Title: Velveteen vs. Everyone, Part I.
Summary: The time for patience is over. Now is the time for war. Not everyone is going to walk away, but a point comes when it is no longer safe to care.
The appearance of the Phantom Doll in the evening sky caught the world’s attention in an instant. Jolly Roger’s disappearance had never quite faded from the public consciousness: he was the first and greatest mystery of the superheroic age, the hero in whose wake all others followed. He was the one who did not die and rise again, or die and stay dead--a rarer but still possible occurrence. He was the one who simply vanished, leaving everything behind.
Children raced to their windows, only to be shoved aside by parents who had been children themselves when the Phantom Doll last sailed the skies. Blurry photos cropped up on every social media network, while the rare clear shots of the high-masted ship silhouetted against the rising moon were jealously watermarked by the lucky photographers who had taken them.
And on a rooftop in San Diego, a woman stood, her hooded face turned toward the sky, and waited.
She had been waiting for a very long time.
“Let me get this straight,” said Jackie. She crossed her arms, frowning across the deck at the woman in the bunny-eared headband. “You seriously have no plan beyond ‘let’s go and hit them until the candy comes out.’ Because not all of them contain candy. Candy is not a default filling.”
“Then we hit them until the kidneys come out,” said Velveteen grimly. She looked slowly around the circle of costumed heroes. “This is our only shot. Don’t you get that? We need to do this now, before Sparkle Bright tells Marketing everything she knows about us.”
“If she hasn’t already,” added the Princess. Both Velveteen and Victory Anna turned to glare at her. She blinked. “What? You know it’s something we have to consider. They’ve had her long enough that she could have spilled every bean she’s got.”
“She hasn’t,” said Velveteen firmly. “She never told them she was spending time as Blacklight; that means she’s got some resistance to their mind games. Not much, maybe, but enough that she can keep her secrets for at least a little while. They’d be coming after us by now if she’d talked. She knows about my trip to Vegas, and that means she knows I was planning to look for Jolly Roger.”
“And if The Super Patriots knew that, they’d have stopped us by now,” said the Princess slowly. “All right. I like your logic. Still don’t like your plan, though.”
“What do you want us to do?” asked Jackie.
“It’s like I said before,” said Velveteen. “Now we get our army.”
David Mickelstein--better known as “the Claw,” especially now that he was committed to the supervillainous lifestyle--was preparing for a full frontal assault on Captain John’s Steak and Seafood when a hand tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, raising his claws defensively, and stopped as he saw the woman who was standing behind him, her bunny-eared headband in her hands. She was back in uniform, a domino mask covering her face, and she was beautiful.
“Aaron never knew how lucky he was,” he said.
Velveteen blinked. “What?”
“Nothing! Er. What are you doing here? Are you here to thwart me? Because I don’t think this is your territory.”
“David...” Velveteen smiled. “Don’t you miss being a hero? Don’t you want the opportunity to right a real injustice?”
He wanted to say that the lobsters even now being boiled to death inside that building were his brethren, and that their deaths were a real injustice. He wanted to ask where she was when he was being sidelined more and more as “difficult to market.” He wanted to know what gave her the right to ask him a question like that.
“Yes,” he said. “Why?”
“Because I’m finally going to take on The Super Patriots, and I need your help.”
The Claw snorted. “Oh, yeah? You and what army?”
To his surprise, Velveteen smiled. “Look up,” she said.
He looked up. He blinked. And he said, in an awed tone, “I’m in.”
Dead Ringer drew her bell as she crept up on the mugger she’d been stalking. In a moment, he would understand why most sensible villains stayed well away from her territory--which, if she was being honest with herself, was why she was reduced to chasing muggers, rather than sinking her teeth into a juice supervillain of her very own. Still, anything was better than nothing, which was why she was quite so put out when a beam of what looked like solid neon gas lanced out of the shadows and struck the mugger in the chest, flinging him into a pile of garbage cans.
