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Fictober 2019

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Day One: “It will be fun, trust me.”

“It’ll be fun, trust me.”

“I do trust you, James. I’m just skeptical that there’s much crossover between your idea of a good time and mine.”

“Oh, come on! I apologized for the clowns on unicycles, didn’t I? And the ultra-sticky cotton candy that got us glued to Len?”

“Yeah, you did, but…”

“But what? You love music, Hart!”

“I just think a Wiggles concert isn’t really my thing.”

***

Day Four: “I know you didn’t ask for this.”

His head aches and his ears are ringing, and he lets out a little grunt of pain. “Getting accustomed to a new body is so miserable,” he mutters, fidgeting restlessly.

“I’m sorry, baby,” Lisa says gently, stroking hair that still feels unfamiliar but she’ll undoubtedly grow to love. He smiles tiredly at her.

“Thank you. You’re one in a billion, and I’m so lucky to have you.”

“That’s right, and don’t you forget it!” she tells him mischievously, leaning down to kiss his nose. It’s more bulbous than the original, but it has a lot of character and she already finds it endearing. She doesn’t care that he’s a heavyset old man now; what’s important is that he’s somehow returned and is by her side, and he still whispers the same affectionate words in her ear whenever her mood seems low.

She can’t resist hugging him, having missed the feeling of her arms wrapped around his strong torso, though she squeezes a bit too tightly and he begins to cough. That sets up a cascade of wheezing in a body that had only recently died from a heart attack, and he spits up a bit of blood.

“Oh God, I’m so sorry!” she frets as the coughing subsides, hovering worriedly over him, and he softly waves away her concern.

“No, no, it’s fine,” he says calmly as he wipes his chin. “Perfectly normal for my situation. Though I’m sorry you had to see that, my love. I know you didn’t ask for any of this.”

“Oh sweetheart…I signed up for it the moment we became an item.”

Their kiss was worth all the lonely years spent apart.

***

Day Five: “I might just kiss you.”

The situation was dire: the Rogues were trapped and injured and the police were right outside the room, but nobody seemed to have any ideas for escape.

“We’re completely and utterly screwed!” Digger moaned, while Len rubbed his temples to stave off the brain fog from his moderate concussion and tried to think of a way out.

“I…might have something,” Sam announced wearily as he pulled himself to his feet. His own concussion was more severe, and he wobbled as the room seemed to whirl around him. “I got this tech I haven’t really tried out much, and it should…” He trailed off for a few moments as he lost his train of thought. “That is to say, we should be able to use it as a portal to get out.”

“Is it safe?” Roscoe asked skeptically, and Sam shrugged.

“I used it once and I’m shtill here. Not sure we have better optionsh.” His words had become somewhat slurred, but everyone was too focused on the situation to notice the severity of his condition.

“Do it,” Len told him, and Sam activated a small device on his belt. In moments, a small energy portal had opened in front of them, and the Rogues took a literal leap of faith into it as it crackled and sputtered.

They tumbled out the exit about ten seconds later with a variety of swearing, landing in a heap on top of each other in a dingy alley at the other end of town. Their escape was accompanied with a wave of nausea and vomiting, although nobody knew whether that was due to the awkward method of travel or the head trauma at least half of them had sustained from super-speed punches.

Once they’d taken a few minutes to recover, thanks and congratulations were in order for Sam’s quick thinking.

“You really came through when we needed you,” Len said admiringly, shaking the other man’s hand, and Sam smiled through the throbbing pain in his head. He wasn’t one for false modesty, and he basked in all the attention.

“I might just kiss you, mate,” Digger chortled in the way that only he could, though Sam beamed proudly at him.

“Okay, accepted.”

Digger laughed uproariously at that. “Wasn’t serious, mate.”

“Well I am, and you did offer.”

“He’s got you there,” Hartley snickered behind his hand, as it was amusing to watch Digger squirm.

But Digger just grinned with characteristic attitude. “All right then, let’s do this!”

Everyone else looked surprised, including Sam, but Digger leaned over and gave him an incredibly wet kiss on the cheek. And, enjoying the stunned expressions on the other Rogues’ faces, he then planted a quick kiss on Sam’s mouth. “That’s f’r doing such a bang-up job, mate.”

“Thank…you?” Sam replied with obvious puzzlement. “Did that actually happen, or am I just hallucinating?”

“I think you’re seeing things!” Digger laughed in a jolly tone as he clapped a friendly arm around Sam’s shoulders. “Come sit down and rest, mate, I think you’re in rough shape. Might even kiss you again, because that wasn’t bad.”

Len rubbed his eyes tiredly, still in disbelief and wondering why he of all people didn’t have an ice pack for his pounding headache. “….so now that Hell’s frozen over, we should think about how we’re going to get home.”

***

Day Seven: “No, and that’s final.”

Owen may have been nineteen years old, but he was damned well going to get what he wanted by any means necessary.

Please, Dad?”

“Nope,” Digger said flatly, a word he’d picked up from years of listening to Sam, and oddly, Amanda Waller. “You don’t know what you’re asking.”

“I do! I want to learn, and of course I’d have to be taught by the best,” Owen wheedled. That little ego boost twinged his father’s pride, as Owen had hoped it would, but the man was far too clever to be manipulated by a kid. Or so he told himself.

