A Moment Too Late

by ArgoForg (argoforg@earthlink.net)

Disclaimer: All characters from Young Justice are copyright © 2001-2002 DC Comics, and the characters are used without permission for fan-fiction. No copyright infringement is intended.  I am not making any profit from their use.  And as a personal note, please remember that if you think your characters are being used for a profit without permission, maybe you should visit the law offices of Hutt, Hutz and Heike, personal injury and small-claims lawyers, where our motto is, “We never met a lawsuit from which we wouldn’t try to get money.”

Author Notes:  Thanks for all the great reviews of the first two chapters, guys and gals!  Hope you are happy with what comes after that!  But after the last chapter, I figured you all probably need a little brightness, if not the long-windedness... this is quite a bit longer than either of the first two parts, but there’s a crapload of stuff to fit in. 

You also may or may not recognize a few of the flashback sequences in this little spark of Bart’s memory (tell me if they’re a little hard to follow).  Most of them come from my sordid head, but at least one comes from actual continuity.  Most specifically, Cissie/Bart aficionados will probably recognize a bit from Young Justice #12.  See, I actually do read something, here and there.

And now we return you to the story at large.


THREE – Remembrance



    There really was no other term for it, other than that. 

    Vanishing Point wasn’t so much of a place or a time as it was removed from both.  Originally a laboratory belonging to Matthew Ryder, it had been transported outside of realtime, outside of realspace.

    It had been remarkably fortunate that the lab found its way there, however, because the only way its occupants could work properly was outside the framework of time and space.  Vanishing Point had become home to those that monitored the timestream, who policed and recorded Earth’s history from the beginning of time to its end. 

    It was the headquarters, so to speak, of the Linear Men.

    Rip Hunter was one of them— a temporal mechanic, a time-cop, a person pledged to preserve the timestream from outside influence.  Ordinarily. 

    Now, however, at this time— subjectively speaking— he was doing something that made him stand out a little from the others he worked with.  He wasn’t flickering.  He wasn’t strobing.  He wasn’t doing any of that because for one of the few times since his life began anew as a Linear Man, Hunter wasn’t studying the timestream from within it.  He was stable— at least as stable as one got at Vanishing Point.

    But that didn’t mean he was just relaxing.  He took a Styrofoam cup of coffee— a mental joke about how long it took Styrofoam to decompose ran through his head as he glanced at it— and stepped into the main lab, looking around.  As usual, the lab was a scene of controlled chaos.  Images of Matthew Ryder, the alternate timeline Ryder named Waverider, and the group researcher Liri Lee flickered into and out of existence all around him.

    “Pardon, Hunter.  But we have a situation,” said the Matthew Ryder of thirty-seven minutes in the future.  (Subjectively, of course.  Time was at best relative here at Vanishing Point.)  He stepped around Hunter and checked something on a vid-display, then flickered back out.

    “No problem.”  Hunter smiled thinly as five more variations of Ryder, two of Waverider and three of Liri Lee strobed around him, talking all at once.  He made his way through the lot of them to his workstation, taking small sips of his coffee, and made a face as he sat down.  You’d think temporal researchers could find a time and place to import a proper brew.

    And maybe aspirin, too, for that matter, he thought as he began to listen to the rapid-fire verbal exchanges of his strobing teammates.  A lot of it was hard to follow— conversations were held out of synch with the normal flow of time, or sentences were started by one Linear Man who flickered out of Vanishing Point, only to have his sentence picked right up and finished by another.  But even so, Hunter heard words like ‘quantum spike’ and ‘temporal ripple’ bandied about, and they immediately grabbed his attention.

    He flipped on his workstation, and began to call up the data on the situation.  At first, the monitor was nearly blank; a few lines of text hung, secluded, at the top of the screen.  But then, a new line followed, then another, and another, all from seemingly out of nowhere.   Hunter allowed a small smile to form as more and more data fabricated on his display, filling it until it began to scroll.  One of the wonders about traveling through time was seeing reports appearing to input themselves as they were entered in the system in the past and came into being in the now.  His eyes followed the scrolling data for a few seconds as he sipped again at his coffee, and the more he read, the more his eyes narrowed. 

    “These reports don’t show me anything.”  Hunter said.  “Liri?  Do you have more information on this situation?”

    It was the Liri Lee of ninety-six seconds ago that responded, remaining stable just long enough to begin to answer.  “We were searching the timestream and found some anomalous data.  We think it may be— ”

    An alternate image, the Liri Lee of sixteen minutes from now, continued as her sister image disappeared back into the ethers.  “—the beginning of a spike, Hunter.  Matthew, Waverider and I are monitoring, trying to find the origin point, but so far— ”

    She flickered out, her statement finished by Liri Lee, plus two hours.  “—we haven’t had any luck.  We’re logging our findings.”

    Hunter’s brow creased, and he went back to searching the data.  Chronologically, the anomaly seemed to chart a small course, but as often happened, the ripple of a variance in time frequently extended outward, into the future.  Ripples like that were often dangerous.  They corrupted the timelines, skewed the histories and the futures.  The Linear Men had all witnessed that sort of thing often enough— from what many had dubbed the ‘Crisis’ and ‘Zero Hour’, to when Gog had traversed back along Superman’s timeline and begun killing him at progressively earlier points in his history.

    But there was an odd feeling about this... this spike, for lack of a better term.  Hunter couldn’t tell what it was about it that made him feel odd, or whether it was a good sort of odd or a bad sort.  He just didn’t know, not yet.  So for now, he chose to continue looking over the data as it appeared on-screen, contemplating.

    Whatever it was, the Linear Men would find out soon. 

    Subjectively speaking, of course.


* * *


    “Red Torando’s holding conference with the rest of the... ah... adults.  I don’t think any of them hold anyone at fault, above and beyond Volcano.  He’ll eventually be held by the authorities, possibly even tried for murder.  But the JLA doesn’t even know if that’ll stick.  It was just... an accident, that’s all.”  Robin said, and sat down on the chair, rubbing at the bridge of his nose as though trying to rid himself of the last few remnants of spirit gum.  He looked up at Superboy and Wonder Girl.

    The two just gawked at him.  On top of everything else that had happened, Robin suddenly unmasking and telling them his name was apparently enough to send them both into a state of stupor.  The handshake Superboy had given him had been almost nerveless.

    “You know, it won’t kill you to blink,” he remarked to them.

    Kon finally found his voice first.  “Tim?”

    Robin smiled thinly, and nodded.  A first name by itself, after all, wasn’t spilling too much.  Bruce might ream him later, but Tim was starting to consider that maybe Robin wouldn’t be around too much longer, anyway.  “I thought maybe it was overdue.” 

    “But you never... before now, I mean,” Superboy stammered, gathering himself slowly.  “Why now?”

