Oversung Hero, part 5

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

Stephanie Brown stared out the window of a limousine borrowed from Bruce Wayne as the suburban sprawl of Gotham slowly gave way to the almost rural tract of land that signaled the approach of the suburban sprawl of New York City. Behind her, her mother and Dinah Lance - a.k.a. Black Canary - were chatting in what sounded like an amiable fashion. In front of all of them, the end point of this particular Saturday morning drive, was the JSA brownstone. Steph caught the flesh of her upper arm between the fingers of her good hand and pinched herself for what must've been the hundredth time in the last five days.

It had been decidedly weird when she returned from school Monday afternoon to find her mother at the kitchen table, surrounded by brochures for internships. When Steph had realized what kind of internships - police and fire department and similarly themed "heroic" professions - she had been surprised. But the whole scene had taken a turn for the surreal when her mother had hesitantly presented her with a brochure for an internship with the Justice Society of America.

Steph didn't know which surprised her more; the fact that the JSA had an internship program, or the fact that her mother had actually encouraged her to look into it.

No, she changed her mind. It was definitely the latter.

They had talked about it almost all night, Stephanie stunned and hopeful and her mother concerned and earnest. They had reached a tentative agreement. No Spoiler - at least for a few months - and Crystal would back Stephanie's application for the JSA internship. That backing was crucial; the first page of the application was a parental consent form.

Getting through the school day on Tuesday had been almost painful.

Tuesday evening, Steph had gone directly home and carefully filled out the entire application, recounting her father's history and her own desire to defy his legacy. She carefully skirted mention of her costumed identity, although she did explain that she had had some encounters with members of the Batclan without elaborating. She left the whole application on the kitchen table when she went to bed, and the next morning found the consent form signed and affixed with a sticky note reading, "It looks good. -Mom"

She had faxed it on the way to school.

Dinah Lance had called last night.

"... know Bruce Wayne?" Steph's mother was asking, and Stephanie turned half an ear back toward the conversation. She had been wondering the same thing.

Dinah laughed. "Brucie? Oh, that's a story and a half. There was this stretch back - oh, I'd say 7 or 8 years ago, when all the rich and trendy were running or funding superhero teams. There was the JLI, of course, that Maxwell Lord was running. And his ex-wife started up the Conglomerate and then everyone seemed to be setting up a team. There was one outfit run by the Revson cosmetics heirs, for Pete's sake.

"Anyway, Bruce Wayne got in on the act and started something called - get this - 'the Hard Cases.' Obviously didn't consult his marketing guys on that one. Anyway, it gave all us hero types a chance to rub elbows with the money types - and occasionally rescue them."

"You rescued him?" Crystal sounded impressed.

Dinah waved that away. "Once or twice," she claimed breezily. "Brucie had a knack for getting into trouble. Then he got bored and dropped the team, but he still has a bit of a thing for celebrity superheroes. Hires them occasionally to play flashy bodyguard to his big to-dos and such."

Crystal nodded thoughtfully. "You know, I'd never considered how superheroes make a living."

"Like anyone else - any which way they can. I had a day job as a florist when I started out."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. Heck, I was just a kid, then, too. Nineteen years old and ready to follow in my mother's footsteps, no matter what she thought about it."

"Your mom didn't like the idea?" Stephanie interjected, turning from the window to join the conversation.

Dinah smiled. "Mom wanted me to be happy just as a florist. The shop - it was hers first, but she had so little time for it when she was adventuring with the original JSA - I thought then that she wanted me to have the boring half of her life." The smile on Dinah's face saddened a little. "It didn't occur to me until much, much later that she really just wanted me safe."

Stephanie felt herself glancing at her mother and meeting her eyes, then quickly looking away.

"Not," Dinah hastened, "that there's anything to worry about with this internship program. It's really just all about the behind the scenes... ah, hell."

Both Steph and Crystal looked up, startled at Dinah's self-interruption.

"Sorry, I've been trying to think of a way to bring this up. Crystal, I need to tell you, I know about Spoiler."

Stephanie thought her heart was going to freeze in her chest. "Dinah-" she protested.

"Steph," Crystal warned. "Go on, Dinah."

"First things first - this isn't anything to do with the JSA. I'm not even on the JSA anymore, actually, although I'm the one Bruce Wayne contacted for information. I keep up with them all, but I've got other things going on.

"Anyway, Crystal, you remember back after the quake, when your husband had been released from jail due to lack of space?"

Crystal nodded slowly, glancing at Steph.

"Steph - Spoiler - asked me for help through a mutual friend. I was the one who chased them away."

"I knew they couldn't just have left. Steph, why didn't you-"

"Hold the phone, Crystal. I'm not done. I actually thought that was a pretty smart move, relatively speaking, asking for help. That's why I bothered to get the information on the internship to you at all. The internship has been open forever because any kid whose been interested has been all about using it to turn into a superhero."

Steph and her mother exchanged a look. "What made you think - I mean, knowing who I am - was -"

Dinah nodded sympathetically. "Aside from the fact that the word 'Spoiler' didn't appear once in your application? You'd have to ask the JSA, actually. They made the decision. I just got to be the messenger."

Crystal cleared her throat. "So you were saying about the internship being behind the scenes - ?"

"Right. Just like the brochure and application materials explained. The idea behind the internship is to get young people familiar with the day to day management of a hero team. There'll also be training on emergency management and some basic defensive training. We just don't have a good base of people to call on for things like negotiating with insurance companies and running communications programs and handling the press for world scale problems. Not that the JSA would expect Steph to do that, per se, but more to get a feel for what's really going on."

