Stolen Goods, Stolen Dreams
This is the third part in my ‘Ascension of the Dark Knight’ series. Thus far, I’ve crafted a very different world from the canonical BtvS. I’d suggest reading the previous two parts first, as there’s quite a number of things you’re going to miss otherwise. That said, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
You folks asked for it, so here it is. It’ll take a bit to get all the players on the board (or rather, in their cells) but follow along and enjoy. We’re going to the asylum, kiddies!
I own nothing of Batman, DC Comics, or Buffy, and I’m not making any money off of this, it’s all in good fun. So sit back, relax, and enjoy. Feedback is always welcome.
Xander stepped up to the pair of headstones. With care, he gently stroked the top of each. Three years before, he stood here for the first time, after a desperate and gun-carrying man named Terrence Fletcher killed Buffy and Joyce Summers for the money Joyce happened to be carrying in her purse that day.
It was something he’d always regretted. He spent that day in the old bomb shelter he’d dubbed ‘The Batcave’ cleaning up and fixing an old Harley Davidson, to better assist his nighttime activities as Batman. It was a persona that he and Giles came up with, to better handle the vampires and demons that played their games of mayhem on the people of Sunnydale by night. Terry Fletcher threw all that out the window.
“Hey guys.” He spoke softly. “I know it’s been a while since I’ve visited. Things have been pretty hectic, of late. With the Hellmouth under LA, now, it’s become a whole lot harder to keep a handle on things. Everyone knows about the monsters, and because of that there’s been a lot of people being whipped up into a frenzy. Now and again a preacher will get the bright idea to march out with a crowd at random, stringing up anyone who looks funny. It hasn’t been pretty.”
He opened the package he was carrying, gently setting down a bouquet of roses before each gravestone. Xander spoke a bit ruefully. “Yeah, I know. It took a while in coming, but I can afford them now. I owe everyone a lot. You two most of all. We’re making progress. The heavy hitters are busy smashing world-ending demons into paste, while I’m stuck running around LA, getting the riffraff among humans and demons. Little old me hasn’t saved the world, lately, but at least my little corner of it is a bit nicer than it was before I got there.”
He gave Buffy’s headstone a gentle pat. “I’m sorry to cut this short, but I’ve got to get running. Fundraiser. Not fun. I’d rather jump into a pack of vampires than attend one, but it’s the way it goes. Wish me luck, Buff.”
He stepped away, swallowing the lump in his throat as he did. When he reached his limo, he slid into the back, stretching his legs out in front of him.
“All finished?” Rupert Giles, now known as Alfred to everyone else, spoke from the driver’s seat.
“Yeah.” Xander said. “You sure you don’t want to say anything?”
A soft sigh reached the young man. “I’m afraid I do say my piece to them, Xander. Just not here.” His tone turning somewhat amused, he spoke more clearly. “You’ve had three more phone calls, young man. If you’re not careful, the young ladies are going to get more than a pound of flesh out of you.”
Xander let out a soft laugh. “Yeah. That’s what I’m afraid of. Alright, onward to my doom.”
Two years earlier...
“But I don’t have a great-uncle Jack in Australia.” Xander said, wincing a bit as he rubbed his ribs.
Willow rolled her eyes. “I know that. You know that. The government doesn’t know that. Jack Warner, as far as they’re concerned, had everything. Driver’s licence, citizen number, workplace records, and time of death. According to their records, he died in July of 1991.”
Xander nodded. “Okay. So how does that help us?”
Giles sighed. “Remember, Willow managed to steal away twenty million pounds from the Council. The reason she took that, and not all their funds, was the necessity of making it look like they were starting a new operation. We had to give Her Majesty’s government a good reason to believe they were preparing for another attack.”
Willow nodded. “And there’s no sense in leaving that money sitting idle. We’ll have to be very careful with what we have for a while, until investments and whatever we get starts bringing us a return and hide the seed amount a bit better. We’re not going to just be able to spring up overnight, and we’re not going to be doing anyone much good in prison. I can’t sneak it back into my history, because my parents would actually pay attention to all that.”
Xander sighed. “Whereas mine wouldn’t pay attention to the family tree if it fell on their head. Okay. So the cover is my great-uncle died and left money for me. Not to my parents, because they’d just waste it on booze and maybe getting a nicer place to live, but to me directly. There’s no way we’re going to explain....how much is it?”