    “I guess times like this change people.”  Tim said.  He glanced through the doorway.  “And Cissie deserves to have a person here, remembering her, not a mask.”

    Cassie slowly nodded.  It was apparent she was having a hard time with words.

    Tim’s gaze never left the stasis cylinder, though.  He’d noticed the other pair of young heroes sitting there in front of the starkly lit form of their teammate.  Smoke rolled off— from, he reminded himself— Secret, from her uniform, from her hair.  He could see, reflected in the dim light, the sparkle of tears on her cheeks.  His heart softened at the emotion etched on her face— emotion he knew was mirrored on every face here. 

    Next to her was Bart.  His back was to the doorway, the tilt of his head making only his big billow of brown hair visible as he looked up at the young woman behind the glass.  Every so often his fingers touched the glass, trailed down.

    Other than that, he barely moved.  And for that matter, he didn’t look like he was showing inclination to move.  Had it been anyone else, Time wouldn’t have given it a second thought.  It was obviously an emotional moment, after all.  But this was Bart.  This was Impulse.  Then he thought it through.  He’s likely beating himself mentally.  Just like all of us— no, maybe more.  He was a fingertip away from saving her, after all.

    “How long has he been in there like that?”  Tim asked, quietly.

    Cassie followed his gaze.  Her lower lip trembled before she bit on it.  “Uhm.  Since she was brought up here.”

    “Oh, man.  Really?”  Tim couldn’t remember him ever staying that still without being told to, even for a few moments.  And he hadn’t moved for four solid hours?  He wondered if they’d ever know the happy-go-lucky Bart they knew before today.

    Kon nodded.   “I thought about going in to talk to him, get him to open up...”

    “It looks like Secret’s handling that pretty well.” Tim said quietly, feeling a small, tempered surge of warmth.  He could imagine the young heroine prying Bart out of his shell with little more than an innocent question and a soft, well-meaning smile.  “He probably blames himself, like I’m sure we all do.  Maybe even more, because he was so close to catching the arrow.  It may take him a long while to come to terms with that.  I don’t know how often Bart’s had to deal with something like this.

    “And on top of that, I gather she was a really close friend to him, too.”  Tim remembered the first time he’d seen Arrowette, when Red Tornado had informed them she’d been brought to the Justice Cave after Harm had wounded her.  She’d mentioned knowing Impulse then, but he had no idea how close they’d been—

    Cassie’s face drained of color.  She looked pallid, as though he’d called some forgotten piece of information to her mind, and then she sat down hard on the couch again, her eyes glimmering and fixated on the stasis cylinder. 

    Tim looked at Cassie, his eyebrows raising in concern and confusion.  Kon looked at her with a worried gaze as well.  “Cass?  What is it?”

    “Oh.  Nothing.  Uhm.  Yeah,” she said, as if from a great distance away.  “Close friend.  Something like that.”


* * *


    “I didn’t know it at the time,” Bart confessed to Suzie.  He didn’t really know where the words were coming from; he just knew something inside him was urging them to come, even though they stumbled over one another.  “I really didn’t. Mostly ’cause I never really paid too much attention, I guess. 

    “But I mean, to me, girls were always just... well, girls.  I mean, some of them were... I dunno... cooler to be with, like you and Cassie and Carol, ’cause you like cool stuff, like video games and comic books, but you’re still girls.”  He glanced at her.  “Uhm.  No offense or anything, I mean.”

    Suzie smiled.  “It’s okay.”

    He looked back up at the frozen archer.  “But Cissie was... she was different somehow.  Not a bad different, just a different different.  She was the first girl that I could hang around with whether I had my mask on or not.  It was like... well... like I didn’t have to keep secrets around her.  We had things in common.  Her mom was really kinda pushy... and well, that’s sort of what I thought Max was like, too.  And we both liked pizza and the mall and swimming and some cool TV shows and even though she was okay with Hanson I didn’t hold it against her or anything.  So we talked about that kinda stuff a lot. 

    “So, anyway, that was what I thought it was.  It was just a little cooler to be with Cissie, because we just could connect like that.  But the more time that went on, and the more we hung out, I wasn’t sure it was just that.”  He took a breath.  “It just felt different, somehow.  But I didn’t realize what it was until she told me.”

    His eyes drew a slow line over the glass up to her face, the wide, surprised eyes, the ever-so slightly turned up nose.  He couldn’t look at that face without feeling a piercing feeling in midsection, a burning sensation in the pit of his stomach, like all of a sudden his insides had become ash.  And when he looked away, the feeling still lingered. 

    But when he looked at her all that came to mind was the thought that she’d never talk to him again, that they’d never go to the movies or anything, that he’d never be able to tell her that she made him feel good just by being there.  She was gone now.  Cissie was gone.  And it just wasn’t right. 

    There was something far deeper than just the shock and the regret, though.  Bart’s experiences with death might have been limited, but he’d never felt that heated stab to his heart when the once-retired speedster Johnny Quick joined the Speed Force when they’d fought Savitar.  Maybe it was because Johnny didn’t leave a body as a constant reminder, he thought. 

    Or maybe it was because he was never so close— a space smaller than he knew how to measure— to saving Johnny.  He could still feel the shifting of air molecules on his fingertips as the feathers of her arrow stayed just that far out of reach.  He could still feel the air move as he missed the catch, even though his fingertips rested on the cool glass.

    “What did she tell you?”  Secret asked, after a moment, apparently not wanting to interrupt.

    Bart looked from the glass to her and smiled a bit— although in truth he didn’t feel like it.  He wasn’t sure what was causing him to feel bad, be angry at himself, angry at things he had no control over.  So after a moment, he continued talking, remembering, trying to sort out his feelings, just as he did when she was still alive.

    “She told me...”


* * *


    “Bart... I love you!”

    It was stupid to dwell on it, he knew.  Stupid.  Pointless.  Not cool.  Probably wayyyy not cool. 

    But he couldn’t help it, either.  After the whole Disco-Hell thing, when they’d attacked Leesburg— after the team had gone its separate ways and Cissie went back to the Elias school— he figured it would just disappear out of his head, like a lot of stuff did.  But it just wouldn’t stay gone, even though he tried to force it to.

    He’d tried to get his mind back on school and the slow crawl of Manchester, Alabama.  He tried to painfully absorb the daily lessons of life provided by Max Mercury, the Zen Master Of Sitting On The Couch And Talking In Vague Terms About Things That Have Nothing To Do With Speed.  He’d tried hanging with his friends, everyone from Carol and Preston to Superboy and Robin.