“You may, of course, manage your vocabulary as you see fit, but I would prefer that you not swear in my immediate vicinity,” said a prim female voice. A short, curvy redheaded woman in a tight corset and impractical-looking boots stepped out of the shadows. There was a tiny top hat perched at a jaunty angle atop her head. Dead Ringer couldn’t take her eyes off of it. “I believe you are the sonic heroine known as ‘Dead Ringer’ in this reality, is that correct?”
“Yes...” Dead Ringer eyed her warily. “Who are you?”
“My code name is Victory Anna. I, and my compatriots, have been shabbily treated by The Super Patriots, and have finally amassed sufficient proof to show that they are not acting in a heroic manner, and that we are thus not behaving villainously if we choose to go against them. We wished to extend an invitation for you to join us in this campaign.”
Dead Ringer paused for a long moment, puzzling through that, before she asked, “Are you saying that you have proof that The Super Patriots have been fucking us all over for years?”
“Not in such crass terms, but yes,” said Victory Anna, a flicker of irritation crossing her face. “Will you stand with us?”
“Honey, I’ve been waiting for this moment since the day I left the fold.” Dead Ringer returned her bell to its place by her side, a slow smile splitting her face. “Just tell me who I get to hit.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Victory Anna. “Now, if you would simply come with me...”
The doorbell rang, interrupting what was otherwise promising to be an excellent argument about the virtues of hockey played on an indoor rink vs. hockey played on a naturally frozen surface. “I’ll get it,” said Misty, hopping to her feet. Gordon and Ethan watched her go for a moment, admiring the process of her walking away, and then went back to the argument at hand. Misty shook her head. Boys would be boys. She was smiling when she reached and opened the front door.
Her smile died.
“No,” she said, and tried to slam the door in the face of the woman standing on the porch.
Jackie was too fast for her. Quick as a wink, her fingers were wrapped around the edge of the door, sending frost racing across the wood. “Misty, please,” she said. “Is that any way to greet an old friend?”
“A friend? You’re a friend now? You come here, you tell Tad you need him in Portland, that there’s a girl he ‘simply must meet,’ she’s perfect for him, and by the way, you’ll owe him if he’ll at least give it a try. The next thing we know here, we’re getting the notice of his death. And not even a funeral!” Misty glared at Jackie like she was willing the other woman’s flesh to melt from ice into water. “You have a lot of nerve showing your face here, Jacqueline Frost.”
“Misty? Is there a problem?” Ethan loomed up behind her in the doorway. Even in his human form, he resembled nothing so much as a grizzly on the verge of losing its temper. His eyes narrowed as he looked at Jackie. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Tad made his own choices,” Jackie said. “A lot of us haven’t been given that luxury. Is Gordon here? Because I came to talk to all three of you, and I’m going to talk to all three of you. The only question is whether I do it standing on the porch, where all your neighbors can see, or whether I do it inside, where you have the home team advantage.”
“Our neighbors know what we do for a living,” said Misty dismissively.
“Sure they do. That means they’ll be happy to come outside and get a show.” Jackie pulled herself closer to the open door. “Let me in. For Tad’s sake, let me in.”
Misty and Ethan exchanged a look. Then, finally, they stepped out of the way, and Jackie Frost was allowed to enter the home of the famous Canadian heroes, Poutine, the Grizzly, and Gastown.
The bar where the Fairy Tale Girls spent their off-hours was located in a part of Fairyland that the Princess generally tried to avoid. It’s not that it was rough, although it was; being friends with Jackie Frost had forced her to relax a great deal about going into places people thought of as “rough.” It’s that it was a mixed up maelstrom of fairy tales ideas and concepts, some so old that they’d been virtually forgotten by anyone outside of Fairyland, and going there tended to upset her stomach.
Not that she had a choice. They were gathering an army, and if she wanted this to work, she had to do her part. The Princess took a breath to steady herself, brushed the bluebird off her shoulder, and stepped inside.