“No, and that’s final. It’s dangerous, son, and I just got ya back. I’m not about to lose you to some stupid `rang stunt!”

Okay, pleading didn’t work and neither did appealing to his ego, so it was time for honest sincerity. Owen looked his father in the eye.

“You won’t lose me, and it’d mean so much if you could teach me some of your skills. My dad growing up was a cool guy and he loved me, but he didn’t really have anything he was good at, nothing he could really pass down. So I learned how to ride a bike and play baseball, but he couldn’t help me stand out at anything and I just wanted to be…special. The kind of skilled guy that people admire, so I wasn’t just ‘the adopted kid’. People admire you, and I’d love it if we could do something together and you could teach me some of what you know.”

Owen felt awkward and more than a bit vulnerable saying that to a man he’d only known for a little while, but it felt right, too. He wanted his father to understand where he was coming from and that he wanted a real relationship, not just going out for the occasional beer and receiving a card on his birthday. And he didn’t care about the man’s money. He wanted a dad.

Digger stared at him, and suddenly Owen feared that he’d just scared him away. Was that too touchy-feely for a badass supervillain? But Digger abruptly pulled in the young man for a tight hug.

“Of course, Owen. Of course.”

Owen could have sworn he heard a catch in his father’s voice as they headed out to practice.

***

Day Eight: “Can you stay?”

"Al!" Rita exclaimed as she saw a familiar face in the window. He quickly slipped in the front door and made a motion for her to quiet her voice.

"I haven't seen you in three days! Where have you been?" she asked worriedly in a hushed whisper, and his whole body sagged with exhaustion.

"It's him, Rita, he's back. I don't know how to keep him away."

"You mean Alvin?"

Al clutched at his head despairingly. "No, it’s Dr Alchemy! He...tells me to do things. Bad things. Evil things."

"He's not real, Al, you know that," she said as tears began to roll down her cheeks. They'd been through this so many times. Barry had always helped them and covered for them repeatedly, but she wasn't sure how much more she could take or if Barry would even pitch in again.

"He is absolutely real, Rita," Al told her with complete seriousness and an intensity which reminded her far too much of his second self’s persona. "He's a person like you and me."

"Oh, Al..." she sobbed before willing herself to pull things together. Al needed her to be strong, just like always. He was soft and gentle, and she -- as well as his sinister alter ego -- were the resilient ones. "I want to help you. Can you stay?"

"No! It's too dangerous. I've already taken a huge risk by coming here and letting him see me...and see you. I just wanted you to know I'm okay and thinking about you," he said tenderly, and her pained expression betrayed her concern that he was definitely not okay.

"I understand," she replied, biting her lip. "Could you at least leave the Stone here with me? I think it'd be safer with me."

"I would, but it'd just follow me," he said with resignation, and she had to bite her lip again. She wished he'd never laid hands on the Stone, which she blamed as the source of all his problems and had always believed he used it as an emotional crutch. The Stone couldn't really follow him, could it? Of course not. That was just an excuse for why he never wanted to let it out of his hands.

"All right," she told him softly, defeated. "You know I'm always here, and I'll be waiting for you. You go fight Dr Alchemy."

"You're the best," he said sincerely, leaning over to give her an affectionate kiss. She smiled at him, but was too numb to kiss him back even though she feared he'd never come home again. It was only a matter of time before Alvin or Al's own demons got to him, and she was exhausted by the whole ordeal.

"I love you," she called in a plaintive tone as he hurried out the door. "And I just want you back," she murmured as the door thudded closed.

***

Day Nine: “There is a certain taste to it.”

"We've been through this many times already," Roscoe said tiredly, his eyes burning daggers at the man who stood over him. The Rogue was securely restrained to a long table in a homemade laboratory, although at least his bonds weren’t uncomfortably tight.

"And we'll keep going through it until you tell me what I need to know," the man chided him in an almost bored-sounding tone. "I'd like to go home and not have to look at you anymore, so your co-operation would be appreciated."

"I have told you everything! What more do you want from me?"

"I need concrete answers, a how-to guide for all the creepy shit you do! I need to know how to cheat death!" the man shot back. "And I'll get it even if I have to kill you myself and watch how you do it!"

Roscoe let out an exhausted sigh. As much of a hassle as it would be, dying and finding a new body was starting to seem preferable to interrogation and medical tests at the hands of an unhinged wannabe scientist who'd imprisoned him for an uncertain length of time. There were no windows in the room, so it wasn't clear how long he'd been held captive. Days, for sure, but probably more than a week.

"You know that I'd be invisible and you would not see anything. And these walls could not hold me, so I’d be long gone from here," the prisoner reminded him with a distinctly snide inflection.

A current of electricity jolted him in his restraints and he let out a loud yelp of pain. He breathed heavily as his heart rate had spiked and then calmed down, and the man dictated "Subject experiences normal human reaction to shock," into the recorder held in his hand.

"You knew that already!" Roscoe growled in frustrated disbelief, shaking his head. "We have already established that I am a normal living being once inside a host body!"

"There's nothing normal about you," the man said coldly as he took yet another blood sample. "You may eat and sleep and urinate, but you're no longer human."

"Then why would you want to be anything like me?"

"It's got to be better than being dead," the man said with a frown, and Roscoe closed his eyes as he thought about the terrors of Hell.

"It is."

He seemed quieter and more compliant now, so his captor decided to begin his questioning anew. "Tell me everything about what happens when you take a new body."