    But nothing seemed to pry it out of his mind for long.  Not even when Superboy tried to show him the finer points of rap, a conversation that completely lost Bart about twenty-five words in.  Every time Kon would be talking— about how misunderstood Bad Master Ice Throwdown was in his controversial CD, about how the lyrics weren’t just about ‘bad’ themes, about how the bass-line really was groundbreaking, or whatever— Bart would nod knowledgably and hear that voice in the back of his head, or even worse, see her saying it with that same appealing smile:

    “Bart... I love you!  I’ve always loved you!”

    “You aren’t even listening, are you, Imp?”  Kon asked, raising an eyebrow above the rim of his rounded sunglasses.  He probably didn’t need them, except for the brightness of the artificial lights in what Young Justice had come to call the pool room.  The two had set up by the natural underground pond in the back caverns of the Justice Cave, after being kicked out of the main meeting room by Robin when he’d heard a few of the choice expletives in the lyrics.

    “Huh?  Oh, sure I was, Kon.”  Bart blinked a couple times, and chucked a thumb back toward the speakers of portable CD player, which were shaking with the deep thrum of bass.  “You were just saying that this song by Band Master Ice Showdown—”

    “Bad Master Ice Throwdown.”  Kon interrupted.

    “—Yeah, him.  Anyway, you said this song was...”  Bart slowly trailed off and reddened, realizing he had no clue what Kon had just said about it.

    “It was...?”  Kon prodded.

    “—uhm.  Nice?”  Bart responded lamely.

    “Nice?”  Kon let out an exasperated growl as he rubbed his fingers over his eyes.  “I don’t even know why I try anymore.  You’re not much into it, I guess?”

    “Into it?”  Bart asked, and then shrugged.  “It’s... uhm... all right, I guess.  It’s just... There’s a bunch of stuff on my mind, Kon.  It’s been hard for me to focus, you know?”

    “Stuff on your mind?  You?”  Kon raised the sunglasses again, and looked at Bart as though the speedster had suddenly grown a third eye.  “Like what?”

    “Bart... I love you!  I’ve always loved you!  Tell me it’s how you feel too!”

    “Just... stuff.”  Bart shook his head, trying to get the words out of his head.  Wayyyy not cool.  He took a deep breath.  “Kon, can I ask you a question?” 

    Kon turned down the volume on the CD player to just below the level of airplane engines.  “Sure, Bart.  Shoot.”

    “Well, see...”  Bart was embarrassed to find he had no idea where to begin.  He felt the blood rush to his face.  “I’ve just... you know... I’ve been having these weird thoughts, and it seems like my mind has been really stuck on something—”

    “Oh, please tell me you’re kidding,” said a decidedly feminine voice— the very same one that had been running through Bart’s head the last few weeks.  He and Kon both whirled toward the entrance to the cave, startled to see Cissie and Cassie there, both sporting stylish two-piece swimsuits.  Cassie, for reasons Bart would never be able to understand, was still wearing her black wig, even though her powder blue swimsuit didn’t look a thing like her uniform.  Cissie, on the other hand, was wearing a red and white suit and had a towel thrown casually over one shoulder that fell about to where her skirt usually did. 

    And she was... she was... she was...

    Bart shook his head.  What was wrong with him?  Why did he keep coming up with words like pretty and breathtaking and nice-looking?  He wasn’t supposed to be thinking of her like that, was he?  This was Cissie.  Arrowette.  She was, well, a friend, right?  Friends didn’t think of friends like that, did they?  At least, not that he knew.  He knew he’d definitely look at Kon funny if Kon let it get around he thought Bart was breathtaking.  But he couldn’t stop gawking at her, even though he knew she was just a friend.

    Fortunately, Kon seemed to have other things on his mind and didn’t notice.

    “Well, hellllooooo, ladies, come here to hear the mean bass of m’man Bad Master and take a dip?”  Kon grinned knowingly as he nudged Bart, who was still— truth to tell— more than a bit slack-jawed at the way his brain was working.  Kon’s tone dropped to a mutter.  “Yo, Imp, at least you can say hi, huh?”

    “Bllglphh.”  Bart mumbled, waving at them.  His head was starting to hurt.

    For their part, the two girls appeared not to notice.  Cassie was pink-faced and murmuring a hello to Kon that Bart could barely hear over the thud of bass from the speakers.  Cissie was a bit more resolute, striding into the cavern and setting her towel down by the poolside, before returning the hello.  But as she listened to the music, she raised a blonde eyebrow at the two and put a hand on one hip.  Bart had seen Cissie’s pose before.  She was half a step from tapping her foot.

    “Well, you’re half-right, Kon.”  She said.  “We did come here for a swim.  But I’d kinda prefer to listen to something else, if you don’t mind.”

    Kon’s eyes widened.  He looked like he’d been slapped across the face.  “Whaaat?  What’s the matter with Bad Master Ice Showdown?”

    “For one thing, I’d like to be able to hear myself think over thumping bass,” Cissie said diplomatically.  “And if we’re out of uniform, I could use a little time away from mindless violence and profanity.  Even in music lyrics.”

    Kon spread his hands.  “Cissie, his music’s about growing up on the mean streets.  Ya gotta expect a little violence with that, you know?  It’s what separates him from the posers!”

    “Well, sorry.”  She glanced at Cassie, settled into a bit of a smirk.  “Does he sing anything romantic?”

    “Yeah!  He really loves his gun in Kill Dat Sucka.  He treats loading it with hollow-points like he’s kissing it.”

    Cissie looked momentarily ill.  “Uhm.  No thanks.  Really, Cassie and I want to listen to something else.  Right Cass?”

    Wonder Girl stopped at poolside, looking like she was caught between staring at both Cissie and Kon with a wide-eyed deer-in-the-headlights look.  She stammered.  “Uhm... well... I mean...”

    “Well that’s tough.  Me and Bart want to listen to this, and we were here first.  Right Ba— ”

    Whatever Bart did, he must have done by instinct, because in one moment he was gawking and wondering why his brain was so caught up in weird thoughts, and the next he had zipped into the rec room and back, coming to a stop in front of Cissie, by the pool, holding up a stack of CD’s as high as his head in front of her and grinning like an idiot.  He stared at her from around the stack. 

    “—rt?”  Kon finished, looking at the blank space Bart had been just a moment before, and then he settled into a low growl.  “Awright, awright!  Just no sugar-pop boy bands, please!

    Cassie winced.  Something romantic by the Frontstreet Boys or 360° probably wasn’t forthcoming.

    “Wouldja like to pick something else, Cissie?”  Bart said.  It must have been reflexive— he was sure his mind wasn’t capable of thinking enough to say anything constructive.

    “Thanks, Bart...” Cissie looked at him.  Her blue eyes seemed to sparkle with warmth and her face lit right up into a beaming and very promising smile as she plucked out the third case from the top.  Her eyes found his again, and the smile became even brighter, if it was possible.  “I love you!”