A rousing cheer greeted her from the table nearest the door, as the Fairy Tale Girls raised their various brightly colored beverages in a merry hello. “Princess!” cried the closest of them, a willowy blonde whose hair extended well past her feet, forming a shaggy heap the size of a Saint Bernard next to her chair. “What are you doing here? We haven’t seen you in forever!”
“I’m here because I have a job for you, ladies,” said the Princess, stepping closer, looking around the table. Six of them were there. That was more than she’d been hoping for; she would have settled for three. “My friends and I, we’re going up against The Super Patriots. We need your help.”
“The Super Patriots? Why would we want to attract their attention?” The question was asked by a girl with skin as white as snow, and hair as black as her blasted heart. “They leave us alone. We return the favor.”
“That may be, for now, but what happens when they finally decide that y’all are worth going after?” The Princess crossed her arms. “You know that day is coming. They’ve convened focus groups. They’ve done studies. One day, they’ll figure out how to sell you, and when that happens, you’re going to be at their mercy. Unless you come with me, today, and help me take them down. Now please. Help us.”
The Fairy Tale Girls were a curious bunch. Magical heroes all, although none of them had the flexibility or raw power of the Princess herself--which was probably a good thing, since out of the six who were sitting in front of her, there were only two she’d have trusted with more than negligible authority. They looked more like a themed roller derby team than a group of heroes. But they could fight, and she’d trusted them with her life more than once. She needed them.
Snow Wight and Rose Dead, the phantom sisters of the Enchanted Forest. Rampion, whose hair could strangle the life from a man. Beauty, whose lover’s lycanthropy had proven to be unexpectedly contagious. Brittle Red, with her basket of limitless tricks. And of course, their leader, Cinder, without whose word none of the others would move.
Slowly, the white-haired girl in the glass slippers inclined her head. “All right,” she said, in a voice that grated like bottles breaking on stone. “We’ll join your fight. Why the hell not? It sounds like a good time.”
One by one, the Fairy Tale girls stood, leaving money on the table to pay for their drinks. They followed the Princess out of the bar, and as they walked, she only hoped that she knew what she was doing. If not, well...things were about to get interesting.
Jolly Roger stood on the top floor of the casino that bore his name, wishing he felt less uncomfortable; wishing he really knew what he was doing there. Dame Fortuna shared none of his discomfort. She crossed her arms, eyeing him like he was something she had scraped off the bottom of her shoe.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here after what you did, after what you didn’t do,” she said. “I thought you were a running man nowadays.”
“You’re the one who told them where to find me.”
Dame Fortuna shrugged. “That was just business, old friend. The little animus came here asking for information, and she was willing to pay the price I put in front of it. If you’d stayed in touch, you could have made a counter-offer. Maybe you would have topped her offer. I guess we’ll never know, now, will we?”
“Don’t call me that. It’s Dame Fortuna to you.” Dame Fortuna’s green eyes blazed as she stepped closer to Jolly Roger, a scowl briefly distorting her perfect features. “You left us. You ran out, and you left us. How do you like the mess they’ve made of the world in your absence, hmm? You handed them the keys to our destruction.” There was no need to specify who she meant by “them.” There had only ever been one “them” where Dame Fortuna was concerned.
“I’m back now,” said Jolly Roger. “I’m going to help set things right. But I need help to do that, Toony. The girl’s trying to build an army. We’re going to need luck on our side.”
“I won’t leave Vegas.”
“Won’t, or can’t?”
For the first time, sorrow seemed to break through Dame Fortuna’s rage. “Both,” she admitted. “The web of chance and circumstance that keeps us safe here depends on me to maintain it. If I leave, and your army loses...I can’t take that risk.”
“But we can.” Lady Luck stepped forward, Fortunate Son at her side and Showgirl close behind them. “We’ll help you, Mr. Roger. For the sake of what you were to my mama.”
I was more than you know, thought Jolly Roger, and said nothing.
Dame Fortuna said it for him. “No. Absolutely not. I won’t have you risking yourself like this.”
“I don’t think you get to make that choice for me,” said Lady Luck. “You raised me to be a hero. It’s time that you finally let me do that.” She met her mother’s green-eyed gaze without flinching, and waited.