"There are different classes of ghosts, and some can possess living people and some cannot. I am limited to bodies without brain activity, which in practical terms is usually a corpse," Roscoe began in a monotone. "All I have to do is approach the body and jump right in, and if my energy is strong enough I can take control of it. There is a certain taste to it when I first jump inside, like metal in the mouth and a faint scent of decay, and then the corpse's senses start screaming at me as they begin to re-activate. The body's biological processes then start working again, and with some time they function like any living person's do. I am not truly dead, even if the body was formerly a corpse. That's all there is to it."

The man had been murmuring all these details into his dictaphone as Roscoe spoke, even though they'd discussed this many times before. "But you need to tell me how you jump into a body," he complained. "I need to know how you do it, so I can replicate it when the time comes."

"How do you take any leap of faith?" Roscoe asked in that same trance-like monotone. "You just do it."

His eyes suddenly opened and he looked directly up at his captor with renewed intensity. "I did not mention that not every ghost can possess bodies, and some cannot even take corpses. Some simply remain immaterial for the rest of their existence."

The man looked surprised. "So some people are just out of luck? How do you know what kind of ghost you’ll be?"

Roscoe's eyes narrowed at him. "You need a certain strength of will and mind to possess a body, let alone control it so it can walk and isn't randomly eliminating every time its excretory system fills up. I also did not mention that I am quite capable of jumping out of a body if I wish, and thus walking out through these walls."

The man’s eyes widened and he quickly pressed down on the captive’s chest, as if to hold him in place on the table. Ridiculously futile, of course. "You can't do that! You won't have a body!"

"I am quite capable of finding another one, and will remember what you've done to me. I’ll be paying you a visit sometime in the future, and you will have no idea what I'll look like," Roscoe said in an icy tone. "Goodbye."

"No!" the man shouted, but the ghost had already hopped out of its body and the shell immediately reverted back to its lifeless state. Unseen, the ghost slipped through the walls to freedom and went in search of a new corpse to be its host.

Roscoe was patient. He could wait.

***

Day Eleven: “It’s not always like this.”

Mark shoved open the front door with a confident swagger. "This is where I hang out sometimes, and this is my crew," he announced proudly as he ushered in the awestruck young woman.

"Wow, and you're in charge?" she gasped, very impressed by what she'd been hearing. It wasn't every day you got to meet a supervillain, let alone a criminal mastermind.

"Yep! They all recognize the power at my disposal and my leadership abilities, so I've been willing to run the show for them," he said modestly, preening himself as he lied through his teeth. "We've been building a real empire here."

"You're so cool! And so handsome," she told him with an adoring smile, and the look she gave him suggested he wouldn't be spending the night alone. That only increased his confidence, which was rapidly approaching critical levels.

"Wait until you meet my gang," Mark declared proudly, and put an arm around her as they walked into the Rogues' main hang-out area. There, on the couch, lay Len in his boxers and undershirt. His coat completely covered his face.

Mark's ladyfriend made a disgusted face. "Ew, who's that?"

"Len!" Mark scolded sharply, and the man on the couch gave him the finger without lifting his coat.

"Get lost, Mardon, I've got a hangover."

"At least put on some pants!" Mark chided him with a flush of embarrassment.

"I woulda gotten a real job if I wanted to hear that shit, and you aren't my boss," came the angry rumble from under the coat, and Mark decided to cut his losses and go somewhere else before the situation got worse. He ushered his companion into another room, though she was frowning about the exchange.

"I thought you said you were the leader!" she complained, and Mark was now in full damage control mode.

"He's always been a mess, and we've been thinking of kicking him out of the group because he drags us all down," he told her in a conspiratorial whisper as they walked down the hall. "We’ve tried to be kind to his failings."

He realized too late that he shouldn't have brought her into the kitchen, as it was a filthy disaster at the best of times. There, Alvin and Mick were laughing raucously as they lit food-encrusted dishes on fire to see if that would clean them (it didn't), and in the corner Roscoe was staring intently at a top he spun again and again. He didn't say a word and seemed to be ignoring everyone around him, which Mark found unnerving, so he hurried the woman out of there.

"This place is so weird and scummy!" she declared with disgust, and he was inclined to agree but had to salvage things if he ever wanted to get laid again.

"It's not always like this, I swear!" he fibbed with the skill of a career criminal, though she gave him a skeptical look. It was probably best to put some distance between her and his colleagues, so he turned on the charm and suggested "How about we go to that fancy French place uptown, and drink a lot of good wine?"

"Anything's better than here," she mumbled, and Digger chose that moment to confront Mark while dressed only in a small towel.

"Oi! Mardon! I know yer stole my good shampoo, and look what's happened to my hair!"

It was true that Digger's hair was an even more unruly mop than usual and had frizzed into an indescribable halo around his head. But that towel didn't cover nearly enough skin, and no one was actually looking at his hair. The ladyfriend’s eyes bulged with horror.

"What's the matter with this place?!" she shrieked, and fled out the way they'd come in. Pity and shame kept Mark from going after her, as he'd decided that he and the other Rogues should probably be alone forever. That'd be his one gesture of kindness to the world in a life otherwise spent striking back at it.

Unfortunately he forgot that vow a week later, and was soon out strutting in his cool-guy jacket again.