    “Bart... I love you!  I’ve always loved you!  Tell me it’s how you feel too!”

    “Gyahhh!”  Bart’s eyes widened, and he lost hold on the stack of the CD’s.  He reflexively took a step backward— which seemed like a really good idea until he realized he’d been standing on the edge of the underground pool.  His mind was so addled that he didn’t even attempt to catch himself until he was already three feet underwater.

    “...eez, Ciss.  What did you do, push him?”  Kon was saying as he surfaced.  The Boy of Steel had pulled his shades down to glance at the sputtering speedster.

    “No!  No, I didn’t push him or anything,” Cissie said, staring at Bart with wide blue eyes, holding her forefinger to her lips.  “I just said, ‘Thanks, Bart... I’d love to.’  And then...”

    “He just... freaked or something.”  Cassie said.

    “Probably ’cause he saw you pulled out a Hanson CD.”  Kon said, gesturing to the jewel case in Cissie’s hand.  Cissie just swung a glare to him.

    Cassie knelt by the side of the pool and reached out a hand toward him.  “You okay, Bart?”

    Bart’s head was still partially submerged, so his response was merely a rush of bubbles.  It was probably better off that way.


* * *


    Suzie restrained a giggle, but only because it didn’t seem the time or the place for it.  Curls of smoke ringed around her gently smiling face, around her big sky-blue eyes, as her shoulders shook with suppressed laughter. 

    “Oh, Bart... You really weren’t that confused by it, were you?”

    Bart kept looking at Cissie’s frozen face, and for a long moment, it was like he didn’t hear her.  It’s not fair.  It’s not right.  She should still be smiling, like she did that day at the pool. 

    Then, slowly, he dropped his gaze, and looked at Secret, nodding.  “For a while, yeah.  I was.  I mean... I’d never felt anything like it.  I didn’t know what was going on in my head.  I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t just like it always was with Cissie.  I couldn’t understand why I would look at her and just lose control of my mouth and say things like ‘gglllbh.’  I couldn’t figure out why I was reliving those same words, over and over.  I never did that before with her.”  He sighed, softly.  “I wish I’d have understood faster.”

    “I’m sorry, Bart.”  Secret glanced up at Cissie and then back at Bart.  “So you didn’t even understand that you... you cared about her like that?  That must have been horrible.  What did you do?”

    “I... did something that confused me even more at first.”  Bart felt a small smile slip to his face.  “But it turned out to be the right thing.”

    “What was that?”

    “I asked around for advice.”


* * *


    “Max, will you tell me about girls?”  Bart asked, over breakfast.

    That pretty much brought a sudden and abrupt stop to the morning routine at the Crandall household.  Helen nearly spit out her morning coffee, and took the opportunity to hightail it out of the kitchen and probably lock herself in her room.  Max looked at Bart for a long time with a fork of eggs midway to his open mouth.  And then he set the fork down, his jaw twitching slightly, and he re-adjusted his reading glasses, gathering that composed expression he always seemed to have.  Never let it be said that Max Mercury— the Zen Master of Speed— would long be thrown by anything.

    “Of course I will...”  Max said, and then glanced back down at the morning paper.  “...When you’re thirty or I’m dead.  Whichever comes first.”

    “What kind of answer is that?”  Bart crossed his arms and glared.  “What if I need to know now?”

    “Trust me, you don’t.”  Max said, finishing the Details section and folding the paper methodically, then glancing back at Bart.  “They’ll tell you about that in Health Class.”

    Bart stared down into the pinkish milk of his cereal bowl.  A few soggy Fruit Bombs still floated there, sulkily.  “You mean, I’ll learn about why I keep hearing her say those words in my head and stuff?”

    “Well, probab— ”  Max looked at him.  “Who her?  What words?”

    “Bart... I love you!  I’ve always loved you!  Tell me it’s how you feel too!”

    “Uhm.  S’not important, I guess.”  Bart said, swirling his milk around with one finger and resting his chin on his other hand.

    “Bart...”  Max began in what Bart had started calling his ‘careful’ voice.  The one that he used as though he was going to break something by talking to fast or loud.  “What exactly would make you bring something like this up?”

    “Well...” Bart glanced up at him.  “I can tell you anything, right?”

    “Of course.”

    “I think I’m in love.”  Bart sighed, morosely.  Her face kept popping into his head at all the wrong times.  Her voice kept hitting the edge of his thoughts.  “But I don’t know for sure.  And if I am, I don’t know what to do.”

    “And…?”  Max said, carefully.

    “What do you mean, ‘And?’”  Bart lifted his head, his voice becoming incredulous.  “Isn’t that enough?  How do I know?  What do I do?  How do I find out if Ci— if she feels the same way?”

    Max looked at him for a long time.  “This has nothing to do with sex, does it?”

    Bart stared at him, blankly.  “With what?”

    “Oh, thank you, God.”  Max murmured, dropping his face to his hand.  Then he raised his eyes and took a deep breath.  Bart watched him intently, as Max seemed to be ready to talk three separate times, only to rethink it and clamp his jaw shut each time.  Finally, he did open his mouth and actually had something other than a spit-take come out.

    “Bart,” he began, in that careful tone.  “Love... is sort of a delicate matter.  It’s not necessarily something anyone—including me— can give you clear-cut advice on.”

    “I know.  That’s what Wally said.”

    “He’s probably— ”  His brows flew up.  “Wait.  You’ve talked to Wally already?”

    “Well...”  Bart glanced down into his bowl.  “Uhm... yeah.  But it did sort of make sense.  He’s always talking about Linda, and... I mean, come on, Max.  He’s married, right?  I figured he had to know something.

    “Mm.”  Max said, deflating somewhat.  He raised an eyebrow.  “Did he... ah... offer you any good advice?”

    “Not really.  Just kept saying stuff like ‘you’ll just know’, and ‘it’s really wonderful,’ and ‘you’ll never feel anything like it, Bart,’ and stuff like that.  Nothing concrete, or any kind of examples or anything, just a bunch of vague sayings like that.  He pretty much sounded like you,” Bart scowled at the memory, picking up his bowl and juice glass and walking to the sink.  “And he didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already hear.”

    “Ah, I see.  Well, with this sort of thing, that’s to be— ”  He glanced at the boy again.  “Didn’t already hear?  Who have you asked about this, Bart?”

    Bart turned the water on.  “Besides Wally?”


    “Uhm, mostly people I figured wouldn’t let it get back to her.”  He began to tick off on his fingers.  “Wally.  Jay.  Jessie.  Preston.  Rob and Superboy.  People who are okay with secrets or just don’t know Cissie.” 

    “Cissie.”  Max seemed to roll the name around his mouth, connecting names to faces.  “King-Jones?  Arrowette Cissie?”