Willow smirked, bouncing a bit on her feet, using the side of Giles’ table to support her bad leg. “With the current exchange? Just a hair less than thirty-five million dollars.” She smirked at his dumbfounded expression. “Relax. You asked me for advice and we invested in what I like. Computers. Well, last couple of years, there’s the dot com boom, and our initial investments of two hundred grand paid off big.”
A shiver ran up Xander’s spine at that. “Damn. Just, damn. Okay, it’s more money than I thought I’d ever see.” He tapped his foot, considering for a long moment. “It’d be more than enough for the three of us personally, but it’s not going to get that far overall. We’re going to need infrastructure, equipment. Update and improve what the Watchers used to be. The guys at the top weren’t good people, but they were widespread and had a lot of influence. If we’re going to take up where they left off, we’ll have to get about as much.”
Willow nodded. “We’re all moving to LA, right? I mean, that’s where the Hellmouth is, and that’s where we need to go.” A small smile rose on her face. “And if you’re going to be running around in tights, we’re going to need a good base of operations over there.”
Xander started to nod, then froze. “Wills, what-?” He glanced over to Giles, who looked as stunned as he was.
Willow gave him her patented resolve face. “Don’t try to deny it. Batman shows up in LA, just after you head over there? Without telling me, I might add!” She poked him, her annoyance plain. “I’m sure it was just a coincidence that Batman happened to get more violent after Buffy was...” She took a deep breath, putting her train of thought back on track. “And just who happened to help out against the Joker, when you were nowhere to be found? I’m not stupid, Xander.”
Xander sighed. “Never thought you were, Wills. I am sorry for keeping this from you, though.”
Her anger faded, and her voice was small as she spoke. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
He took a long moment before he replied, sadness in his tone. “Honestly Wills? I don’t know. I came up with Batman to help take the heat off of Buffy. And what you and her didn’t know, you couldn’t reveal. I was hoping to do some damage, get them chasing after a phantom, leaving the heavy hitters for Buffy.” His voice was tight as he finished. “And then she died. Things just kept on coming after that. I wanted to tell you after things calmed down somewhat, especially after getting the Mayor out of the picture. Joker took care of that, though.”
Willow poked him in the chest, making him wince. “Well you have some serious groveling to do, mister. In the meantime, though, things much bigger than us are more important. Besides,” She gave him a serious look. “You’d just keep doing this without help anyway, right?”
Giles smirked. “He would indeed.”
Xander gave Giles an affronted look. “I thought you were behind me, Giles.”
Giles nodded, his smile growing. “And indeed, I am. However, you have made some poor choices at times. They worked out, but they could have been made more wisely. You certainly would pick up fewer injuries, if nothing else.” The smile faded as Giles spoke softly. “Since we’re laying all the cards on the table, you’re going to have to be on your toes. Cordelia is...not who she used to be.”
Xander blinked. “Come again?”
The former Watcher sighed. “Some time ago, not long after you left for Los Angeles, she was replaced by a counterpart from...elsewhere. She is still Cordelia, but not the Cordelia we knew. She has quite the grudge against you, Xander. Apparently, your counterpart there murdered her parents.”
Xander winced again. “Okay. Point taken. We’ll have to deal with that as things develop.” A wicked smile slowly rose on his face. “Now, Giles, we’re going to have to discuss what you’re going to do to stay under the radar.”
Now it was Giles’ turn to wince. Willow grinned, shaking the handle of her cane at him. “Since I’ll be setting up your identity, Giles, we’re going to have to work out some arrangements. After all, you don’t want to be stuck known as Willy Gobulcoque.”
“If you dare, Willow, be certain my revenge will be swift and merciless.” Giles spoke, a hint of Ripper in his eyes.
Lucius Fox looked up as someone knocked on his apartment door. With muttered annoyances, he got up off his couch, grimacing in distaste at the run-down state of his apartment. He wasn’t up for entertaining guests right now, and he had a busy day ahead of him. Trying to find a decent managerial position had been difficult, as a lot of the city’s resources were tied up in reconstruction. While it got a lot of people out and working for the rebuilding of Hollywood, they didn’t need an old man like him for the gruntwork, and bringing in new managers wasn’t something most companies were doing. It certainly didn’t help that his last job was with Lexcorp. It looked like there were going to be a lot of people going hungry this Christmas. Himself included.