***

Day Twelve: “What if I don’t see it?”

Roy was anxious, and had been drumming his fingers and shuffling his feet almost continuously for the past hour. The young woman working nearby paid him no mind, and serenely made her final preparations as he fretted in his chair.

"Is it ready yet?" Roy asked for the third time, and she flashed a sunny smile as she checked the settings on an oversized helmet.

"Almost! Just making sure everything's in working order."

"Okay..." he mumbled restlessly, practically bouncing up and down. His father had always said he was too impatient for just about any activity except painting.

The scientist approached him with the helmet in her hands ten minutes later and he leapt to his feet with nervous anticipation. "Settle down!" she chided him gently, and carefully placed the helmet on his head. It was heavy and awkward and looked ridiculous on anyone, but to Roy it was the culmination of months of waiting and a significant amount of money. She flipped the visor over his eyes and turned on the device, which began to hum and deployed several cables that pressed painfully into the flesh of his head.

"I've already explained how this works," she reminded him, and he nodded. "You'll feel pain as your unused synapses begin to activate, and it might be intense at times, but it won't last. I'd strongly recommend that you not pull off the helmet until I've had a chance to power things down properly, even if it really hurts. That'd fry the whole system, and possibly part of your brain as well."

"I understand," Roy replied, though he looked plaintively at her. "What if it doesn't work? What if I don't see it?"

She smiled confidently and stepped back. "You will."

She executed the final set of commands to begin the project, and Roy let out a cry of pain from the sudden influx of energy to his head. The stabbing migraine was more agonizing than expected, and he clutched at the helmet but didn't try to remove it.

"Feels like my brain's on fire!" he called out with distress, suddenly wishing he'd never initiated this foolish scheme. It could never work, and he'd never see--

"Colour!" he breathed. His world had always been in greyscale before, monochrome and drab, but as he stared through the visor, his surroundings slowly shifted into faint colours which increased in intensity. He realized the walls were painted baby blue, that there was a brightly red mug at the other end of the room, and the woman was wearing a pale green outfit with a striking golden hijab. His jaw dropped.

"Everything's so...beautiful!" he gasped. The sight was well worth the money he'd paid and the pain, and he drank in the entire room with awe. Even the subtle beige floor held a certain beauty to him, because who knew that people even bothered to colour their floors? And how did people not get distracted by all the hues around them? He'd never get tired of looking at his surroundings.

There was a painting on the wall and it was truly nothing special, but he jumped out of his chair to study it and all its varying shades. The artist had probably cranked it out in half an hour as modernist commercial art, but Roy was fascinated by its use of colour because that aspect of art had always been denied him. He was suddenly extremely curious about other artists' use of colour theory and how they perceived its role in their work, and was lost in thought until the young scientist cleared her throat.

"I'm going to power down the helmet now, because it and you will burn out if it's on for too long per session," she announced.

"No!" Roy pleaded, but she had warned him about it long before the project had gotten to this stage and she knew it was the correct decision. She slowly ramped down the power so there wasn't a surge of electricity, and Roy's synapses slowly reverted to normal as their stimulated energy was depleted. From his point of view, it seemed as though all the colour was draining out of the world, and he was incredibly saddened by it.

"How did you feel?" she asked as she removed the helmet from his head, and he smiled despite his grief.

"Amazed. Powerful. Fulfilled," he said, brightening. He still had the memories, after all, and new knowledge about the world and how he could apply it to his art. "When can we do it again?"

***

Day Thirteen: “I never knew it could be this way.”

"So here's where we hang out together, play cards, shoot the shit, and whatever," Len told Hartley as he took him through the inaugural tour of Chez Rogue. "And the beer's in that fridge. Help yourself." The beer fridge, worn out and stained as it was, was obviously the Rogues' most prized possession.

"Okay, thanks," Hartley said with some bashfulness, still overwhelmed that the Rogues were willing to let him run with them. They were no more and no less special than he was, but they were the most powerful criminal element in Central City, and it was a huge step up in the underworld. It meant that he was regarded as a peer, a colleague.

A bunch of costumed Rogues were sitting around drinking and talking, and Len rapped his knuckles on the door frame to get everyone's attention. "Hey dickheads! The new kid is here!"

The man Hartley knew as the Mirror Master stood up and bounded over with a broad smile. "Welcome to the club! I'm Scudder, and I do most of the planning around here."

Nobody else got up, but they all seemed pleased to see Hartley and curious to meet him. There were grins and waving, and Captain Boomerang eagerly gestured him over.

"`ey mate, I'm Digger Harkness. Pleased to meet ya," he brayed in a jovial tone. "Siddown an' have a cold one."

"Sure!" Hartley brightened, and a blond man by the fridge tossed him a beer with a perfect throw. The others looked at the new guy expectantly. "So I'm the Pied Piper and I can entrance people with my music," he began. "My name's Hartley Rathaway."

Some of the Rogues exchanged significant looks. "Like the rich people at the other end of town?" Heat Wave asked.

"Uh, yeah," Hartley replied uncomfortably, shuffling his feet. "Those are my folks, but we don't get along. At all."

"I robbed them once," the guy in green and yellow stripes said genially to make conversation, though Len and Scudder frowned at him.

"Dillon says weird shit like that, just ignore him," Len muttered under his breath, well aware that Hartley had excellent hearing. The younger man shrugged, as it was honestly no skin off his back if his parents lost a bit of hoarded money. It had just been an odd comment.