    Bart felt a blush come to his cheeks as he nodded.  He’d really been trying to be careful about letting that little nugget of information out.  He’d tiptoed around giving anything about ‘the mystery girl’ away around Kon and Robin, and most of the others hadn’t really asked, or accepted his mumbled excuse that it was just “someone.”  But it was getting increasingly hard to keep his mind on keeping it a secret when... well, when she was all that was on his mind lately.

    “Ah.”   He rubbed his chin.  “So let me see if I can hash this out.  You think you’ve got feelings for Cissie, and you’ve asked around to find out how you can be sure, and what to do if you are sure.  And now, you’re asking me, I assume, to make sure you haven’t gotten bad advice.”

    “Well, to be truthful, I really did think about asking you all along, Max.  And Wally, Jessie and Jay all told me I ought to talk to you first.”

    “Remind me to thank them for their generosity.”  Max interposed quietly.

    “But... well, it’s just that most of the time you’re a little hard to follow, you know?  I’m confused enough about what I should do without hearing, ‘It’s something you’ll learn when you grow up,’ or ‘Be like the sparrow of the field and the water of the river’ or something.  And since it’s not like I ever see you with girls, anyway, I wasn’t sure if you’d understand what I meant.”

    “Quite unlike everyone else on the planet.”

    “I didn’t ask everyone.  Just a few people I know.  People I hang around with.”  Bart paused, embarrassedly.  “Uhm.  And Carol.”

    Max glanced at him as he stood from his forgotten breakfast and followed Bart into the living room.  “I take it by your tone of voice that it went over like a lead balloon.” 

    “Yeah, I guess.”  He shrugged.  “I dunno.  She just got all weird on me.  She seemed fine when I asked her how I would know if I was in love... She was even helpful.  And then she asked if I had anyone in mind, and when I told her, she just wigged.”

    “Imagine that.”

    Bart flopped down on the couch, his brows furrowing.  “She kept saying ‘How can you?  She’s so... so... so blonde.’  And she just got really snappish at anything I said after that.  And I still don’t know what she meant by that.  I mean, how can someone help their hair color?  And what does it have to do with how I feel?  Talking to her just got me more confused.”

    “It’s a confusing subject, Bart.  I won’t lie.”  Max exhaled as he sat down in his easy chair, folding his hands.  “I think you’ll find that this is one of the times when no matter who you talk to, the advice is going to vary from person to person, and yes, that will definitely confuse you.”

    “Great.”  Bart moped.

    Max smiled thinly.  “It sounds as though you have two burning questions.  Are you in love with her, and what do you do about it if you are.  Am I right?”

    Bart nodded slowly.

    “Let’s take the easiest one first.”  Max steepled his fingers and pulled them up to his lips for a moment.  “Almost everyone you talk to about what you should do if you’re in love with someone will probably give you fairly similar suggestions.  Asking her out, giving her flowers, writing her a note, that sort of thing.”

    Bart sat there for a moment, going back over the ideas all his friends had given him.  Kon suggested he be bold; tell whomever it was that he thought she was cute and offer to take her dancing.  Robin had said almost the opposite, saying a low-key approach was better, and suggested a movie.  Preston offered the services of a friend who wrote the best love-letters.  Jessie said that he should look for common interests and hit on those: music, food, movies, whatever.  But he saw the common thread, just like Max said.  He was stunned that Max had hit it on the head so easily. 

    He nodded slowly again.  “Yeah.”

    “In other words, if you have fallen in love, you should do something to show her or tell her that you like her.”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Or have I gotten ‘too hard to follow’ already?”

    “Okay, I should do something to show her or tell her somehow.  Got it.”  Bart paused, and then shot him a perplexed, almost pleading look.  “But, Max, how do I know?  That’s the confusing part!”

    “Of course it’s confusing if you ask other people, Bart.”  Max looked at him and raised an eyebrow.  “Because there’s only one person that can honestly answer that.”

    “You mean me, don’t you?  I told you, I don’t have a clue, Max!  I don’t know!  Agggh!  I hate this!”  Bart growled and stood up, throwing his hands into the air.  He started pacing.  “Why can’t I have any easy answers for once!  Just once, can’t someone give me a ‘this is how it works, Bart,’ or something?  I mean, it’s bad enough that she’s running through my head every ten seconds, and I can’t get my mind to stop thinking of her as warm and pretty, and I keep fixating on how blue her eyes are and I keep hearing the way she said she loved me and wonder if she actually... meant... any... of it...”

    Bart trailed off, blinking, his jaw suddenly agape, as his mind caught up with his mouth.  He slowly began to digest what he said.  That’s what was causing him to continually think and rethink what she said.  Not just a wonder if he felt the same way, but a wonder if she meant any of it.

    And why would he wonder if she meant any of it?  Because he wanted her to mean it.

    Which meant he did like her like that.

    “Well.”  Max said, and a small smile made its way to his face, looking at the wide-eyed boy.  “Will wonders never cease.  You’ve had a full-blown mental sunburst a whole twenty minutes before school.  I think I may faint.  Now, if you’re a little less confused, why don’t you get ready, okay?”

    Bart felt the gears continue to turn as he packed up his backpack.  It had taken a bit of prodding, but he’d begun to think things through.  He knew why he’d been so preoccupied with what she said, now.  “Bart... I love you!  I’ve always loved you!  Tell me it’s how you feel too!”  He’d been so busy rebelling against the idea that he couldn’t see that she was absolutely right.  It was how he felt, too.  He’d clouded it with worries about how he could feel that way for a friend, never realizing that what he felt for her was more than just friendship.

    He slung his backpack over his shoulder, and was surprised to find a bright smile on his face.  Max was right.  The only person who knew the answer was himself.  And now that he’d answered that question, the other one— what to do about it— would fall into place soon enough.  He’d might even have to figure that one out on the fly. 

    His smile grew wider.  Not a problem.  He was Impulse, after all.

    He passed by Max in the living room, and even gave him an impromptu hug on the way out.  “Thanks, Max.”

    “Anytime.”  Max said, the surprise of the sudden show of affection settling into a smirk, eventually.  “Now scoot.  Ten minutes to class.  Don’t be late.”

    “Oh, yeah, riiiight!”  Bart said, and dashed out the door, closing it with a slam behind him.

    Max stood there a moment, his smile fading, before looking upward and lowering a bushy eyebrow.  “You really hate me, don’t you?”

    And then Bart vibrated his head back through the door.  “Oh, hey, Max, about that sex thing...?”

    “School.  Now.”  He growled.

    Bart laughed and was gone again, and with a sigh, Max chanced another look to the rafters, who offered him no condolences whatsoever.


* * *


    Secret’s blue eyes were wide.  “So you just decided?  Just like that?”