When he opened the door however, he was confronted by two figures. The first one was young, looking pretty uncomfortable in his suit. The other man had a gentleman’s bearing, his eyes filled with a sense of ironic humor. The young man stretched out his hand. “Lucius Fox? I’m Xander Harris, and this is my old friend, Alfred G. Pennyworth. May we come in?”
Blinking in confusion, he simply stepped back away from the door. While it was daylight out still, the hall didn’t have any direct sunlight in it, and everybody knew about the threats out there.
His grin widening, Xander stepped inside, followed by the older man. He looked around with a wince. “Okay. You’ve seen better days.”
Lucius nodded. “Quite. Was there something, young man?”
With a nod, Xander slipped some papers out of his jacket, handing them to Lucius. He spoke as Lucius unfolded them, eyes widening. “I’ve come into some money recently. Quite a bit, and more than I know what to do with. You’re the third fellow I’ve visited today.”
“Harris Enterprises? You’re building a new company from the ground up?”
Xander shrugged, a roguish grin rising on his face. “Oh no. I’m not good enough for that. It’s just there’s a lot of small businesses and the like that have been hit quite hard by the attack on LA. Now a lot of them are being taken up by other bigger businesses, but some are being bought just to shut them down so they can sell their own things. I’m not going to do that. I’m branching out a bit, and providing a bit of stability all around for the low-down fellows. Construction, software, police equipment manufacturing.” His eyes hardened a bit. “I was around when the Joker attacked Sunnydale. Things would have been much, much cleaner if the cops had decent equipment during the riot.”
Lucius nodded at that. What went unsaid was the fact that the Sunnydale Police Department itself could have used some decent police to wield said equipment. Their incompetence quickly became legendary, and many of the corrupt and incompetent police were being prosecuted, in light of the now well-known problems that they let slide. “So you’re purchasing up small businesses, keeping a few on their feet, and when things pick up again, profits come in and you can expand. What if things don’t pick up again?”
Xander nodded. “Well for one, by being spread out over several business types, we’ll be more prepared against non-recovery. The small businesses I’ve looked at are fairly essential to the areas they’re in. Food, water, drug stores. People will frequent them even if they have to step over rubble to get there, and when the roads are finally cleared, traffic will pick back up. Construction companies all over LA are going to have their hands full, too. Right now, they’re incapable of not making money, as the local government wants things nice and clean again.”
After a few moments of consideration, Lucius spoke. “So why have you come to this old man?”
Xander’s smile faded somewhat, but there was still a sense of good humor about the young man. “Because, I recognize my limitations, Mister Fox. I’ve got a nice lot of cash, but I got it mostly out of luck. My best friend, who is going to get one hell
of a birthday present this year, managed to invest nicely and we got quite lucky. But luck doesn’t last forever, and while I could use this cash to brighten up a good area of the city, it wouldn’t last long as-is. With a company, the effort can be ongoing. And I haven’t the first idea on how to run a company.”
The older man spoke for the first time. “Whereas you do. Master Xander here is a bit...eccentric, but he has the best in mind for everyone. Unlike Lexcorp.”
Lucius began to smile. “And how many former Lexcorp employees are you picking up?”
Xander returned the smile. “As many ethical ones as I can find. Which, there’s a surprising number of. Guess the bosses didn’t like it when somebody said ‘That’s against the law!’ or ‘This violates the Geneva Conventions!’ or ‘Help help, I’m being oppressed!’”
Lucius’ smile began to broaden. “Well, Mister Harris. I think I’ll accept your offer.”
Xander chuckled. “Please, Mister Harris is my father. Call me Xander.”
The tasks of setting up a business were long and tedious. While Xander kept out of it as much as he could, deferring to those who knew better, he still kept a close eye on things. The Gray Ghost perona he went as during Ethan’s antics on Halloween knew next to nothing about business, but the man did know the benefits of learning to cover a weakness. Lucius was a skilled manager, and he’d managed to keep a few ideas away from Lexcorp’s copyrights.