"I don't know how familiar you are with the crew besides Cold," Scudder began, "but here we've got Captain Boomerang, Heat Wave, the Trickster, the Top, and Weather Wizard. We work in tandem and split the take equally, and we asked you to join us because we think you can help increase our yield. We want to go even more big time than we are now."

"That sounds like a great setup, and I'll help out any way I can," Hartley said agreeably, grinning. Scudder smiled.

"We thought you'd be up for it, and that's why we asked you; there are a few other guys running around the city who don't play so well with others. We do expect you to try to get along with the group, and in return we watch your back."

"That honestly seems amazing...I haven't had anyone stick by me in a while," Hartley admitted, his face reddening. "My parents threw me out and disowned me, and my whole family treats me like a freak."

"To hell with `em, then," Digger declared earnestly, perhaps more than a little drunk. But everyone in the room could relate to the sentiment.

"We're all freaks here," Heat Wave said, thinking back to a childhood incident he hadn't yet confessed to the others. "I'm Mick, by the way."

"My father said I'm an embarrassment to the family name," the man in green and yellow stripes noted with a stoic expression, but it was clear from his posture that he was uncomfortable about it.

"And my dad's an abusive drunk," Len said. He chugged his beer hard and seemed tense. "Point is, we know what it's like to come from shit families, and we got your back. You do right by us, and we do right by you."

Hartley swallowed awkwardly, and he was not going to cry in front of the other criminals. But this was all he could have asked for at this stage in life. "I never knew it could be this way," he replied honestly. "You think when you grow up with people that they'll 'get' you and won't abandon you for stupid, petty reasons, but they do. So it means a lot that you guys are giving me a chance."

He was not yet ready to divulge the main reason his family had thrown him out, but that would come in time if he decided the Rogues were trustworthy. He suspected at least a few of the others had secrets they hadn't shared yet either; he didn't know whether that was also their sexual orientation or some other private information, though it was a relief to think he wasn't the only one holding something back. These guys were at least accepting of differences and oddballs, even if they didn't turn out to be perfect about it.

"This place is all about second chances," Scudder told him, and offered his hand to shake. "Welcome to the Rogues."

***

Day Fifteen: “That’s what I’m talking about!”

Axel stomped into the kitchen with far more drama than was necessary, and plopped himself down at the table with a furious expression. Magenta, who’d been quietly enjoying a cup of tea, raised an eyebrow at him.

"He drives me nuts!" Axel fumed, stewing and scowling and already plotting his revenge. He fiddled with one of his tricked-out metal jacks and fantasized about scaring the boss while he was on the toilet or something.

She nodded knowingly. "Huge pain in the ass. Always telling me what to do..."

"Right? And letting the others gang up on me."

"Ugh, tell me about it," Magenta said with an exaggerated eyeroll. "Every time I step out of line, he and the others are all in my face telling me how I screwed up, and I don't need it. I know it already."

"That’s what I’m talking about!" Axel exclaimed, bouncing to his feet excitedly. "It's like he's my dad or something."

"Yeah, and I'm really not into that. I used to tell him to keep the superheroics and love life separate, because it's weird to mix them."

Axel looked at her very, very strangely. "Uh...we are talking about Cold, right?"

Magenta recoiled and made a disgusted face, and her metal teaspoon flew into the air like a missile. "I was talking about Wally! Please, Cold basically is a dad. That's gross."

"Oh," Axel said, crestfallen that his good rant had been for nothing and their moment of bonding had evaporated. He shuffled his feet a bit. "So….are you up for complaining about Cold?"

She turned to him eagerly and the spoon plummeted to the floor. "Definitely! Somebody needs to tell him to step back and get off his moral high horse once in a while."

Axel smiled. He wasn't even angry at Len anymore, he was just having fun. And he was fairly certain that Len would encourage some harmless release of steam and be fine with it, so he didn't have to worry about getting in trouble or hurting the boss’ feelings. He settled into his seat with a grin for a good venting session, and decided that the Flash would be next in the hot seat. How else could they call themselves his Rogues?

***

Day Nineteen: “Yes, I admit it, you were right.”

A bullet whizzed right over Len's head when he peered above the counter, and he swore loudly. He ducked back down and shook his head at Roscoe.

"Doesn't look good. There's six of them and there could be more nearby."

Roscoe made one of his annoyed-but-thinking expressions that Len had grown to dislike because it rarely meant something good would come out of his mouth. "Our best move will be to evacuate through the south door, since they'll undoubtedly expect us to go through the west ones."

"Are you crazy?! Did you forget that I can't go as fast as you, or do you not care?" Len demanded furiously.

"Why, yes, I am crazy, as you like to so regularly remind me," Roscoe replied in a calm but utterly snide tone. "What would you suggest? Fight our way out against superior numbers, or wait for them to bring even more men and overwhelm us here?"

Len pinched his nose in frustration, wishing he'd been stuck with literally any other Rogue. "Yeah, I think punching our way out -- metaphorically, jackass -- is our best bet. They've just got conventional guns, not our superior firepower. It'll be tough, but I think we can do it if we work together."

Roscoe thought about his words for a few moments with that aggravating expression again. "I still think it would be a mistake. I can carry you while I spin--"

"Hell no, I'd rather die."