    Bart looked down and rested his head against the stasis cylinder, looking at her from the side of his amber eyes.  “Well, for me, it’s easy that way.  When I got rid of all the other questions and thoughts in my head, I knew what I was really feeling.  See, Max taught me something early on.  When I... focus on one thing, I’m really good at it.  That’s why I’m so good at video games.  But when a bunch of thoughts start jumbling around in my head, that’s when I get confused and the weird stuff happens.”   

    “Like not realizing you care about someone?”  Secret asked.   

    “Yeah,” Bart said.  “Exactly.  And I figured I’d already wasted enough time not knowing, so I wanted to make sure that I didn’t screw it up and waste even more.  Everyone said that I should try to ask her out, so I decided to focus my mind on that and nothing else. So I headed back to Happy Harbor after school to tell her...”

    Secret wafted around him.  “Really?  What happened?”

    Bart glanced at her again, and then his eyes crept back up to Cissie, and he found himself restraining a small, sad smile at the memory.

    “I found out that I’m not the only one who gets confused.”  He murmured.


* * *


    Turtles moved faster than time did during his last two classes of the Friday school day.  Snails moved faster.   Inanimate objects moved faster.  Bart found himself tapping his pencil on the desk, fidgeting, stacking and restacking his books and watching the clock with an impatience that only mounted into irritation the closer the hands got to three o’clock.



    Long pause.

    Ridiculously long, thoughtful, drawn-out, unbearable pause.


    “Jeez, man, are you at the bit or what?”  Preston half-turned from in front of him and hissed.  “You got big weekend plans or something?”

    Bart nodded and glared at the clock.  “Something like that.”



    Long, hateful, quite possibly evil pause.


    “I heard there was a party at Amy McCaffery’s house Saturday night.” Preston wagged his eyebrows.  “You know, hush-hush.  Her parents went on vacation, and— ”

    Bart nodded, not really listening.  “Party.  Yeah.”


    Preston grinned.  “And I was thinking about going, anyway, so why don’t we head there Saturday night?  I mean, if your plans don’t already...”

    “Plans.  Right.”  The second hand moved in slow motion.


    “Uh-huh.”  Preston leaned back and waved a hand beside Bart’s eyes. “And, anyway, since you’re obviously not listening to a word I say, I was thinking that maybe it would be cool if after that I raided the girls’ locker room...”

    “Cool.  Yeah.”


    Preston stared for a long moment, slowly raising an eyebrow.  “Riiight.  And you could help by jumping into a vat of motor oil and man-eating piranhas, and while Impulse is getting you out of that, Elvis and The Loch Ness Monster will help me burn down the school...”

    Fortunately, at that point, the bell rang, marking the end of school.  Preston looked at the clock and sighed happily.  “Ahh, freedom.  So, Bart...?”

    He turned back to see an empty seat behind him.  Bart was gone.  A trail of loose papers rattled in the wind, all the way to the door.  The teacher and a few of the other students were looking around, wondering where the sudden gust of wind had come from.  The windows were closed, after all.

    Preston stared at the empty seat for a few moments, then shrugged and started to pack up his own books.  “Jeez.  Some people just have no time for proper conversation.”

- ~ -

    Superboy raised a brow as Bart blew into the monitor room, skidding to a halt by the main computer. 

    “Jeez, rush hour at the Justice Cave, I guess.”  He said, waving a cloud of kicked-up dirt from his nose— doubtlessly with his Tactile Telekinesis.  “How was school, Imp?”

    “It was school.”  Bart sat down, found he couldn’t stay sitting, and stood up, looking around at the screens.  “You’ve been here all day?”

    Kon shrugged and toggled one of the monitors.  “Pretty much.  Favor to Robin; He’s got a check running, looking for some info on STAR Labs.  Red Tornado is spending the day with Traya, so he asked me if I could monitor it and make sure all the info came through.”

    Bart could not possibly think of anything more boring than staring at text information on a computer screen for half the day.  It didn’t look like Kon was much into the idea, either.  He actually had slight sleep rings around his eyes. 

    Bart patted him on the shoulder.  “You lost another bet, didn’t you?”

    Kon grumbled something just below the edge of hearing that sounded a little bit like ‘yeah’, and then scowled as he looked at Bart.  “Like I’m supposed to know he plays darts, too?” 

    “He plays darts?”  Bart asked.

    “He has to.  Daily, I bet.  Just in case of something like this.  I figured it was a sure thing with my Tactile Telekinesis, y’know?  I’d win, and I’d lead the team on the next mission.” 

    Bart blinked.  “You bet to lead the team?”

    Kon was beyond hearing, it seemed.  “But, nooooo.  Four friggin’ bull’s-eyes in a row.  I swear he’s not human.  Must be one of those... whatchacall...”

    “Androids?”  Bart ventured.

    “Metahumans!  That’s it!  He’s got some kinda super-power to not lose bets to me!”

    “I dunno about that...”

    “Or the power to take the powers and skills of the people he’s on the team with!”  Superboy straightened in his seat, upsetting a half-empty Gordetto’s Pizza box.  Bart caught a can of Soder Cola before it followed the pizza to the floor, and Kon barely noticed.  “That’s it!  He must have... like... somehow subconsciously drew on Arrowette’s aim or something!”

    “Ooookay.”  Bart chose not to dwell on that.  That just had headache written all over it.  “Uhm.  Speaking of her, is Cissie here?”

    “Huh?”  Kon surfaced from his glazed look and blinked at Impulse for a moment.

    Bart decided Kon had been at the monitor far too long.  “Arrowette?  Here?  Yet?”

    “Oh.  Sorry.  Yeah, her and Wondy went to the locker room a couple minutes ago.  I think she’s staying with Cass for the weekend, so they’re gathering some things.” He smirked knowingly at the young speedster.  “Why, is she the one you—”

    There was a sound like a shot, and Kon blinked again and then stared.  The monitor room was empty, except for the vaguely Bart-shaped after-image that faded away before he could rub his eyes.

    Kon looked at the empty room for a second, and then slowly turned back to the computer screen.  Then he pounded his fist on the desktop, triumphantly.  “Or... or maybe he cheats!  That’s it!  Robin cheats!  That’s how he does it!”

    Then he glanced at the quiet around him, realizing no one would be answering.  And slowly, sullenly, he went back to staring up at the screen-full of data, muttering.  “Or something.  I mean, no one’s that perfect.”

- ~ -

    “Well, no, he’s not perfect.”  Cassie said, muffled by the door of the locker room.  Not that she was being overly loud to begin with.  It was the first words Bart had been able to make out.  “But, come on, Cissie, who is?  You at least think he’s cute, right?”

    “Well, yeah, I guess,” admitted the same voice that Bart hadn’t been able to get out of his mind.  “But I admit Pocket Monsters are cute, too, and I don’t think about kissing them or anything.”