With some hesitance, Xander let Lucius look over an edited version of his notebook. The designs for machines, body armor, modified military vehicles, and so on. That notebook of his filled up pretty quickly, for those hours in the morning when he couldn’t sleep after a patrol.
Lucius squinted at the page in front of him. The sixty year old man looked much better and healthier than he had the first time Xander saw him, and the casual suit he wore definitely suited him quite well. After some consideration, he spoke. “Well, I can build it. It’s a good design for a plane, if a bit rough.”
With a faint smile, Lucius put the paper down on his desk. “It’ll cost you about a billion dollars, and you’ll need a dedicated service facility, and personnel of course, to actually maintain the thing. Not to mention the astronomical cost of jet fuel. Vertical take-off and landing will let it land easily in a lot of places, but that ups the fuel cost for something like this about ten-fold. Your best bet would be to sell the design to the government and let them build it.”
Xander sighed. “Okay. It is a dream machine, though. It would be nice to have, if a bit impractical to keep. So, this should be feasible around....forty years from now?”
Lucius’ smile became more pronounced. “Call it about fifty. Unless Superman gives us little folk cheap antigravity technology, anyway. Then it’d be about ten years, assuming you break the bank putting it together.”
Xander nodded, a wistful expression on his face. “Okay. It was a longshot, but better to ask and find out from an expert. What else in here is feasible, if not practical to make right now?”
Lucius flipped through the notes, tapping the diagram. “The car would work, though not as easily as it is lain out here. First time your design hit a speedbump it would be pretty likely to rip itself in half. You’d need something to lighten the load by quite a bit, and as I said, you’d need antigravity technology to make it suitable. Fuel would be a problem, but not as much as it is on the plane. If you’re willing to sink a good deal of money into it, I can design a feasible military vehicle.” A thoughtful expression crossed his face. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the recent increasing vampire deaths around the city, would it?”
Xander shrugged. “I know there’s some vigilante groups doing their fair share. But let’s just say I’m looking to supply local militias a bit better. If I can sell some of these designs to the government, all the better. The Army just isn’t set up to handle some of the tougher demons out there. For lesser ones, what will kill a human will kill them, but the stronger ones? It’s not so neat. What scares me is the idea they’re already working on that little problem.”
Lucius nodded slowly. “If you just happen to order more equipment than we need, for whatever purposes, I’d appreciate it if some of the bits would happen to fall around Harland and Flatview.”
Xander rose an eyebrow at that. “Middle of the slums?”
Lucius sighed. “My nephew, Charles, and my niece, Alonna, are around there. Ever since the Revelation, he’s been going out with his friends, trying to make a difference in the old neighborhood. They do fairly well, but I worry about him.” As Xander mulled it over, Lucius spoke softly. “I know our business hasn’t got a lot of leeway right now. I’m just asking if you can do anything about it.”
Xander shook his head. “I didn’t say no. I was just trying to figure out how much we could spare. A lot of money’s tied up in the construction side. We’ll give it a couple of months, and then we’ll set on urban cleanup and renewal around there.”
Lucius blinked. “Urban renewal?”
Xander nodded, a grin coming to his face. “Vampires like to lay low, out of sight and in places where they can avoid having to pay for much of anything. There’s a few vampires who pay their rent, taxes, and hold open their bank accounts, but overall? They need places to hide during the day and a base to run around from at night. If we renovate the slums, they’ll have fewer places to hole up and multiply from. And your nephew will have an easier time of it.”
Lucius slowly smiled at that. “Not a bad idea. I’ll draw some things up. You’ve got big plans, boss.”
“Yeah. I just need to pay for them. See you in a bit, Lucius.”
The months went by rather quickly. With the police out in force for the nighttime, vampire deaths were at an all-time low. While the Justice League could handle the most dangerous of natural or supernatural events, even Superman couldn’t be everywhere at once. The slack was taken up by ordinary humans who did what they could.
Such as Lieutenant James Gordon. Since the Revelation, police departments all over the world were revamping themselves, creating new section of officers who were trained to handle the weirder side of things. The Supernatural Task Unit. And unfortunately for Jim Gordon’s hopes for a few quiet months of work, Los Angeles was the new site of the Hellmouth. As the head of the STU, Gordon was expected to deal with things, due to his expertise in Sunnydale.