"I could leave you behind," Roscoe threatened, but Len snorted derisively. He knew very well that Roscoe was trying to bait him into accepting the evacuation plan and wouldn't really abandon him. Even if desertion wasn't against the Rogues' code, the impact on Lisa would be far too devastating for him to actually go through with it.

"Pull the other one, Dillon; we're going with my plan."

"Fine," Roscoe spat with extreme irritation, and began looking through his arsenal for his remaining tops. "I have two explosives."

"And my gun's at half-charge," Len said as he examined the weapon. "Enough for the job, I think. I'm gonna need you to throw one of those and put them in a tizzy, and then we'll run out firing and go through that south door." He hoped that borrowing aspects of Roscoe's plan was enough to mollify the other man’s obvious crankiness.

Roscoe didn't look any less annoyed, but he nodded. In moments, he'd armed one of his tops and threw it over the counter at the nearby gunmen. It exploded in a shower of light and shrapnel, and he spun out from behind their safe zone before the dust had settled.

Len didn’t move as quickly, but he fired blasts of cold at the men who were pulling themselves to their feet, and he created an ice wall before running toward the door. The debris from the explosion made awkward travelling for both Rogues, as a lack of space to build momentum meant Roscoe had to switch to running.

One of their foes shot at them around the wall, so Roscoe threw his remaining top at him and knocked the gunman back in the ensuing explosion, and Len trapped him in a quick ice dome as they ran. The two Rogues made it through the door, and Roscoe began spinning again now that he had the room to do so.

Three more men suddenly began shooting at them, and Roscoe simply plowed into them at high speed while Len froze the doorway they'd just run through to prevent them from being followed. They’d finally escaped from the warehouse to freedom.

"That...was good teamwork," Len noted as they caught their breath in a nearby alley. "You did good."

"We both did," Roscoe nodded, still rather amazed that Len's plan had succeeded. He actually smiled at his colleague, reminding Len of some of the earlier days when they were on more friendly terms.

"And hey, maybe Sam'll let me call the shots occasionally, since my plan wasn't too bad," Len said jovially, nudging the other man. Roscoe could see the ulterior motive behind his words, and sighed slightly.

"Yes, I admit it, you were right."

Len made a gesture of mock astonishment, even if it genuinely was a bit surprising. "Did...did you just say what I think you said?"

"I suppose so. Please don't make a scene," Roscoe replied with mild annoyance, which of course encouraged Len further. He pretended to fumble for a phone which he knew had been left at home.

"Hold on, I need a photo to remember the moment," Len said with a hint of a grin.

"Don’t make me regret agreeing with you," Roscoe rumbled, but he clearly knew he was being teased. And contrary to the Rogues’ popular opinion, he did in fact have a sense of humour. He pulled out a small top from somewhere on his person and snapped a quick photo of the two of them before Len had even realized what he was doing.

"Now the moment’s been immortalized," Roscoe announced with faint amusement, since Len's surprise would undoubtedly make for an awkwardly funny photo.

"Where do you even keep that camera?" Len frowned, puzzled. It was going to bother him for the rest of the walk home.

"That will forever remain my secret."

***

Day Twenty: “You could talk about it, you know?”

The Rogues were having a casual get-together with drinking and chatting and video games, but one man hadn't been enjoying himself. Len sat silently in the corner as the others had a good time, and eventually Mark got exasperated and went over to sit with him.

"What gives? You're a bit of a wet blanket tonight," Mark said as he sat down with a beer and offered one to Len. The other man took it without much enthusiasm.

"Not in the mood, to be honest. Don't worry about me, you just go back to your game with Axel."

Mark gave him a funny look. "'Worry' isn't quite the word I'd use, but I just want to make sure you're okay. So what's up? Is anything wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong."

"Well, obviously something is. You could talk about it, y'know? You're always there for us," Mark told him with a bit of frustration at his obstinance, and Len looked away.

"Mardon. Everyone here is a mess, and they need me to be strong," Len began slowly. "I don't have the luxury of turning to you guys for help because you'll all fall apart without me as your rock, and we'll lose the family we've built here. I'm not willing to go without that, because you guys are all I've got...and I'm all you've got. So I keep my shit together and to myself, and this leaky ship keeps limping forward as best it can. Make sense?"

At least, that was what Len wanted to say. His actual response to Mark was a light shrug and a careless "I'm fine. Go back to your game, and I'll try to join you guys in a bit."

Mark wrinkled his nose in annoyance and got up, feeling like his efforts to help weren't appreciated. “Sure. Whatever.”

"What's his problem?" Axel asked as Mark sat down next to him and prepared to play the next round of Mario Kart. Mark rolled his eyes.

"I don't know. Guess he thinks we’re beneath him."

***

Day Twenty-Five: “I could really eat something.”

The little girl timidly knocked on the neighbour's door and waited silently for it to be answered. The woman who opened it was shocked to see her.

"Lisa! Why are you dressed like that on a day like today? And what happened to your face?" she demanded, ushering the girl inside. She got Lisa to sit down and wrapped a blanket around the shivering child.

"A boy hit me," Lisa said in a matter-of-fact tone, although her eyes were as wide as they perpetually seemed to be. What she didn't say was that the 'boy' was her father, but the woman suspected as much; the Snarts' trailer was often loud with sounds of shouting and screaming, and most of the community gave Lawrence Snart a wide berth.