In the end, Dame Fortuna looked away first. “Damn you all,” she muttered. “You bring my babies back, Jolly Roger, do you hear me? I won’t forgive you if you don’t bring my babies back.”
“I will do everything within my power to see them safely home,” said Jolly Roger. He removed his hat, bowing low to Lady Luck and the others. “My ship, and glorious battle, awaits.”
As the Phantom Doll sailed away across the Vegas sky, only Showgirl looked back to see the shadow of Dame Fortuna standing on the casino roof. She was crying, and her tears became dice as they fell, tumbling down by her feet. Showgirl looked away, feeling vaguely as if she shouldn’t have seen, and the ship sailed on.
Garden Show had turned her down. It wasn’t really a surprise; her only power was plant control, and she wasn’t particularly strong, which was why The Super Patriots had never tried to recruit her into active duty. Still, a pair of hands was a pair of hands, and Velveteen had been hoping they could at least coax the minor heroine into a supporting role in the battle to come. Instead, she had shaken her head and said, “I have things to take care of here at home, and that’s never been my world. But my little girl...she’s twice the elementalist I am. They’ll come for her one day. Kick their asses.”
Then she had closed the door, leaving Velveteen standing alone on the front porch.
Velveteen sighed, turning to head back to the magic mirror checkpoint that Jackie had created for this recruitment pass. She could head back to the Phantom Doll, find out whether the Princess had been successful in recruiting the Fairy Tale Girls, and maybe then...
A group of people in brightly colored costumes were standing on the sidewalk, preventing her from making it back to the alley, and the magic mirror she had hidden there. Velveteen stopped, tensing. She hadn’t come expecting a fight. She had no backup, and nowhere near enough toys.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“I hope so,” said one of the women, stepping forward. Her costume was a dozen shades of blue, and there were green streaks in her curly brown hair. “We heard tell you were assembling an army.”
Velveteen blinked. “Mississippi Queen?”
“In the flesh, my dear.” The Claw’s old mentor smiled, her teeth very white against her skin. “We want to join you.”
“But...” Velveteen took another look around the small cluster of heroes. She couldn’t have named them all. The ones she did recognize were all employed by The Super Patriots. “Your contracts...”
“Allow us to fight against management if we have reason to believe that they may have been compromised by a supervillain,” said a woman Velveteen didn’t recognize. Her costume was blue as well, but it wasn’t the stylized blue of cloth; it was the muddy blue of living water, and it flowed around her body like the tide. Catching Velveteen’s look, she said, “Lake Pontchartrain. Water control.”
“With Lakey along, my limitations don’t matter,” said Mississippi Queen. “She generates more than enough water to share a little with me.”
“Rue Royal,” said a man. “I freeze time.”
“Epiphany,” said a woman. “Photon manipulation.”
“Ash,” said a man. “Fire control.”
Mississippi Queen smiled again. There was a dangerous edge to the expression. “So, you going to let us march in your little Mardi Gras parade? I promise you, everyone here knows how to party.”
“They’re not going to take this lying down,” cautioned Velveteen.
“Honey, we wouldn’t be here if we thought that they were. You wouldn’t need us, and we’d be able to be good little corporate soldiers, keep our doors closed, and only come out when a better form of management was in place.” Mississippi Queen shook her head. “You need us.”
This time, Velveteen smiled. “You’re right,” she said. “We do. Follow me.”
Together, the six superhumans walked into the alley. There was a bright flash of light, and the smell of snow, and they were gone.
“I have to go.”
“This isn’t up for debate.”
“Then you’re doing something wrong.” Celia Morgan stood, turning her back on her sister as she looked resolutely out the window. “Let them fight The Super Patriots. If we’re lucky, they’ll win, and things will be better. But you’re not going.”
Jennifer--better known as “Jory” when she was in her green and brown uniform--actually laughed. “Did you forget who was the older sister here? You can’t forbid me to go.”