He quickly found out they’d given him a thankless task. Los Angeles wasn’t Sunnydale. He knew how to repel vampires, and even had a shotgun decapitation to his name. But that had been much more a matter of luck than skill, and he’d been a nervous wreck for a week afterward. The scale, too, was entirely different. Sunnydale was a city of just over (or under, if the creatures and demons were hungry) thirty-eight thousand. Los Angeles had three million humans, and the population of monsters and vampires was substantially higher as a result.‘Still,’
He reflected. ‘At least I’ve got some unorthodox help.’
There was a semi-permanent reminder of something else out there in the shadows. Something that hunted the hunters themselves. The spotlight that shined from the rooftop of his department gave the monsters pause when they went to hunt, and the citizens a little bit of hope. This new world was dark and grim, but with it came the protector of LA.
He smiled slightly as a low voice spoke some distance behind him. “Slow night, Jim?”
Turning around, Gordon blinked as he saw Batman standing over a tied up figure, drooling slightly in her unconscious state. She was beautiful, seemingly sculpted to be such, her hair a deep red. But it was the faintly green tinge of her skin and the leaves that wove over her body that gave him pause. “Plant people now? That’s new, even for me.”
Batman nodded. “She’s Amy Madison. I found her in Griffith Park. She was busy making new and dangerous kinds of plants. You heard about the sick people around there?”
Gordon shook his head. “No, sorry. There’s a lot on my plate.”
A small smirk crossed Batman’s lips at that. “Fair enough. She was making new trees and vines. All of them poisonous. They looked like ordinary trees of the type you find around here, but they were releasing venomous spores. Not enough to kill in small doses, but more than enough to make a person ill. The sick people were exposed to the spores when they went up there. It looks like she just wanted an area free from people entirely.”
Gordon nodded slowly. “Alright. I’ll take her in from here.”
“Be gentle with her.” Batman asked softly. “She’s cut off from people as it is. She needs help and therapy more than condemnation. And if she were to be more helpful with these abilities she has, she could do a lot of good.”
Amy made a gurgling noise.
“What did you hit her with?” Gordon asked, a frown spreading over his features.
Batman sighed. “Horse tranquilizer. She’ll be out for a while.” He paused for a moment, his dark voice concerned. “Any word about ‘him?’” Referring to the Joker. The madman who had caused more visible damage in Sunnydale in a single day than a century of vampire attacks. Though those had been quelled by the Mayor, who had been one of the Joker’s victims.
Gordon shook his head. “He’s been seen around LA, now and again. Considering what he’d been doing in Sunnydale, though, whatever he’s got planned can’t be good. If we can’t catch this guy and lock him up before he springs whatever he wants in motion, then my guess is we’re all going to feel it.”
Joker looked on his wall. If it belonged to anyone else, it could have been considered a shrine to the Batman. It was filled with newspaper clippings, tabloids, articles, and even a few pages ripped out of Urban Legends, a low-brow magazine that had been enjoying many more subscriptions ever since the supernatural was revealed to the world at large. Most of them were woefully inaccurate. Most of the tabloid pictures showed a literal giant bat, swooping down on hapless purse snatchers and vampires. Other articles were spinning things, trying to get at just who or what Batman was.
Considering the Justice League zipping around the country, helping with or preventing natural disasters, speculation that would have been batshit crazy a year ago seemed somewhat plausible.
But Joker knew what Batman was. He was further along the curve, pushing at what was acceptable in order to enforce his order on the world. Batman just hadn’t yet realized that order was futile. Chaos was the natural state of things. Chaos was his god, his ambrosia, the chaos that reigned in his mind was supreme. He knew what people were. Jokes. Under it all, everyone was like him, buried under a thin veneer of civilization and rules and boundaries. People dropped those rules the second it became inconvenient. A plane crashes in the mountains, and suddenly Brazilian soccer teams became cannibals.
As gentle hands caressed his back, his unnatural grin widened. And dear, dear Harley was another example. People could be molded into whatever society wanted, given enough pressure. But hit them in just the right places, and they’d break. Which then he was completely free to put back together in a more pleasing way.