    “Oh!  So now you think about kissing him?”  Cassie’s voice rose teasingly.

    “No!”  Cissie hissed, sounding a bit panicked.  Then: “Could we talk about something else?  You and Kon, maybe?  Does the Boy of Steel have lips to match?”

    There came a moment of silence, and then the snapping sound of a wet towel on bare skin.

    “Ow!”  Cissie yelped.  “A simple yes or no would have been fine!”

    Bart winced in the hallway as he paced, waiting.  After what happened to Superboy when he just tried to drill a peephole, he wasn’t about to try to actually go into the locker room while the girls were in there.  So he’d been waiting for them to come out, as patiently as was humanly possible for him. 

    Which, after the day he’d had, wasn’t really all that much.  He’d started pacing back and forth a while ago, after forcing himself to quit tapping his foot until it became a blur.

    He’d just about considered running to the Florida Keys and back to work off some extra tension when the door to the locker room opened and the girls stepped out, out of uniform— wearing their usual jeans and tees for the warm fall weather outside— and still giggling.  But a step out of the locker room, they noticed him, and both Cissie and Cassie stared, wide-eyed, down at him.

    Down at him?  Funny.  He didn’t remember Cissie being that tall.  Or Cassie, either.

    They pointedly stared at his feet.  It wasn’t until he looked down as well that he realized that he’d paced a half-foot-deep trench into the stone floor.

    “Whoops.”  He said.

    Cassie grew the beginnings of a smile.  “Sorry, Bart.  We weren’t keeping you from the locker room, were we?  I mean, have you been here long?”

    “Oh, no.”  Bart grinned as he stepped up to the floor.  “I was just...”

    I was just listening to you two talk and waiting for Cissie.  He was vaguely sure that broke some sort of unwritten rule, so he quickly tried to manufacture an excuse for why he would be pacing outside the locker room.  And as often happened, his mind went completely blank.

    “...Uhm.  I was just... I... Just... practicing... uhm... channeling my... speed... into the ground.”  He managed, piecemeal.

    “Oh yeah?  Cool.”  Cassie said, as if that excuse more than satisfied her.  “Bet that would have all sorts of cool uses when we fight villains, right?”

    “Uhm, yeah.  Hope so.”  Bart said.  He couldn’t tear his eyes from Cissie, even though he knew he probably shouldn’t stare like that.  He dimly realized that she hadn’t yet closed her mouth and was staring at him, too.  “You okay, Cissie?”

    “Uhm.”  Cissie blinked once.  “Yeah... ’k...”

    “Oh, oops.”  Cassie moved and tripped over nothing, losing enough balance for a moment to nudge Cissie.  She bent down momentarily to re-tie her already-tied shoelaces.  “Sorry.  Darn sneakers.”

    The nudge seemed to break Cissie out of her stupor.  Her face went from pinkish-red back to something more near her usual shade.  But her eyes still seemed bigger and bluer than Bart had ever seen them.

    “Sorry.  Mind just went... y’know... elsewhere.”  She even managed to find a smile that looked every bit like the one he’d seen in his head as she chuckled.  “I’m fine now.  Hey, how was school, Bart?”

    “It was okay, I guess.”  He grinned.  That sounded like the Cissie he knew.  “You?  Kon said you two were gonna hang together this weekend?”

    “Unless she gets other pla—nnmph!”  Cassie’s eyes bugged and she glanced down at Cissie’s elbow, which was resting comfortably in her midsection.  She slowly looked back up and gave Bart an embarrassed grin.  “Uhm.  In fact, why don’t I just check in on Kon or something?”

    Cissie’s eyes widened and her head whipped around, shooting the other girl a glance.  “Cassie— ”

    But Wonder Girl was already backing up well out of elbow range, or reach, for that matter.  Her hands were behind her back, and she just continued to beam a cheesy smile at the two.  “Or... or maybe see how Robin’s doing.  Or... Secret!  Yeah, Secret... she... wanted to see me, anyway.  She wanted to... uhm... tell me... tell me a secret!  Right!”  She grinned.

    And then she turned and bolted.

    Bart scratched his head.  He whispered, out of the side of his mouth.  “You know, I worry about her sometimes.”

    “That’s okay.  You’ll have good reason to, soon enough.”  Cissie slowly rubbed at the bridge of her nose, and then, with an exhale, she looked back up at him and a smile peeked out at him.  “Channeling speed into the ground, huh?”       

    “Kinda.  Sorta.  Not really.”  Bart said, shrugging, dropping his gaze to his feet, surprised to find them shuffling.  For someone that had spent all day focusing himself to talk to her, he’d managed to suddenly find his tongue not wanting to work right.  He tried to kick his mind in gear while staring at the butterfly pattern on her shirtfront, when it occurred to him that starting at her shirt probably wasn’t helping.  His eyes found the floor again. “Uhm, Cissie?”


    “Uhm.”  Another shuffle of his feet.  He glared down at them and stuffed his hands into his pockets so they wouldn’t suddenly start shuffling, too.  Max would either laugh at you or ask where the real Bart is, Mister Act-First-Think-Later.  Where’s that impulsiveness now?  He’d just about set his jaw in resolve at the thought when he looked back up at her face and nearly felt it drain away all over again.  “Uhm.  Can I talk to you?”

    Laughter flickered in her eyes— and it was so not right that she had the sort of soft blue eyes that could just draw him in.  “Of course, Bart.  I mean, we’re already talking, aren’t we?”

    “Well, yeah.”  He nearly bit his tongue and tried to think of something to say.  His mind kept giving him the iconic equivalent of a TV test pattern.  He fell to silence.

    “Liberally defined, at least.”  She smirked, and after another long moment of silence, she reached up and tousled his hair.  She had surprisingly soft fingers for someone who drew a bowstring back every day.  “Hey, there something wrong, bud?”

    “No...”   He said, still thinking.  He thought he could mentally hear the long beep of the Emergency Broadcast System.  Thanks a lot, brain.  “Uhm...”

    She let the silence fall again, and then, slowly, so did her hand.  She gave him a contrite smile.  “Well, hey... I wish I could stay around, but I should probably get set to go.  Cassie’s mom would freak if she got home and we weren’t there.

    “If you’re here over the weekend, I’m sure we’ll stop by, though,” She turned back down the hallway, looking back over her shoulder at him.  “Okay, Bart?”

    Say.  Something.  Tell.  Her.  Something.

    “See y— ”  She started.

    She never finished it.  Bart’s hand shot out and closed around her wrist, not roughly, just enough to get her attention.  She looked back at him with a curious glance, and before her eyes could meet his and make him completely forget what he was going to say, everything came out.