“I’ve been alive in this reality longer than you have. I think you can’t claim to be older than I am. Not anymore.” Celia whirled. “I lost you once. I will not lose you again, do you understand me? Once was one time too many. I can’t survive it a second time.”
“Cee...” Jennifer walked to her sister, placing her hand gently against Celia’s cheek. “You aren’t going to lose me, I swear. The current team doesn’t have an earth manipulator of my strength. They can’t take me out unless they can hit me, and that’s not going to happen. But they can hurt Velveteen and her friends, and without her, I wouldn’t be here to have this argument with you. Now come on. Stop fighting with me, and let me go.”
“I can’t lose you,” whispered Celia.
“You won’t. I will always find a way to come home to you. You’re my baby sister, and I love you.” Jennifer leaned in and kissed Celia’s forehead. “But right now, the world needs me to be a hero, and since that’s the only thing I went to school for, I figure I should go ahead and be one.”
“I always will.”
Then Jennifer was gone again, and Celia Morgan, the woman who had become Governor of Oregon to avenge her sister, put her hands over her face and cried alone.
The deck of the Phantom Doll was packed with bodies. Some of them floated in the rigging, or hung suspended from ropes; Snow Wight was phased halfway through one of the masts, and no one quite dared to tell her that she was standing in the middle of a giant piece of wood. Feeling sick to her stomach, Velveteen allowed Jackie and the Princess to help her up onto a wooden crate. They stepped into position to either side of her. Victory Anna was nearby, assembling another of her ray guns.
Velveteen took a deep breath. Only for you, Yelena, she thought, and clapped her hands together. “Hi, everybody. Can I have your attention, please? Everyone, can I have your attention?”
The crowd kept talking.
“SHUT THE HELL UP!” shouted Jackie.
The crowd stopped talking.
“Uh, hi,” said Velveteen. “Thank you all for coming. I’m, um. I’m Velveteen, and I guess I’m leading this little corporate takeover. Everyone who’s here is here because you have a reason to hate The Super Patriots. Maybe not the idea of them, but the thing that they’ve become. They destroy us. They chew us up and spit us out, and they do it pretending it’s about justice when it’s really all about the bottom line. They take away our identities, even our minds, and it’s time for that to stop. All of it.”
A few people in the crowd shouted encouragement.
Velveteen took another deep breath. “You’ve been divided into squads, and we have a plan of attack, at least in the beginning, but we all know that no plan survives its first contact with the enemy. So here’s the real plan for today: win. Don’t die. Try not to kill anyone. And take those bastards down.”
“What about the mind control?” asked the Claw, stepping forward. “We know they’re controlling half the heroes they’ll send up against us, and we don’t have any psychics.”
“Leave that to me, boy,” said Jolly Roger.
“So do we know what we’re doing?” asked Velveteen.
This time, the cheer was all-consuming. This time, the fight was really on.
There was nothing subtle about a pirate ship sailing through a clear sky; the advantage of surprise was never going to be on their side, save perhaps in the sense that The Super Patriots had been given a very long time in which to become complacent. On some level, the people who ran the corporation believed that nothing would ever challenge their right to control the superhumans of the world. Still, the paparazzi were piled four-deep around the gates at headquarters when the Phantom Doll sailed by overhead, circled once, and came in for a landing on the perfectly manicured lawn.
“Aim for the rosebushes,” said Victory Anna, with undisguised spite. “Let’s damage their landscaping like they’ve damaged my heart.”
“You are a very unique lassie,” said Jolly Roger, and tweaked the wheel to the right, sending the ship’s prow tearing through the heart of the ornamental rose garden. Victory Anna squealed with glee. Somewhere in the building, an accountant who was watching the scene outside on a monitor moaned in financial agony.
“You don’t know the half of it,” drawled the Princess. She was wearing a new ball gown, this one six shades of pink encrusted with sparkling pink crystals that matched her tiara. If only she’d been followed by songbirds instead of ravens, she might have looked positively sweet. “We ready?”
“No,” said Velveteen. “But we’re going.”