Crystal shook her head, and Steph worried for a second she would tap the glass and tell Bruce Wayne's driver to turn the car around. Instead she pronounced, "Seems like those would be good skills in general to have."

"Yeah. You'll see. They're a good group of people."

Stephanie looked back out the window, hoping her mother wouldn't launch into one of her diatribes about people in costumes being generally a bad idea. Instead, Crystal said, "I'm taking that on faith right now."

"Look!" Steph cried, preventing an awkward silence. "George Washington Bridge, next exit."

Crystal shifted closer to the window, joining Steph in watching the rise of apartment buildings as they pulled off the parkway and neared the river. An awed kind of silence united mother and daughter as they crossed into Manhattan and moved toward the Central Park.

The glass partition of the limousine slid down as they pulled up in front of the large brownstone that served as the JSA headquarters. "I will wait here for you to finish your meeting," the British voice announced.

"Thanks, Alfred," Dinah acknowledged easily. "All right, all's ashore that's going ashore." Dinah reached past Stephanie to push the passenger door open, then waited as Steph and Crystal stepped out.

It really wasn't that big a building, considering it was Manhattan, but Stephanie still stared. The JSA headquarters. It was one thing to see the Batcave, but no one really knew about the Batcave. No one filmed heroes storming from the Batcave to save the world - again.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Dinah remarked, and Steph blushed, embarrassed at appearing like a country tourist.

Embarrassment turned to bemusement when she heard her mother say, "My grandmother used to tell me stories..."

For the first time it occurred to Stephanie to wonder about how her mother had gotten to where she was in her life, and it was the wrong moment to ask.

"Yeah, I know how that is," Dinah replied, her tone managing a kind of grown-up sympathy that Steph had heard before and suddenly understood differently. "We're going to go in the employee entrance," Dinah continued briskly, turning to lead Stephanie and Crystal away from the main entrance and heading down an alleyway. "I'm not crazy about going in through the museum," Dinah confided.

She paused at a side door and fumbled in her jacket pockets, retrieving a key card. She gave Steph and her mom a wink. "Now we see if the boys left my access code enabled." She swiped the card, and Steph realized she was holding her breath when the door swung open. "After you," Dinah gestured.

Stephanie looked at her mother hesitantly, then obeyed.

"Dinah, I warned you about de-aging magics," a man's voice rang out, and Stephanie ducked a little.

"Um, I'm not - I mean -"

She felt a hand on her shoulder from behind. She glanced back nervously at her mother, and met Dinah's eyes. "He knows," Dinah murmured as she walked forward. "Ted, you ought to remember I never looked so good as a teenager. How ya doin', old man?"

Ted - Wildcat, Stephanie recognized belatedly from the costume - met Dinah's hug with a tight embrace. "Who you callin' old, there, missy?" he grumped, lifting Dinah from her feet for a moment before setting her back down and releasing her. He returned his gaze to Stephanie, who took an unconscious half-step back toward her mother. "So this is our potential new intern, eh?"

"Yep," Dinah agreed. "Stephanie Brown, this is Wildcat. Wildcat, Stephanie. And this is her mom, Crystal."

Handshakes were exchanged all around, and Steph felt adrenaline surge in her body. What was she thinking? This was the JSA. She couldn't just waltz in and-

"Dinah, why don't you go catch up with Sand on monitor. I'll escort Stephanie to meet Mr. Terrific and Sentinel, and then I'll give Crystal the nickel tour until they're ready to see her."

Stephanie blinked and shot Dinah a desperate look. "You're not coming with -?"

"Don't worry," Dinah reassured. "You'll do fine. Mr. Terrific is very fair."

Wildcat gave a snort and Dinah glanced at him, although a faint smile was also playing on her lips. "Am I wrong?"

"No, no," Wildcat backed down. "She's right. Mr. Terrific gives everyone a fair shake. And Sentinel already mentioned how impressed he was with your application. Now if you ladies will just follow me-"

Wildcat turned with surprising grace for his size, moving smoothly down the hall as if expecting to be followed. A prod at her back from her mother got Stephanie moving, and she heard Dinah call, "You'll do great!"

She felt like her eyes could not open wide enough to take everything in. There were pictures along the wall and occasional plaques and display cases. She noted labels beside every item on their path, but they were moving to fast for her to even glimpse what any of them said. The muted echo of their footfalls helped give the whole experience a sense of unreality, as if she were in a movie rather than her life.

Suddenly, Wildcat stopped in front of a door, and it didn't feel like a movie at all. "Here we are," he announced, opening the door. "Gentlemen," he said to the unseen occupants of the room, "here's Stephanie."

Another prod from her mother, and Stephanie took a deep breath and entered. She heard the door shut behind her and it was all she could do to force her feet to move forward across the carpeted conference room. At one end of the table, Sentinel sat stoically, and she wasn't sure if he was watching her through his mask.

Not that she had much attention for him, because coming toward her was a tall, black man wearing a "T" shaped mask and a bomber jacket with the words "fair play" emblazoned up the sleeve. She blinked at the lettering, belatedly getting the joke that Dinah and Wildcat had shared in the hall, and she managed to force a smile onto her face as she accepted Mr. Terrific's outstretched hand.

His smile was visible beneath his mask. "Good morning, Stephanie. Welcome to the JSA."

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