    “Cissie, I know this isn’t supposed to work out like this but ever since you got me to quit vibrating by saying what you did— remember back in the basement of the court building there where Reddy was seeing the judge to try to claim Traya—  I haven’t been able to get it off my mind and it’s just been replaying and replaying andreplaying and it made me think that I really like youthatway too but I wasn’t sure at first so I asked Max and he gaveme one of those ‘thinkfor yourself Bart’ talks you knowthe ones I mean and anyway I asked everyone I knew well not everyoneeveryone but a few of my friends I asked them whatIshould do and everyonesaid that I should talkto youand seeifmaybe you reallydidfeelthe samewayand I shouldaskyou out if you’renottoobusyImean andifyouwouldn’tmind Imean I’mfreeand allsowouldyou wannamaybe dosomethinglikedancing oramovieordinner orsomething tomorroworSunday orevennextweekthatwould beallcool withmeImeanso IguessI’maskingyou wouldyougo outwithme, Cissie?” 

    He looked at her hopefully and, as an afterthought, took a breath.

    She stared at him with wide eyes and slowly shook her head.  “Uhm.  Bart?  I completely lost you after about the first second.  Say again?” 

    He quirked a brow at her.  “The whole thing?”

    “The highlights would probably be fine.”

    He inhaled a deep breath.  But just before he could voice it all again he suddenly found her finger pressing tight to his lips, cutting off the words.

    “Slowly this time, okay?”  She added.

    “Slow.  Right.”  Bart said, becoming uncertain again as thought began to take over compulsion. 

    She seemed to notice, and offered him a very trustworthy smile.  “Bart... we’re really good friends, right?  Whatever it is, whatever’s on your mind, you can tell me.  Promise.”

    He looked up at her for a moment, swallowed once, and lost in that smile, he hit the highlights that mattered most to him.  “I... I really think I like you, Cissie.  Would you go out with me?”

    Her smile stayed plastered on her face for a long moment, as though it had become sculpted there.  Then she slowly found voice.

    “Cassie put you up to this, didn’t she?”

    “What?”  His eyes went goggle-wide, and he shook his head vehemently.  “No, no, this was all me.  I kept thinking of when you broke me out of vibrating by telling me you... you know, loved me.  And I couldn’t get it out of my head.  And even if you didn’t really mean it, that’s okay, it just got me thinking.  Really thinking.

    “And I started to understand that the reason I couldn’t get it out of my head was ’cause I was feeling the same thing.  I really liked you, too.”  He shuffled his feet and looked up at her again.  That smile hadn’t moved a millimeter.  He was afraid she might be in some sort of shock again.  “Uhm.  You like Italian?”

    “Huh?”  She seemed to follow the change of subject slowly; her expression barely flickered.

    “Italian.  You like it?  I mean, if you’re not busy sometime this weekend, I could pick you up and take you somewhere.  I can probably get some money from Max, and...” He glanced at the glazed look in her eyes.  “...if you’re not gonna fall over, I mean.  Breathe or something, okay?”

    For a long moment he thought she hadn’t heard a word.  She just stood there, like she’d been clubbed on the head or something.  The only sign he hadn’t suddenly kicked into hyperspeed was the fact that she blinked after a few seconds.  And then her smile grew a millimeter wider, and her voice trailed out softly, still with a bit of a dazed sound.  But it still hit him like a cool, refreshing splash of water.

    “Uhm.  Saturday night okay with you?”


* * *


    “Ohh,” Secret said softly.  “That’s so sweet, Bart.  I didn’t even know you two had gone out together.”

    “It probably... didn’t... y’know... get around.”  He murmured, his eyes still drawn up the stasis cylinder, to her face.  It would have.  I wouldn’t have kept quiet about it.  I couldn’t help it.

    “Did you... go out long?”

    “Just that once.  Last Saturday.”  I would have done it more.  I would have done it whenever I could.  I barely had time to realize I cared.  Who knows what all we could have done together if we’d just...

    Somewhere, in the labyrinthine depths of Bart Allen’s mind, the spark of a thought began to form.  His eyes began to narrow as he stared at her unseeing wide ones.

    If we’d just...

    Iconic thought flared into being, electrical impulses leaping synapses.  His fingertips trailed up the glass, separating her hands from his.  He could acutely feel the molecules of air writhe around his fingers, just like he had when he’d been a moment too late to save her from her own arrow.  Iconic thought began to give way to idea.

    “Bart?”  Secret asked, her smoky brow furrowing.  “What did you say?”

    If we’d just had...

    “...time.”  Bart said, and then she was talking to an after-image as a sound like a gunshot startled her, and a burst of wind and a wake of electrical speed-force sparks marked his passage from the room. 

    Tendrils of her smoke, caught in his draft, wafted toward the open doorway, where Robin, Superboy and Wonder Girl looked up at the sound and sudden blast of wind that interrupted their own memories of Cissie.  The wind yanked at Robin’s cape, caused Kon’s eyes to grow wide as he whipped his head around to look.

    “What the hell?”  He gaped.

    Secret made it to the door, her eyes large and luminous.  “I think maybe I did a bad thing.  We were talking, and then Bart just— ”

    “Blew out,” Cassie said, her eyes wide.  “Hera, where could he go?  We’re on the moon.

    “Volcano’s being held here.”  Kon murmured pensively. “You don’t think he’s going to try to...” 

    “I don’t think so.  Not Bart.”  Robin looked at Suzie, passed on a glance that said, It’s okay, and then looked the direction the speedster had gone.  He put his mask back on.  “But I don’t know what he is doing.  And he may be in worse shape than we thought.  So we’d better find out, before he hurts himself.  Or someone else.”

    “How, Robin?”  Suzie asked worriedly.  “He ran out so fast I couldn’t even see him!”

    “This is still Impulse we’re talking about.”  Robin said as he led them out of into the hallway at a dead run.  “If he didn’t leave a trail, that’s when I’ll really start worrying about what happened to him.”

    Sure enough, he did.  Robin pointed them down the hallway, then further, toward the main levels, where an pathway of loose papers and lightweight debris that had obviously been caught in Impulse’s wake was still coming to a rest.  The further they followed it, however, the more Robin’s .  He remembered following the path Bart’s trail was leading.  He’d been there himself, not too long ago, when he’d first arrived.

    The teleporters.

    Secret saw where they were headed.  “This is the direction of the tubes we came up in, isn’t it?”

    “Rob, it’s probably bad enough if he’s running around here, especially if he’s in that sort of mindset.”  Superboy reminded him as he landed behind the Boy Wonder, the two girls pulling up beside him.  “But if he goes to Earth, I don’t know if we can even track him down, let alone talk with him.”

    “I know.”  Robin said, and pulled out a miniaturized communicator from his belt.  He tapped in a sequence of keys.  When in Rome, you do as the Romans, he thought.  And when in the Watchtower, you get the JLA.  Post-haste.



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