The heroes swarmed from the boat. Some launched themselves into the air: Whippoorwill, with her wings spread proud against the sky, Epiphany, riding a beam of glittering light in Mardi Gras colors, even the Princess, standing once more on her trusty flying carpet. Others ran. In at least one case, the ground itself reached up to form a bridge, allowing Jory to sail into her place in the lineup.
They didn’t attack. They couldn’t attack. There were ways these things were meant to be handled, appropriate forms that distinguished the heroes from the villains. In the aftermath--and there would be aftermath, no matter who won--they would need all the footage taken during the fight to show that they had been in the right. From beginning to end, they had to be heroes.
Velveteen walked to the front of the formation, a stream of dolls, plush toys, and action figures marching along behind her. Victory Anna and Jackie stood to her left; Jolly Roger and the Claw stood to her right. For just a moment, it seemed like everyone was holding their breath, waiting to see what would happen next.
“You can stop pretending you don’t know we’re here,” said Velveteen quietly. She scanned the grounds as she spoke. There were topiaries shaped like animals. She could use those. You never believed I’d move against you, she thought, and said, more loudly, “If we’re going to do this, let’s do this. Or are you scared of a bunch of second-stringers who don’t have focus groups to tell them what to wear?”
The mighty doors of the headquarters of The Super Patriots, Inc. began to slowly swing open. The gathered heroes tensed, waiting to see what would come next. And out marched, and flew, the assembled forces of the West Coast, the West Coast Junior Division, and so many, many more. On and on they came, full heroes and trainees alike, their fists clenched and their faces dark with grim determination.
“Oh, God, they’re sending the kids,” whimpered Jory, who had talked to Celia more than enough to know what had happened to this dimension’s original version of her. “They can’t really expect us to fight kids, can they?”
“No,” said Epiphany, who was hovering next to her, a sad expression on her pointed pixie face. “They expect us to turn around and run away rather than be the people who came here and raised arms against an army of children.”
“Vel...” said Jackie, uncertainly.
“Try not to hurt them,” said Velveteen, and while she never raised her voice, everyone on her side heard her. That was Cinder’s doing. Glass can cut, but it can also transmit sounds, when it’s bent the right way, when it’s held in the right hands. “The kids are innocent, or as innocent as any of us were when we were their age.”
“So about as innocent as a kegger,” muttered Jackie. “Got it.”
“If it’s you or them, choose you,” continued Velveteen. “I’m sorry. But choose you.”
“You’re trespassing!” shouted Sparkle Bright, striking a perfect pose in the air. The Super Patriots had more fliers, noted Velveteen, almost dispassionately; they would have the air advantage. Fine. That just meant they had to be grounded. “Remove yourselves immediately!”
“I invoke the hostile takeovers clause of the standard corporate governing contract,” Velveteen shouted back. “A supervillainous force has seized this building. We fight for justice!”
“No!” Sparkle Bright’s face contorted in camera-unfriendly rage. “You don’t fight for justice! We fight for justice!”
Velveteen’s smile was slow, intended to provoke a violent response. “Oh yeah?” she asked. “Prove it.”
Sparkle Bright shrieked, a whip of solid red light lashing from her hands to hit the spot where Velveteen had been standing only a second before.
The fight was joined.
At first, The Super Patriots easily took the superior position. They had more fliers, after all, and high ground is important in any sort of battle. What they didn’t bank on was the sheer number of elementalists fighting on Velveteen’s side. Swallowtail was grounded by a carefully timed strike from Lake Pontchartrain, who was in the process of happily flooding the south side of the lawn. Mississippi Queen was riding a raft around the newly created water, and from there, she sent twisters and aggressive waves after the fighting heroes. Action Dude tried to shout for someone to take out the water manipulators, and received a face full of lake water for his troubles.
Handheld screamed when he saw Swallowtail fall. He tried to run to her, and was hit by a blast from Victory Anna’s ray gun, mere seconds before a blast from Imagineer’s hand-held phaser sent the Victorian gadgeteer sprawling. Victory Anna cried out in pain when she hit the ground.
