roster tonight and she was in a foul enough mood to enjoy listening to the mammoth Brazilian take his life's frustrations out on whoever was closest. Probably Garcia, who deserved it. He was her personal black cloud, the reporting officer who somehow always ended up calling in cases that meant trouble. "And the house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, not the West."
With that, she ducked under the tape and headed inside the apartment.
"Hey, what'm I doin' with this?" Garcia called after her, the rustle of plastic meaning that he was holding up the trash bag.
"Holding it," she called back, not turning around. The place was larger than she expected - most apartments in converted brownstones tended to be the size of the single rooms they had once been, but this one seemed to have been at least two rooms. It wasn't spacious, but it safe for occupancy of more than one person. Although probably not four people, if the photo over the couch was any indication. Not that she had any philosophical reservations against raising a kid in Manhattan, but Ruth couldn't imagine dealing with kids and the lack of places to hide from them in a Manhattan-sized apartment. Speaking of hiding... As much grief as she gave Garcia, Ruth was no fan of having to deal with next of kin - it was why she had gone into pathology in the first place. The muffled cries of children could be heard as she nodded to the two officers going through a roll-top desk by the window, the cries breaking into sniffles as a deeper adult voice cut in and she frowned. Usually, things had settled down to a quiet whimper by the time the ME showed up. Except with kids, of course.
Following both the crying and the less emotional noises of a crime scene being processed, Ruth walked towards the back of the apartment, her still-wet rubber soles squeaking on the bare wood floor. Striped hose and Doc Martens, not exactly appropriate for house calls even if it fell within dress code. If she had known she was going to be called out, she'd have at least worn solid-color tights and a more staid skirt. The Docs were black and were her standard footwear - good for outdoors work and easy to clean off.
"Nadine," she called to the detective she recognized, who looked up and nodded before returning her attention to whatever the techie was showing her. If Greeley was here, that was probably Hearn in the bathroom, judging by the voices. It could have been worse - if she caught another one of Salviati's cases before she rotated up to the Bronx at the end of the month, she was going to be adding to her own backlog.
Wanting to get as much done before the detectives started to hover and ask stupid questions (Greeley and Hearn were good detectives, but they were still detectives), Ruth pulled out her latex gloves as she crossed over to the bed. The dead woman lay face up at an indelicate angle, as if she had been standing off-balance before she had been pushed on to the bed, but just had never gotten up. Of all of myths of fiction that had been systematically stripped away as she progressed first through med school and then through her residency, Ruth had held on to one the longest: that a person could die in some semblance of a graceful pose. And while she could blame the English Lit degree - and the crush on Archie Goodwin - for fostering such a belief in the first place, she had no one but the Medical Examiner's Office of the City of New York to thank for its destruction. While all of the Romantic ideals of beauty in death had pretty much gone the way of the dodo either in first-year Anatomy or that horrible rotation she had spent at the geriatric ward at the Bronx VA, it wasn't until she was doing field work that the last vestiges of hope had disappeared. In return was only the solace that you weren't around to hear the crude comments about what happened to you after you croaked.
There was nothing to indicate that the room had seen any struggle and the woman's hands were clean - and cleanly manicured. Ruth ignored the whining of the new techie - she was probably the moron who had taped the door - and climbed over toolbox and a pair of blue slippers to stand on the frame of the bed, careful not to step on the comforter. Not that it would be getting used after this, even were it not stained with fluids. A quick check of the nostrils confirmed cocaine usage - probably habitual, although she'd have to get a better look to see how bad the scarring was - but there was something off. It wasn't a straight overdose. The signs were all wrong and Ruth was wondering why she was trying to remember the indicators of strychnine poisoning when her concentration was rattled by the angry bellowing of Jorge, demanding in thundering Portuguese for accountability from Garcia and whomever else was in arm's distance.
With the wagon here, things would move at a quicker pace - not even the detectives would be too eager to bear Jorge's impatience. Ruth moved through the rest of her procedures, getting done just as Hearn joined Greeley at the foot of the bed, as far away from Jorge, who stood with arms crossed over his chest by the door, as they could to watch and wait and ask stupid questions. It was another half hour before she could smile sweetly to Jorge and tell him that he was free to do his job and another twenty-five minutes after that before she could retrieve her wet things from Garcia, still posted by the door and looking none too thrilled for having to fend off curious neighbors. And it was a half-hour past that before she returned to her lab, where the rain was just a rumor, the guests kept quiet, and the inbox was full.
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