"Well sweetheart, you just let me put on some hot cocoa and get some ice for your face," the woman replied kindly. It didn't take her long to microwave some milk and pull out a bag of ice, and soon Lisa was warming up. She winced at the ice touching the swelling on her cheek, but the neighbour's fussing made her feel safe, and the numbing cold took away the pain.

"Thank you, this is really good," the child said softly as she sipped her cocoa. Her tummy growled and she wasn't sure if she was brave enough to ask for some food, but eventually hunger won out. "Mrs. Jackson? Could I have something to eat, please?"

"Of course, honey," the woman said with concern, hurrying off to make a sandwich. There was nothing particularly notable about it, but Lisa devoured it with alarming speed. "When did you last eat?"

"Last night. Lenny made me some oatmeal today, but Daddy threw it out before he could give it to me."

"Does that happen often?"

"Not a lot, but Daddy's been mad lately. Real mad."

"Well, I think maybe I should go talk to him."

Lisa's eyes widened with fear. "You can't! He'll be so mad, and that's really really bad. He'll punish Lenny and me."

"Sweetheart, what he's doing isn't right. He shouldn't be hitting you, and you shouldn't be going without food," the woman said with an unhappy frown. "You shouldn't have to be scared."

"I'm never scared," Lisa declared with obviously false bravado, puffing herself up to seem stronger than she was. "He tells us not to cry."

But Mrs. Jackson saw only a terrified six-year-old, and she wasn't going to stand for it. She made another sandwich for Lisa and turned on the television to distract her, and when the child was engrossed in a happier world her neighbour set out quietly for the Snarts' home. Her steps quickened as her anger grew, and she rapped furiously on the front door.

The door swung open, and Lawrence Snart stood before her: tall, heavyset, and holding a bat. He reeked of alcohol. "What the fuck do you want?"

"I--" Mrs. Jackson began, taking two steps backward. "I just wanted to say that people know what you do, and you should be ashamed of yourself."

"People will mind their own business if they know what's good for `em," Lawrence told her in a low voice, his grip tightening on the bat. "What happens in a man's home is his own affair, and I know enough cops still on the force to keep it my affair.

"Th-that may be so, but people talk."

"Let them talk, because they'll be doing it with broken teeth."

The woman turned around quickly and ran home. She was convinced that he meant his threats and was completely capable of following through with them, and she didn't want any part of it. She rushed inside her trailer, where Lisa was contentedly still watching television, and did her best to seem calm so the child wouldn't know what had happened.

Mrs. Jackson took a deep breath and made a decision. Lisa was welcome in her home, and she would always feed the Snart children if they needed it. But she would not get involved in anything regarding Lawrence, and she was too frightened to call the police in case he found out. She was not going to intervene in the abuse again, or even talk to the neighbours about it lest he got angry. It was a horrible situation, but the risk to her own family was simply too great.

She would pray for the children. Maybe somebody else would intercede.

***

Day Twenty-Six: “You keep me warm.”

Dear Miss McCulloch,

It feels like it's time for me to go and make my own way, so I've nipped off in the night to avoid a scene. I just wanted to say how much I respect what you've done for me: you've been a mum when I didn't have one, and loved me like your own. I never wanted for anything, and neither did any of the others. You kept me fed, you kept me warm, and my clothes were always clean and in good shape.

It couldn't have been easy looking after so many weans on your own, but you always did it with a smile and love and nary a complaint. I'll miss you, and try to be a man you're proud of as I grow up. Thank you.

Your loving boy,
Evan

 

The next letters from him contained gifts of money and were all unsigned, but she recognized his scrawling handwriting. She didn't know where Evan was getting the money and hoped it was legitimate, but the truth was that the orphanage was running low on funds and couldn't survive without his support. She was getting older, and had been forced to hire some help to keep up with all the children or else close the facility prematurely. Evan might never know it, but he helped keep a new generation of children housed, fed, and loved. She was proud of him, and hoped that wherever he was and whatever he was up to, he was happy and doing well.

And she made sure to call a new unnamed baby boy ‘Evan’ in his honour, unknowingly providing him with a legacy of his own.

***

Day Twenty-Seven: “Can you wait for me?”

It had been a long night, and Thomas O'Neill -- otherwise known as Roscoe Dillon, but only a handful of people were aware of that -- had been up doing mountains of paperwork. He'd learned that political life was far less glamourous than it seemed on television, but was still interested in pushing the scheme as far as it could go.

But eventually exhaustion got the better of him, and his eyes started closing as he read the legalese on some boring taxation bill. He might have even dozed off for a moment until he unexpectedly heard a voice--

"Roscoe."

Now wide awake, his head whipped around and his entire body tingled painfully in an involuntary shudder. Unbeknownst to him, his eyes began to glow a bright green.

"Lisa..?" he called out in confusion. He was certain it had been her voice, but she lived hundreds of miles away and he hadn't spoken to her since his most recent return from death. He'd been procrastinating on that for another day, since he knew she'd moved on and had been dating other men and he had no idea how to broach the subject.

"Roscoe," the voice said again, and this time he was sure it was her. Eyes still glowing and his body feeling like it was on fire, he suddenly came to a horrible conclusion about what was happening.

"You're dead," he said, defeated, and his shoulders slumped. The ghost within his borrowed shell had been reacting to the psychic pull of another soul close to his.