“Puddin.’” She whispered in his ear. “Come to bed. I’ll wear nothing but the collar.”
Thoughts of vengeance derailed for the moment, the Joker’s grin widened. After all, at heart, he was still a teenager.
Angel scowled as he gripped a terrified Lindsey’s collar, giving the up and coming lawyer a good look at the seared side of the vampire’s face. “I was told there would be no problems! Hello! Alarms! That says ‘Big fucking problem!’ to me!”
“Three security guards are dead.” Lindsey rasped, taking a shuddering breath as the maddened vampire released him. Straightening his collar instinctively, Lindsey forced himself to meet Angel’s demonic yellow eyes. “From the psych profile, we weren’t expecting that she’d be willing to kill to escape.”
Angel snarled, muscles shifting visibly as he fought the urge to tear Lindsey’s throat out. That wasn’t for him to decide. Chance was the ultimate arbiter, the only fair force in the universe. Angel refused to be less fair than chance itself. Lindsey stiffened as Angel flipped his coin, his life in the balance as the vampire caught it. Angel opened his palm, showing the unblemished side of the coin, and Lindsey let out a breath of relief.
“Find her quickly.” Two-Face ordered. “I don’t want any excuses, understand?”
Xander slipped off his mask as he settled down on his couch. He winced as he carefully took off the armor. Kendra had given it to him, when the cobbled together suit he and Giles put together in Sunnydale failed to protect him fully from a knife-wielding Joker. It was a suit of leather armor provided by the League of Shadows, lightweight, flexible and suited for the kind of work Batman was involved in.
It had a few bonuses he hadn’t been aware of, though. His suit had tracking devices in every single piece of his armor. In the days following the Revelation, wherein a supernatural creature went stomping throughout Hollywood, he and Giles took a few hours to find and destroy every bug in the armor. It still worked for him, but he needed something better. He’d have to carefully suggest something to Lucius one of these days. Once there was more money coming in, anyway.
He’d already spent some of that on his new apartment. He considered getting to a high-rise penthouse, but he’d certainly need a great deal more money coming in for that to work. Still, he was more than comfortable now, and the investment accounts were growing nicely. Lucius was very good at what he did, and Giles had records on exactly what the Watcher’s Council had been investing in. If only he could arrange for something to make everything fall into place...
There was a whoosh of air, and he smiled as he opened his eyes. Karen Kent, now Karen Starr, known to the rest of the world as Power Girl, stood before him in casual wear, jeans and a t-shirt. “Hey. How was Peru?” He asked with a gentle tone.
She shrugged. “It wasn’t pretty, but it went fairly well. Landslide was heading for a village when I intervened.” Karen put on a disgusted expression. “Assholes are wising up, though. It was triggered with explosives. While I was busy keeping all that rock from smashing into the village, someone launched a raid on a compound in Brazil.”
Xander’s smile faded. “An all-girl’s school?”
Karen nodded. “Another former Watchers facility. A hundred girls kidnapped. Someone’s trying to grab all the information they can on the weird things out there.” She scowled angrily. “Diana’s doing some lobbying in Washington, but a bunch of thickheads are obstructing certain reforms. We’re lucky the Council had only some idea of who is a Potential and who isn’t. Otherwise, a lot more girls would be going missing.”
Xander nodded at that. “It’s a big problem. They missed Buffy and Faith, so their method wasn’t perfect, but they were pretty thorough as a whole. I’m guessing things aren’t so great elsewhere.”
Karen smirked. “You should have seen Diana go to town on their Russian school. It should be required viewing everywhere. ‘Don’t piss off Wonder Woman! She’ll rip up your country!’”
He chuckled. “True at that.” He rubbed his lip as a gentle smile crossed his face. “You don’t need to keep checking on me, you know.”
Karen rolled her eyes. “I know. You can handle yourself, as far as being a normal guy goes anyway. I’m not going to tell you not to run around out there if you want to. Just be smart about it. You take a bullet, it’ll hurt you or kill you. If I take one, I’ll spit it back at the guy.”
“Fair enough. I’m working on things over here. I’ll never be as bulletproof as you or your brother, but there’s no help for that.” He tapped his chin. “You know, we could make a decent amount of cash if you’re willing to work on things a bit.”
