All's Fair, part 2

by Chicago

Disclaimers in "part 0" Note // indicates translated quote.

//"This is where they were last seen,"// Garcia explained, gesturing toward the shore of the lake. //"The local inspectorate, they point out that girls run away for the factories around La Paz all the time, but so young-"//

//"You were right to call me,"// Fire said, kneeling down to inspect rocky ground. Nothing fresh enough for her to follow thatthe villages trackers had not already found. //"The factories do not raid the villages, preferring to seduce. You say there were three girls?"//

//"Yes. All less than 12 years old. Our trackers sought-"//

//"My little Meena,"// a woman began sobbing, breaking away from the small crowd that had followed Garcia and the superhero to the water. //"She is just nine - too small to run away, even with her friends! The lake has swallowed her! The lake-"//

//"Maca!"// Garcia snapped. //"This superstition has-"//

//"Look!"// someone cried, and Fire followed a pointing finger in the direction of the lake. There was a collective gasp around her as another voice cried, "Es el Hombre Verdad!"

A mix of pleased surprise and deep aggravation filled Beatriz da Costa as her own eyes verified the villager's pronouncement. The crowd around her had already broken away, dashing toward where J'onn J'onzz had come ashore - just the way they always reacted when he appeared. Even Garcia, who had at least had the courtesy to stay by her side, was distracted.

//"Did you summon him?"// he asked, truly awed.

Fire shook her head. //"He answers to his own authority."// She managed to keep the irony out of her voice, realizing she'd probably just added to the legend of El Hombre Verdad. So be it. He was standing on the shore now, listening patiently as the troubles of the village were laid at his feet.

Fire wanted to sigh. //"We should join them,"// she pointed out, walking toward the gaggle of people at lake's edge. Garcia quickly got ahead of her, taking her suggestion almost as a dismissal. Yep, the inescapable magnetism of El Hombre Verdad, he who was muy macho in a land where that counted for more than being around all the time. Her irritation was tempered, though. Better here and alive than dead.

//"Fire,"// J'onn acknowledged, prompting a sudden silence around him. //"It sounds as if you are precisely where you are needed."//

//"Then you agree with me that this is not just factory runaways as the inspectorate suggests?"// This was J'onn's way. Example. It frustrated her to death that he would not just tell people that she was a good enough superhero and that they should respect her in her own right.

//"Yes. Perhaps if we might have some time to discuss?"//

The suggestion prompted Garcia into action. //"Yes, yes. Let them go walk, people. Give them space,"// he ordered.

It took a few more moments, but then J'onn had broken free and they were walking through the mountain forest. "I am sorry, Beatriz," J'onn apologized. "I know you don't appreciate my sudden entrances."

Fire stopped suddenly, prompting J'onn to do the same. Then she launched herself at him, hugging him fiercely. "You're better!" she delighted. "I hear the JLA almost killed you again."

She watched him smile faintly. "Again. Yes."

"Although I still don't forgive you." She stood back now, her arms crossed over her chest. "You seem like you don't trust me with a mystery."

He shook his head. "I was here for different reasons when that mother's grief caught me. There's something strange at the bottom of the lake."

Beatriz wrinkled her brow. "Strange? Strange how?"

"I'm not sure. It's like a bulge at the lake bottom. It could be a sudden geological phenomenon, but the only effect it seems to have had is on the water level."

"You think it's related to these missing girls?"

"I have no idea. I did a scan and the girls are no longer in the area, but -" He shrugged, but his face wore a worried frown.

"I'll stay on the case," Beatriz promised. "Perhaps I can be of use to the JLA after all."

She regretted her tone almost instantly as J'onn sighed. "Beatriz, we cost you enough." The cost. Even so oblique a mention pained her heart. It would not be the same without Tora. "Still," he continued, "your help is always welcome. And needed here especially."

She nodded. They'd talked about it before, the dearth of superheroes in the southern hemisphere. Not that there were not heroes, but the meta and supernatural population here was more inclined to the shadows and willing to be decried as superstitious nonsense. Recognized superheroes with ties to the larger hero network were much harder to attract to parts of the world where law and mysticism were frequently entwined.

"You will let me know if the JLA discovers -?"

A soft beep interrupted her, and he held up a staying hand. "A moment."

She waited, watching his expression shift as he answered his comunicator. "Go ahead ... Yes. ... Understood. ... I may be late ... Yes." She found herself paying less attention to his words than his tone, his body language...

"J'onn J'onzz!" she exclaimed when he finished his conversation.

He looked at her, startled.

"You have taken a lover!" she announced gleefully, once again catching him in a tight embrace. She was thrilled at the discovery, remembering nights when Tora used to worry for their leader and his loneliness.

"Beatriz," he protested, although his tone was more pleased than stern.

"Sorry." She released him, pouting faintly. "You aren't going to tell me who, I can just tell. And you've got JLA business, so I can't try to charm it out of you. But I'm so happy for you!"

He gave her a sidelong look. "How did -?"

"Please. A woman knows these things. I take it you have to go?"

"I want to do something first. Let's rejoin the others."

Beatriz gave him a look and then shrugged. It wasn't against J'onn's principles to disappear if a situation was well in hand, and there was little enough for him to do here. She fell into step behind him.

When they emerged back at the shore, the group immediately gathered around them, all talking at once. J'onn held up a hand. <"You have done well to call Fire to your aid. The fate of these small ones is truly a mystery, one which may touch upon other work that I must do. Fire will stay with you. Trust her work, for she is as skilled as I at discovering the causes of such calamities.">

Beatriz looked at him sharply, keeping her face composed as she protested mentally, Don't lie to them, J'onn. I've wanted your support, but-

I'm not lying, Beatriz. You have long known you have the skill. And something I cannot have to this case - the dedication. Aloud, he was saying something about his responsibilities elsewhere and offering some words of comfort to the bereaved parents in the group. Beatriz wasn't really listening. She was only looking at him, wondering if it was this new love he had that gave him the willingness to vouch for her this way, as he deliberately had not before.

There was a pause as he said his farewells, and then he was taking off back over the lake - but no one was watching him. Instead, they had turned to their local superhero, looking for guidance and support. Fire took the hand of one still sobbing mother and gave a tight, sympathetic smile. //"We'll find out what happened,"// she promised, //"whatever it takes."//

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