Sparkle Bright, who had been blasting away at Epiphany, whipped around in the air, the light surrounding her hands going from white to blue to solid black in less than a second. Her cheeks took on a distinct greenish cast as her eyes frantically scanned the fray. “...Torrey?” she said, loud enough to be overheard.
Epiphany held her fire.
“Don’t worry about it,” called Imagineer, adjusting the settings on her phaser as she stalked toward the fallen Victory Anna. “I’ve got the stupid little steampunk girl. You kill the firework before it starts infringing on your copyrights.”
“GET THE HELL AWAY FROM HER, YOU BITCH!” Sparkle Bright dropped out of the sky like a meteor bent on revenge, blasts of black light lancing from her fingers as she fell toward Imagineer. Imagineer yelped and turned to fire at her team leader, only to go down in a heap as one a lion-shaped hedge punched her upside the head.
Victory Anna didn’t move.
Sparkle Bright--Yelena--hit the ground, stumbled, and ran to gather the fallen gadgeteer into her arms, ignoring the fight that was blazing on around her. Miraculously, the fight returned the favor. Or maybe not so miraculously; everyone on Velveteen’s side had been warned that this might happen, and everyone who was fighting for The Super Patriots was used to thinking of Sparkle Bright as an ally.
“Torrey? Come on, Torrey, open your eyes, come on.” She shook the bruised gadgeteer. She only dimly understood how she had come to be here; she remembered being grabbed in Portland, and being locked in the back of a van, but things went blurry after that. Judging by her white uniform, she’d gone back to The Super Patriots. She’d have to kill them all, once she knew that Victory Anna was okay. “This is a really lousy thing to do when we’ve only had one proper date. Come on.”
Victory Anna didn’t move.
“Dammit, Torrey, this sucks. You spin this amazing love story for me, all dimensional crossings and destinies and versions of me who did it better, and now you’re just going to go and die on me? You can’t do that. I won’t let you.” Yelena bent and pressed her lips against Victoria’s, only dimly aware that the people around her had stopped fighting to stare. She didn’t care anymore.
Victory Anna squirmed. Victory Anna opened her eyes. And then, with surprising strength and unsurprising enthusiasm, Victory Anna began kissing her back.
On the other side of the battlefield, the Princess used a croquet mallet she’d produced from somewhere to hit Jack O’Lope’s arrow back at him. Rose Dead, who was standing nearby with her hand sunk up to the elbow in Dotty Gale’s chest, gave her a chiding look.
“You did that, didn’t you?”
“Sweetie, I’m a living fairy tale,” said the Princess, gearing up for another swing. “If I say a kiss makes everything better, then a kiss makes everything better.”
The battle raged on. Heroes fell on both sides. Poutine was able to stretch out of the way of most attacks, but the Grizzly was bound by the limitations of his bear form, and was quickly taken captive. One of the Candy sisters, frozen by an ice blast, shattered when she tipped over and hit the ground. Jackie blanched. Then she paused, and skated closer to the candy-coated mess.
“She wasn’t real,” she said, relief briefly beating back her anger. “She was just a candy golem!”
“You didn’t know that when you hit her,” snarled a voice from behind her, and she turned to find Trick and Treat bearing down on her position. She yelped and raised her shield, barely blocking their shadow blasts before they could strike home.
“You tried to kill our daughter!” shouted Treat, sending another blast in Jackie’s direction.
“She was trying to kill me, too!” shouted Jackie, as she desperately reinforced her shield. “Guys, a little help?” Trick and Treat were full holiday guardians, and Jackie, for all her power, was only a trainee. She hadn’t accepted the burden and the strength of Winter.
“Get back!” Dead Ringer leapt between Jackie and the Halloween heroes, her bell out and ringing madly. Trick fell back, clasping his ears. Treat...didn’t.
The sound of Dead Ringer’s lifeless body hitting the turf somehow managed to be very loud, despite the noise on all sides.
TO BE CONTINUED...