Karen smirked at that. “You know both Clark and I won’t go for that? I’m willing to have fun, but not if it means using my powers for personal gain. It wouldn’t be fair to people.”
Xander nodded. “Yeah, I get that. So donate the proceeds to charity.” He considered for a minute. “How much can you lift, anyway? You hauled the tanker up like it was nothing.”
She flushed a bit. “I haven’t actually found the limit. The trouble comes up when I try to lift something too large and it falls apart. When I was a kid, I tried lifting the side of the barn up. All I managed to do was break a nice piece of the wall off. My guess is, if I tried lifting a building, I’d end carrying a couple of bricks and leaving a nice trail or rubble behind me.”
“Fair enough. But what do you think about satellites? NASA burns off a lot of rocket fuel every time they launch a dinky little thing in orbit, or heads up to maintain the Hubble Telescope. If you hired your services out to NASA for, say, half a million each trip up and donated that to charity, it’d help out the League’s image, help expand the space program, and put us all on a better footing with the government.” He frowned. “We’ll have to be real careful, though. Make sure they don’t hire you guys out to bring up spy sats or nuke launchers.”
Karen slowly smiled. “Yeah. I hear that. How’d you come up with this idea, anyway?”
Xander shrugged. “Just something that came to me as I was putting my business together. Note the nice, clean apartment.”
“It’s certainly better than the last place I found you in.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Ready to work on your image?”
He sighed, his eyes pleading. “Do I have to? I mean, can’t I just be a reclusive millionare? I mean, I don’t mind mingling in a crowd, but drawing attention to myself like that? Goes against everything I’ve learned about skulking.”
Karen laughed, playfully ruffling his hair. “It’s still skulking, just a different kind of skulking. Besides, if you show up with a smoking hot blonde on your arm at these occasions, a lot of people will be too busy thinking that your tiredness in the daytime is because you’re too busy keeping me happy at night, rather than running around beating up vampires and muggers.”
Xander quickly turned a very deep shade of red. “R, right.” Managing a swallow around his sudden nervousness, he looked at her with a bit of trepidation. “Not that I mind the attention, but why are you so interested in me?”
Her lip quirked. “Lots of reasons. It’s fun teasing you. And because I like you. I’ve always had a soft spot for guys who took on a challenge, especially when they don’t mind when a girl can outpunch them.”
Xander let out a soft laugh. “Yeah. My last girlfriend could definitely do that.” When he confronted Kendra the night of the Revelation, he managed to best her, but only by choosing the battleground and being prepared, along with a generous helping of sheer, dumb luck. On an even fight, he’d have no chance. He had never won a sparring match against her, either.
Karen’s smirk widened as she whispered in his ear. “Besides, I’m looking forward to jumping your bones. Just as soon as I learn how not to....squeeze, so much.”
Amy’s eyes opened as she was jolted. Awareness came slowly, her mind taking several moments to comprehend what she was seeing. The last thing she remembered was...arguing with a gargoyle? That wasn’t right. Her head was so fuzzy, it was hard to think...
Before her stretched a long corridor, the bright sunlight beyond being closed off as steel doors slammed shut. Her perspective was shifting as she was being pulled backwards. It was so quiet here. There was life within these walls, but it was mostly animal and human life, which were mostly deaf to her calls.
Mostly. Some of the guards looked at her form with approval. Her pheromones might give her an edge, if she needed it. She may have hated the way her body looked now, with the face of her mother’s, but at least it was pleasing. “Where?” She managed to croak out, through her dry mouth.
“Easy there.” A woman’s voice spoke. “Nobody’s going to hurt you here. We’ll take good care of you, help you deal with things.”
A man chided gently. “Now Doctor Walsh, I hope you can deal with our new patient? We’ve got a lot of new ones coming in lately.”
Walsh spoke with a hint of humor. “No problem, Director Sharp.”
Amy’s eyes began to close against her will, her vision beginning to blur. On and on in the background, she heard a pleasantly gentle voice speaking in the tones of an actor making a television jingle. “Welcome to Arkham Asylum. Our staff are here to help you. When Director Sharp suggested converting a psychiatric facility into one dedicated for supernatural cases, the government of California was kind enough to back the needs of its most troubled unique citizens...”