"Yes," she replied, and now he could see her. As beautiful as always, but she looked brittle. Frozen.

"I'm so sorry," he told her in anguish. "For everything: for what's happened to you, for not speaking to you while I had the chance, for dying on you repeatedly, and now it's too late."

She smiled slightly at his mistake. "It's not too late, obviously, but I can't stay long."

"What happened to you?" he asked plaintively.

"I trusted the wrong man. But don't worry, he'll get his."

Roscoe's face hardened. "Who? He will not live to regret it."

"Sweetie, I don't want you to throw your life away on revenge. I did that and it felt right at the time, but now that I've seen the other side...it just seems so pointless. Please just live your best life. I'd tell that to Len as well, but he's dead too and I guess I'll see him soon."

Her expression was one of sadness, but she also seemed to be the most peaceful he'd ever seen her, and he couldn't help but smile a bit.

"I love you," he said quietly. "I love you and I want to be with you again. Can you wait for me? I can jump out of this body and we'll be together forever."

She smiled gently at him. "Not a chance, I'm not going to be responsible for you throwing your life away. You just got back to the living, and this is one hell of an interesting scheme you've got going here...a senator's body? I wish I could see where this goes." Her ghost moved as close to his physical form as it could, and for once she could ‘stand’ at eye level with him.

"Eternity's a long time, Roscoe. We will be together again, I promise."

He was openly in tears now, only the second time she'd ever seen him cry. "That's what I told you..."

"...when you died. I know. And now I understand what it's like, and the burden you carried by stepping into the beyond alone. And now you understand what it's like to be left behind."

"I hate it. I hate not having control. I just want to join you," he wept, eyes squeezed shut and fists clenched, and she planted a kiss on the mouth of his physical shell. Her own phantom lips were ice cold.

"I know exactly how you feel, but you have to be strong. I did it, and so can you," she told him firmly, that gentle smile still on her face. "I have to go. Please, can you show me your true self before I leave?"

It took him a moment to realize what she meant, but he smiled through his tears. The ghost inside him leaned out of O'Neill's body, which slumped over lifelessly, and Lisa's face lit up.

"There you are! I missed you so much," she told him tenderly, and this time the two spirits connected directly in a kiss. The sensation was intensely electric, and it felt like the last moment they'd touched skin-to-skin when he was still in his original body before dying. For once his host body didn't feel like an artificial barrier between them, and they could finally connect as two similar beings.

"You'd better go back in before you've been out too long," she said affectionately, gesturing towards his body, and he nodded. Two ghostly hands clasped each other tightly, and then reluctantly let go. In moments, O'Neill's eyes blinked and looked around.

"I will see you again, but hopefully not too soon," she told him with a smile. "Go give the world hell."

He laughed in spite of himself, as he'd said the same to her years ago. And just as she'd replied to him back then, he repeated "They won't know what hit `em."

"That's the man I love," she said as she disappeared, and he sobbed brokenly until morning.

***

Day Thirty: “I’m with you, you know that.”

The dead were walking the Earth and hunting the living. Panic had understandably broken out around the world, but the Rogues were preparing to storm Iron Heights and confront their zombie ex-teammates, because as Len said, "I don't run".

Len had spoken with gruff boldness to give confidence to his troops and keep them brave, but he suddenly didn't feel that self-assurance anymore as he readied his weapons. Mick silently observed the other man packing cold grenades into his belt and as many fuel cells as he could carry, and decided he had to speak up before the Rogues went into the field.

"You're nervous," Mick said flatly, although Len didn't look up.

"No. Just not looking forward to it."

"Nobody is, Axel's practically pissin' himself about it...but there's something different going on with you."

"I don't want to see Lisa like that, is all. Hell, any of them. I know what Flash said, that they aren’t actually our people, but can we really take the heroes' word for that? I don't trust `em, and neither should you," Len said in a near-emotionless tone.

Mick looked thoughtful. "I don't trust them, and I do trust you. But maybe it won't be as bad as we're fearing. Maybe our friends can be reasoned with and we can talk them down."

"Maybe. I just...don't want Lisa to be like that. If I have to, I'll put her down myself because that's what she'd want and she'd do it for me. But it's not how I want to remember her, and what if we can't put them outta their misery? What if they're indestructible and she just goes on like that forever?"

Mick didn't have an answer for that, because everything about this situation was an unknown quantity. He said nothing, and Len finally looked up at him.

"Dillon's probably there too, and he's going to be pissed about...well, everything like he always is...but especially at how our last encounter ended. Digger and Scudder got their own reasons to be angry at us, and Bivolo has always been mad at the world. Am I walking the guys into a death trap?"

"We've all made our choice to go, that's part of being a Rogue," Mick said firmly. "But you know nobody can force any of us to do stuff like this, so if the others say they're gonna go, then they mean it. And I’m with you, you know that. So stop worrying about that part and focus on the zombies. They're the priority now."

A smile briefly flickered across Len's face before it returned to its usual dour expression. "You're not half-bad at these motivational talks, Mick."

"I learned from a real leader," Mick said proudly, and paused before deciding his statement needed clarification. "...That's you, by the way."

"Yeah, I gathered," Len replied, his smile momentarily returning. He powered up his gun to full strength and it returned to life with an ominously loud hum. "Let's get the guys and move out."